TRAVEL THROUGH THE SENSES
When naked marble figures proudly pose in each piazza and every second trattoria has beef carcasses hanging in their front windows, its hard to feel underdressed in Florence. With all that aged flesh on display it’s not surprising that Florentines have such a strong focus on the skin. I recently attended Pitti Fragranze, one of the world’s premier fragrance trade shows held every September in Florence. This city, which gave birth to the Italian Renaissance, is still as relevant for creative souls today as it was in 1339 when the Florentine government and wealthy city bankers invested tons of money in the arts. They started by paving the streets with hand carved granite, and their model of urban gentrification through supporting a vibrant arts culture has withstood the rigour of political and economic cycles spanning nearly 700 years. Florence is a quietly confident city. Here, old means “like really old”, circa Julius Caesar, 59BC. The secret to this city, is to visit twice. First, do the obvious. And there’s a lot of obvious. Then, on your second visit, take your time, and get lost. It’s only then that your aimless meandering of a labyrinth of medieval lanes will, ironically, lead you to discover the city’s incredible craftspeople. Invariably working in monestaries from the 1600’s with tools and techniques that date back just as long. Where everything they are hand-carving, chiselling, etching or polishing is only made in limited quantities, not based on what is forecast to be trending, but rather, on the artist’s vision.
Once you’ve ticked Aquaflor, SS Annunziata, and Santa Maria Novella off your list, discover these scent-based highlights:
This year’s highlight was unquestionably the Jean Claude Ellena retrospective of all his creations since 1977. Like a vertical winetasting of every great vintage produced by your favourite winery, this was an extraordinary experience. My favourite, Bois Farine (wood, baking flour), was created in 2003 and is one of he most beautiful fragrances I have ever smelled.
Artistic Director Ted Young-Ing is doing great things with this new Berlin-based niche brand that continues to advance the conversation about the importance of understanding what we are putting on our skin and using natural ingredients in fragrances. @aerscents
Artistic Director Simone Bongiorno is another passionate zealot shining a light in nearby Bologna on the superior complex beauty that natural raw materials deliver in fragrances compared to their synthetic cousins. I spent 2 hours with him over breakfast going through his amazing collection. You can find Monom in Florence at Wongvalle.
@wongvallerfirenze / Wongvalle.com
@monom_profumi / Monom-Profumi.com
JEAN CLAUDE ELLENA
So what did retirement from being the nose of Hermes look like? Busy. In his recent collaboration for Frederick Malle, Rose & Cuir, it took him a year to find the perfect timut. Then another two to test the consistency of the annual yield from his remote Nepalese farmers. It was a refreshing reminder about shared obsessions on the importance of using the best quality natural raw materials in fragrances. His approach to formulating Rose & Cuir centred around using only 15 ingredients and he created a rose - without a rose - using carrot seed oil, geranium, timut, vetiver. Genius. Explore fragrance.
Meeting Lorenzo, Ludovica and Alessandro Villoresi and having a tour of their private perfume museum was a personal highlight of this trip. The breadth of the raw materials available to smell, learn about, touch and see growing, is unmatched. It opened (by appointment only) in June 2019. After the Uffizi and David, this should be your third stop in Florence.
Walking home at night and coming across a musician sitting on the steps of the Santa Maria Maggiore wearing a sequinned ballgown playing a violin concerto. Tears.
Art and craft rules in this city. It’s an almost impossible task to edit this city to just three highlights, so here are two important classics, and a hint of other rewards for those who like to explore.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of this institution to the art world. When you see what Botticelli carved at 15, the work of Caravaggio, or the physical features of Greek gods, ultimately your “life” education isn’t complete until you’ve spent at least half a day here. uffizi.it
Michaelangelo changed the world with this statue in 1504. Noone had ever seen anything like it. The Academia is still the most visited site in Florence and it’s easy to see why David’s scale, proportions, and sheer physical beauty are still as relevant today as they were back in the 1500s. galleriaaccademiafirenze.beniculturali.it
At the Lastrucci stone mosaic workshop in Santa Croce the artists use a technique dating back to the 16th century. They chisel precious and semi precious stones with a saw made from a bent tree branch shaped like a bow with an iron wire stretched from end to end. Using water and emery powder these colourful stone fragments are then “glued” together with beeswax and pine resin to create incredibly detailed and beautiful images, which at first appear to look like oil paintings. The best place to see a historic collection of this incredible stone mosaic art is the Medici Chapel. imosaicidilastrucci.it
Food is culture. And culture is food. Whether eating out, or dining in, this city offers plenty by way of seasonal produce. My edible highlights:
Homemade spaghetti with butter and freshly grated truffle, washed down with Mandois, Brunello di Montalcino, and negroamaro sherry from Puglia. Caffe Italiano, via Isola delle Stinche 11R, Santa Croce.
Ground-zero for the perfect foccacia sandwich and winelist to lose an afternoon and acclimatise while watching the world walk by. laprosciutteria.com
The perfect jet lag cure at 4pm when you can’t look at another painting of the crucifixion is a scoop a lemon and chocolate gelato. Available everywhere. But if you crave the city’s oldest, head to Vivoli in Santa Croce. Vivoli.it
To have and to hold? Being present and having your senses engaged with all that’s on offer in this ancient art-centric city is pretty straightforward because it’s just so achingly beautiful. My tips for the art of feeling, well:
Crunch the gravel pathways of the Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti Palace and enjoy vast city views. The whole place was built by the Medici family and is a very grand world heritage site of green architectural significance. But the highlight for me was walking up the hill of a 400 year old cypress avenue flanked on either side by hundreds of metres of carefully manicured 4m high bay leaf hedges and archways, and simply running my hands along them. Aromatic heaven. https://www. uffizi.it/en/boboli-garden