The Australian - Wish Magazine - - CONTENTS - STORY FIONA MCCARTHY

The true birth­place of the mod­ern fra­grance is not France but Re­nais­sance Venice, as a new ex­hi­bi­tion doc­u­ments.

With a city steeped in such re­mark­able beauty, his­tory and its own unique sense of Serenissima (ut­most seren­ity), it’s no sur­prise Venice has now in­spired a lux­u­ri­ous per­fume col­lec­tion, The Mer­chant of Venice. Launched in 2013 by fourth-gen­er­a­tion Vene­tian fra­grance spe­cial­ist Marco Vi­dal, it was born not just from his pas­sion for per­fume but also its in­trigu­ing past of ex­otic in­gre­di­ents, great fe­male beau­ties and of course, the Float­ing City it­self.

The start­ing point for the fra­grance line was in fact born from a cul­tural project Vi­dal and his fam­ily’s com­pany Ma­vive ini­ti­ated in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Fon­dazione Mu­sei Civici of Venice to re­store the pres­ti­gious Palazzo Mocenigo, al­ready the site of a tex­tile and cos­tume mu­seum, to its for­mer glory. Nes­tled near the San Stae church in the cen­tral Santa Croce area of Venice, Vi­dal dreamt of a multi-sen­sory per­fume mu­seum to re­flect the fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory he had un­earthed after years of re­search. In­spired by “an ex­hi­bi­tion in a botan­i­cal gar­den in the north of Italy about five or six years be­fore, us­ing the sense of smell to ex­plain dif­fer­ent botan­i­cal in­gre­di­ents,” he ex­plains, Vi­dal has cre­ated a place where you can see, smell and ex­per­i­ment with the in­gre­di­ents that must have tan­ta­lised the Vene­tians as mer­chants from the an­cient trade routes de­scended upon the city.

While the French might boast of their supremacy in the fra­grance world, it was ac­tu­ally here in Re­nais­sance Venice that mod­ern per­fume was born. The mu­seum tells the story of per­fume’s early beginnings – mer­chants brought pre­cious fra­grance ma­te­ri­als from ex­otic cities such as Con­stantino­ple (now Is­tan­bul), Per­sia, Greece and Ara­bia dur­ing the Byzan­tine pe­riod; Maria Ar­gy­ropo­los, a renowned Byzan­tine beauty, brought per­fume with her when she mar­ried the son of the pow­er­ful 11th-cen­tury Doge Pi­etro Orse­olo II; then Vene­tian muschière (per­fumers) dis­cov­ered the pre­serv­ing pow­ers of di­lut­ing fra­grance ex­tracts in pure spirits. This trans­formed the city’s for­tunes as the big­gest pro­ducer of lux­ury goods in­clud­ing soaps, per­fumes and rouge, and paving the way for mod­ern day par­fums and eaux de toi­lettes.

Through­out the mu­seum’s six rooms, dressed with elab­o­rate wall­pa­pers and Mu­rano chan­de­liers, the amaz­ing floors and build­ing’s de­tails re­stored, this fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory comes to life with ta­bles laden with large glass ves­sels fea­tur­ing many of the in­gre­di­ents the mer­chants would have brought to be traded in Venice – musk, civet, Da­m­as­cus rose, Cey­lon cin­na­mon and or­ange blos­som – which visi­tors can smell; a room evok­ing the lab of a 16th-cen­tury muschière also shares the first known recipe book of cos­met­ics, Se­creti No­bilis­simi dell’Arte Pro­fu­ma­to­ria, by Gi­ambat­tista Rosetti from 1672; and on dis­play is a vast re­volv­ing col­lec­tion of per­fumery equip­ment, vials and con­tain­ers, some dat­ing as far back as Me­sopotamia and Baby­lon.

Vi­dal’s own roots in fra­grance go back to his great­grand­fa­ther An­gelo Vi­dal, who founded Vi­dal Pro­fumi 117 years ago, trad­ing in soaps and spices im­ported from Asia. By pure co­in­ci­dence he cre­ated his first per­fumery work­shop ex­actly where the mu­seum stands to­day (it re­lo­cated to Marghera, an area on the main­land near Venice, with the ac­qui­si­tion of a small soap man­u­fac­turer in 1912). In the 1960s, “my grand­fa­ther then pro­duced the first bath foam on the Ital­ian mar­ket, the still-fa­mous Bagnoschi­uma Pino Sil­vestre”, Vi­dal says. The fam­ily busi­ness then turned from suc­cess­ful body and bath man­u­fac­tur­ers to per­fumers, when his fa­ther Mas­simo started a new busi­ness Ma­vive, which he and Vi­dal to­day run to­gether.

Fit­tingly, The Mer­chant of Venice’s first col­lec­tion was named after the city’s fa­mous Mu­rano glass, with essences that re­flected the spices and aro­mas of those early trad­ing routes – Rosa Moceniga (one of The Mer­chant of Venice’s most sought-after scents) re­flects the rare and pre­cious flower of China; No­ble Po­tion show­cases the cedar­wood of Le­banon and the cit­rus scents of the Mediter­ranean. There have been four more col­lec­tions since, plus a lim­ited-edition col­lec­tion boast­ing the rarest of in­gre­di­ents, a lux­ury bath line, and in April this year, a range of four home scents avail­able as tealights to burn in hand­blown Mu­rano glass lanterns or as dif­fuser sticks in vases.

It’s per­haps this vivid mar­riage of fra­grance and glass that best cap­tures the emo­tion every­one feels for Venice. “For ev­ery per­son, vis­it­ing Venice is unique be­cause there is some­thing al­most un­be­liev­able and im­pos­si­ble about how it was built as a city and at one point was the cen­tre of the world five cen­turies ago. Even to­day it is a way of liv­ing com­pletely dif­fer­ently,” says Vi­dal – no cars, sky­scrapers or usual chaos of mod­ern ur­ban life. “But it’s also a style – a style of fab­rics and glass, its his­tory of colours, wa­ter and stone, and even of con­tem­po­rary style be­cause it’s now one of the most im­por­tant cities in the world for con­tem­po­rary art with the Bi­en­nale. The Mer­chant of Venice is our way of try­ing to pre­serve the spirit of Venice for now and the fu­ture.”

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