Early autumn 2019 found me in Florence, Italy, for a fragrance industry industry calendar highlight, Pitti Fragranze, where I soaked up the atmosphere and cast a keen eye around seeking out my zone of interest – natural perfume brands. This was my first time visiting Pitti Fragranze and I was reassured to find it a very relaxed and friendly event for visitors, even if brand owners would have felt exhausted after three days of meeting, greeting and standing.
The venue was a few tram stops from central Florence in an old re-purposed station, Stazione Leopolda. The fair spreads out across the city for its duration though with talks, special exhibitions and evening sampling sessions in many locations from perfumeries to museums. Some city events were free, others were at a reduced rate for Pitti visitors and others were by brand invite only.
Let’s not forget that Italy was home to the fragrance industry before the industry moved to France and Geneva. Fragrance is in the lifeblood of great Italian cities and nowhere more so than Florence which houses the eponymous Officina Profumo or Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella which is one of the world’s oldest pharmacies. I did pop inside, not far from the city’s main station and historic church of the same name, even if just to gaze the antique apothecary jars and frescoes.
Pitti Fragranze 2019 – Highlights
As with any trade fair, it helps to plan your visit especially as Pitti Fragranze has a number of excellent stage events in the programme, including talks and interviews with some major industry names.
This year’s headliner was Jean-Claude Ellena, former in-house perfumer at Hermès and known for his thoughtful insider insights into the perfumery industry in his now growing portfolio of books. His latest is ‘L’Ecrivain d’Odeurs‘, which is a scentology of travel and odors of places that inspired his perfumes as well as an entree into his world and musings on what it means to be a perfumer.
Pitti put on a Jean-Claude Ellena Retrospective; a first for him and probably for the fair too. It was fascinating tracing the creative development of this master perfumer and also seeing, or rather smelling, how fragrance fashion evolved through the decades. From his first renowned work ‘First‘, for Van Cleef & Arpels, to his latest release ‘Rose et Cuir‘ for Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle, Ellena has kept his paymasters happy while, as he explained on stage, keeping true to his nose and creative values. He has always been a perfumer willing to voice his opinions on the commercial vs creative tightrope perfumers must walk.
US-based perfume critic and author Chandler Burr edited and choreographed the retrospective and interviewed Ellena (in French) for us, the eager audience. It is moments like this, listening to the insiders who to their credit open up the mysterious, often shrouded world of perfumery, that makes Pitti special. Just being among like-minded perfume aficionados, is enough excuse to head to Pitti.
Pitti Fragranze – the Brands, the Business
Pitti is the place where the niche, the artisanal and newcomers rub shoulders with their forerunners but rarely with huge fashion, celebrity and conglomerate fragrance and skincare brands. Dyptyque is a case in point; a well-known brand (it started in the early ’60s) but still one that needs seeking out in specialist perfumeries, niche stores and its own perfumery-lifestyle stores, like those in Paris. The old perfumeries of E. Coudray, LT Piver and J.F Schwarzlose, Berlin, were represented alongside many with ancient-sounding names but which can’t claim, as they can, to hark back to some golden age of perfumed courtiers.
Then, you find the totally contemporary brands often with a plus sign or an ‘and’ in the name. These include D.S. & Durga (New York), Moth and Rabbit (Berlin) and Bjork & Berries (Sweden). But whether new, old, mid-century modern or modern, all the brands at Pitti Fragranze had a certain sense of place in the market; a confidence in their raison d’etre even when standing flacon to flacon with the next brand.
I found all brand reps took time and care to explain in the least salesly way possible why they exist and what their collections contribute to the world of perfumery. Whether blogger, buyer, journalist, distributor or indie perfumery owner (or plain visitor, like myself), the brands were relaxed and happy to chat to us all. By day three, the Sunday, they were still smiling even if chatting less to folks bearing commercial opportunities and more to what looked like Firenze residents out for an afternoon.
Natural Perfume Brands at Pitti Fragranze
I can’t say whether all-natural fragrance brands or those declaring a high percentage of botanical ingredients are on the rise at Pitti, but my guess is yes. Pitti isn’t only about showcasing niche, new fragrance brands though as I noticed a good number of natural cosmetics, home and lifestyle fragrance and skincare brands exhibiting too.
These are some of the natural, near-natural and/or sustainable perfume brands that caught my eye:
Aer Scents – Launched just under two years ago, Aer is a Berlin-based founding duo of ‘nose’ Stefan and art and brand director Ted, who create perfume ‘accords’ with strong personalities.
Accords, however, that are in reality complex and cleverly constructed full perfumes built around a dominating note, such as nagarmotha or cade. These are scents to get noticed wearing.
As Aer is fast making a name for its uncompromising scents and attitude to 100% botanical raw materials, you’ll find their perfumes in a growing number of niche perfumeries as well as available online. All in all, a great niche brand run by great guys with a clear mission to make natural perfume history.
Ted, pictured here, said Aer had been invited to Pitti which speaks volumes for the strides the brand is making. It also shows the established fragrance industry is on the look out for natural perfume brands and that demand for them is growing rapidly.
Bravaraniz – a fascinating natural brand in northern Spain created by a former actor, director and artist who dusted off his family history in founding the perfumery in 2014 with more than a nod to his grandfather’s successful cosmetics’ business of the early 20th century. The perfumes draw inspiration from the wild flora of the Spanish interior captured in memory on walks and created in the lab from ecologically-harvested and distilled botanical materials. The website’s soundscape makes you feel you’re walking the scented hills with them.
Anna Paghera – a deep-rooted eco-brand named after the Italian founder and that has interests in green design beyond fragrance creation. Anna Paghera’s work covers interior, garden and exhibition design all to eco credentials. Her fragrances might not be so well known beyond Italy but I enjoyed sniffing them and later, reading about their sense of fun and frivolity as well as their ‘soul’. They seem good value for 100ml and are beautifully presented.
Clean Beauty Collective – this brand has a 15-year history and offers a delightful collection of fresh, clean, herbal, aromatic, spicy and fun-named scents such as White Fig & Bourbon and Hemp & Ginger in its Avant Garden range . However, doing some homework on their website later, I notice phenoxyethanol (a preservative) in several fragrance ingredients’ lists. If you want 100% natural fragrances, then Clean Beauty’s might not be suitable. That said, the debate has moved on from 100% natural to: ‘Is it sustainable?’. Clean Beauty does stress the sustainability of source ingredients rather than its naturalness or otherwise.
Bjork & Berries – started life as a small project in the wilds of Sweden and now has products from fragrance to skincare stocked all over the world. Perfume critic and physicist Luca Turin tends to give the perfumes a hard time in his book reviews but they are to my mind admirable and covetable. The brand has a strong back story and as Bjork means ‘birch’ in Swedish, it has based several products on a birch scent and extracts. My bug bear gripe is that its site lists what its products do not contain (which could fall foul of EU fair play/trade regs) rather than focusing more positively on what they do contain. But, talk of hand-picked ingredients in Swedish woods seems to woo consumers. Despite its established presence in stores, the Pitti stand wasn’t manned when I passed by.
Prosody – the name itself means patterns or rhythm of sound, as in the stylistic turn of language, written or spoken. Established just over a year ago, and founded by London-based Singaporean Keshen Teo who trained under Mandy Aftel of Aftelier natural perfumes, Prosody has gained traction fast. Stocked in Harrods and with scented candles in Fortnum & Mason, Prosody seems as if it’s been on the scene a long time.
Its claim to perfumery fame is not just its 100% natural perfumes but also its near 100% use of organic materials too. Few in the industry can muster those credentials and come up with fine fragrances that echew the usual criticism that natural organic blends are a pot pourri best left to the aromatherapy world. I have some Prosody samples courtesy of The Perfume Society’s subs boxes.
The two I particular like, and would buy full bottles of are: Rose Rondeux, with its rosy heart built on patchouli and iris (natural rose oils can be used in micro amounts thanks to regulatory limits of IFRA); and Mocha Muscari with its creamy and unusual coffee-jasmine accord.
Given the complexity of creating smooth, balanced yet distinctive natural perfumes, I feel the name Prosody is well chosen. All their fragrances I trialed have a wonderful resonance.
Sana Jardin – is the world’s first socially-conscious, luxury fragrance house. Sana was set up primarily as a social movement to power change by bringing better conditions and greater economic empowerment to women in Morocco; the women who pick the flowers that go into creating Sana Jardin fragrances. I know of a cosmetics company, Abhati Suisse, that was similarly founded to bring social change in the form of education for girls in India.
Sana has trademarked its ‘Beyond Sustainability Movement™’ and gives as much airtime to its credentials as to the descriptions of its perfumes. Sana engages nose Carlos Benaim to create its collection which it says lies at the intersection of social impact, luxury and the economic impact of women. With 15-20% essential oils in each fragrance, there is a certain voluptuousness to Sana’s perfumes. I particularly liked its 2019 release Jaipur Chant, a narcotic white floral with Moroccan jasmine and Indian tuberose. While its range isn’t 100% natural, the brand’s eco-social projects are far weightier missions than aiming for natural purity at all costs.
To conclude, Pitti Fragranze is well worth visiting to mingle with a like-minded fragrance crowd though you need to prove you are connected with the industry in some way, for example as a blogger, buyer or brand. An invoice or similar does the job.
It is free to attend and great for research on packaging and scent trends as well as for getting insights from industry pundits. Florence embraces Pitti Fragranze so do make sure you seek out and book those extra-curricula events in advance too. The cocktail hour crowd outside the Campo Marzio store in the centro storico showed just how popular after-hours downtown Pitti events can be.