A silly title, to grab your attention, about the very serious hobby of one of the world's top conductors: Fabio Luisi creates perfumes.
Luisi's pastime has recently taken on a more professional aspect, as he's decided to sell his creations commercially: FL Parfums. All proceeds, however, will go to the Luisi Academy. But more of that later…
I always had a passion for perfumes, a huge interest in them. About three years ago I asked myself, “Why don't you try by yourself?” I started to buy aromatic materials, mixing them, reading books about perfumery, and looking for information. It was, and it still is, a beautiful hobby and, like most hobbies, still developing.
Looking at his conducting schedule you wonder where he finds the time as he leaps from the Met to Covent Garden, Vienna to La Scala. But find time he does, and needs to, for making perfumes is far from being an easy business. Luisi's introductory blurb on the FL Parfums site reads:
FL Parfums explores the world of perfumery with creations which are far from being “trendy”.
You won't find my hand-crafted perfumes in large stores, nor will you find them included in an offer from big, global brands. I believe in a strong connection between me and those who want to wear my perfumes.
Luisi works in small batches, not larger than 250ml of perfume, and from those batches, in which the blend of oils and tinctures have melted together with the alcohol, he takes the quantity a customer has purchased and puts it in a FL bottle,
You are guaranteed that the bottle you are holding in your hands has been filled just for you.
There is no industrialisation. He works like a craftsman, leaving nothing to chance and controlling each stage of the process.
From the very first step – the “idea” or the “concept” – until the filling and the labelling of the bottle: everything is made personally by me.
So where does the idea for a new perfume come from?
Inspiration comes from a smell-idea, which I like to express very simply, for example, as “dark”, “sensual”, woody”, but essentially the idea of a scent as a result of melting single smells together. The result is sometimes far from being foreseen, but it always goes in the imagined direction. Of course there will be many tries before the outcome is complete and satisfying.
The perfumer's tasks is to take different elements, often highly contrasting in smell, colour, texture or origin, and mix them together to find a pleasing ‘harmony', and here the parallels with being an orchestral conductor become obvious. The important link is the creativity.
I love to think that I mix aromatic substances like a composer mixes sounds. And like music, scents are perceived as a catalyst of emotions, without the need for words. Scents have, like music, a huge impact on our feelings, expressing mood and memories without the use of codified communication.
The olfactory system has close anatomical ties with the limbic system and hippocampus, areas of the brain that are involved in emotion and place memory. This is probably why the smell information the brain stores in long-term memory has such strong connections to emotional memory. Music, in the same way, activates the limbic system.
Luisi's creativity also comes across again in the naming of his perfumes.
Simplicité des Fleurs, which is not a flowery perfume at all “but it tries to evoke the memories and sensations we have when thinking of flowers we smelled”, and oddly contains no flower oils in the mix. Another non-flowery flowery perfume is Roses du Jardin which “is not sweet. I don't like sweet perfumes, I like complex perfumes, which reflect human complexity.”
The direct and upfront N. 4 is his first Eau de Cologne, “extremely complex and rather masculine” but has “Italian top notes”; Eux de Vagues was inspired by the music of Claude Debussy, (what better composer to inspire a perfume); Le Matin Après is out and out sexy, “A next morning full of love, poetry, sensual discoveries and souvenirs of the previous night, flowers, kisses and sweet words… and more…” These perfumes cost up to $125 for the 50ml bottle, but for $60 you can get the smaller 15ml confection, or with $35 it is possible to choose five samples, especially useful when ordering online.
Then there's his pricier Private Collection, with Rève des Roses costing $160 for the 30ml bottle. At the same price is Don d'Amour which Luisi teasingly describes as “a very complex blend I made some years ago for…. you don't need to know that…. but it was made with a heart full of love (which it still is).”
Profits from the commercialisation of Luisi's hobby will not go into his pocket, but help fund the Luisi Academy of Music and the Visual Arts, the brainchild of his photographer wife, Barbara.
Perfumery is my hobby, it is not my profession and it will never be. Nevertheless I try not only to improve myself, but also to sell my perfumes, and I am happy about my sales so far.
Nonetheless I would consider it unethical to make personal profit of what is just my hobby. So I will support the Luisi Foundation.
The Foundation is in its very early stages, and won't be officially launched until later this year.
The goal is to allow young artists – musicians, singers, photographers, painters – to take part in artistic and educational activities in the area of Valle d'Itria, in Apulia in Italy, in cooperation with the Fondazione Paolo Grassi in Martina Franca (www.fondazionepaolograssi.it). Those activities can be tuition for a masterclass, in singing or photography, or taking over a role in an opera production, or a grant to make it possible to gain work experience in that environment. It eventually will depend on the skills of the applicants and the needs of the moment.
Whether it's about conducting or his perfumes, Fabio Luisi is a very earnest man with serious ambitions. He doesn't want his perfumes just to make the wearer smell nice,
My perfumes want to show how deep they can touch your soul, bringing to the surface of your conscience ideas, souvenirs, people, places. In brief: the entire world of your feelings.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.