Luciano Sorrentino d’Afflitto is 38 years old and admits to being born in fragrance. “In 1950, my grandfather had a historic perfume shop in Naples. My mother passed down to me the passion.” Yet it isn’t easy to explain how a fragrance is made, “I have to compare it with music. A true nose composes the essences while I do mash-up of combinations. This is why I like to say that every essence is a suggestion of a journey; real or imagined, yet always creative.”
Between Florence and Bombay
Parfums Bombay 1950 combines in its name all the grandeur Luciano Sorrentino launched in this ambitious project, one of a kind; an artistic perfumery company. The date, symbol of the beginning of a passion, brings together two places equally important; Florence, where the art of fragrances originates (and which still today welcomes Pitti Fragrances, an important trade fair related to fragrances) and Bombay, the city where Luciano sought after for years, between 1995 and 1998, and what he calls the smells of the world. “The fragrances bearing the names of these two cities are similar. Bombay is just a bit more exotic, but the metaphorical message conveying the similarity between the two essences is the closeness between the cultures.” Multiculturalism and multi-sensory define the concept of artistic perfumery at Parfums Bombay 1950. “An artistic fragrance is different than that of a commercial one because, like a piece of art, it is one-of-a-kind and unique as are the sensations it evokes. When I think of a perfume, I think not only of one’s sense of smell but all the five senses.” For Luciano, making a perfume is not limited to the creation of the essence, but also to what the public is offered. Here especially all five senses may be found. Parfums Bombay 1950 works with leading manufacturers of raw materials ‘Made in Italy’ not only for their fragrance but also for their packaging; artisans of Sardinian cork, Master potters from Sorrento and Tuscan leathers. Parfums Bombay 1950 events offer wine or oil tastings to accompany their fragrances. The connection with taste is crucial, “It is no coincidence that both scents and wines talk of sommelier. A scent, like a wine, must first be “tasted” on one’s own skin. It is fundamental to understand the olfactory family of the person the fragrance was created for.”
The Way to the Memory
Currently Parfums Bombay 1950 has thirty-three fragrances in its catalogue. Luciano’s creative process is sensorial yet extremely methodical. He confesses that the first step for him begins always with an olfactory memory, more powerful than a visual memory. Each mash-up starts by writing on a blank sheet of paper; sensations coming from an olfactory memory create what are known as “olfactory flashbacks.” Moments or moods are evoked. For the second phase, Luciano employs manufacturers which chemically create the essence he has in mind. Only when it reaches the “point of olfactory memory” does he know that he has achieved his goal. The olfactory pyramid is an excellent tool for perfumers; it is used to catalogue an essence with respect to another. Colour scales are timed to fragrances. “Returning to the metaphor of music, the olfactory pyramid is like a score containing the lyrics and chords of a song.” The majority of fragrances have a pyramidal composition: the top notes (citrus fruit, for example) are the volatiles but also the first to be sensed by the skin; the centre of the fragrance is the heart (the flower or wood) which usually gives the name to the perfume; at the bottom are the heaviest essences, which adhere the scent to the skin (musk, patchouli, sandalwood). Raw materials betray the exotic notes of the project but also its Italian origins. “Artisan excellence, creativity and Italian quality” confirms Luciano Sorrentino. ‘Made in Italy’ plays a part in each of the phases. The choice in raw materials always makes use of products coming from the “Boot” and its islands; Sicilian almonds and citrus fruits, Sardinian juniper berries and Italian oils in the production and extraction. Luciano simply explores the world to find exotic spices (Arabic talcum powder, Indonesian patchouli). Unlike commercial fragrances, the notes of artistic workmanship cannot all be recreated in the laboratory.
The Perfume Quest
“Having an independent label does not make it possible to produce the same fragrance for ever. The selection of scarce, high quality raw material together unique creativity produce pieces that are inevitably limited editions.” It is a constant quest. Luciano admits this of his passion (“I couldn’t do anything else with my life”) and also his obsession, which causes him to experiment constantly. At the moment Parfums Bombay 1950 is a perfumery of high quality but also offer more affordable fragrances similar to commercial ones. His attention, however, is especially taken with a project on molecular perfumes. In 1950 (coming back to that pivotal year!), German chemists discovered a molecule called ambroxan which was able to replace the precious scent of amber. Luciano Sorrentino is currently studying a line dedicated specifically to this molecule and which would change tone according to the one’s own skin. “The resulting scent is literally perfect for the person wearing it, one-of-a-kind.” For now the project is focused on a single scent, that is only ambroxan, but Sorrentino is working on mixing it with patchouli and cedar wood.
“My curiosity and desire for innovation, I hope, is the same for those who encounter my fragrances. People who approach an artistic perfumery are inevitably keen on reaching new horizons, if not physically, then by olfactory and sensorial vocation. Smell is a sense we develop very little.” Yet at one time we were all wild. If this is the result, then maybe we should reconsider it.