Lorenzo Villoresi’s studio does not promise much from the outside. A small suite on the top floor of a building on the south side of the Arno, it is in an old but certainly not glamorous part of Florence. The dusty buzzer is one of six set into the pockmarked brickwork. The street is dark and silent, the sound of the bell echoing inside.
But after four floors in a very small elevator, and one flight of stone stairs, you enter a very different world. One whose charm is an obvious reflection of Villoresi, the man, his taste and his passions. This is a personal and private space, devoid of pretension.
Room one is the laboratory. A large wooden desk sits under the eaves, a skylight shining down on its surface. It picks out brown scent bottles, an extract of poetry and a glass beaker with stirring rod. Corkscrew stands hold paper scent cards to sample new concoctions. The dominating influence in the room, however, is the 1500 bottles that line three tiers of shelves around three sides of the desk. They often sit three or four deep.
Mixing and sampling two of these bottles, to demonstrate the process, Lorenzo explains the importance of that poetry. Poetry, he explains, is abstract yet specific. It is emotional and evocative, yet it uses the words of actual scents – roses, grass, woods – to achieve that emotion in the reader. In his process a short poem that describes the inspiration behind a fragrance will quickly be translated into a list of base, mid and top notes. And with a good deal of experimentation that will become a list of 30 or so chemical names, each in a specified proportion. Such a conversion, for the perfume Yerbamate, sits on the desk.
Room two is the lounge. It has a large gramophone on the mantelpiece, as well as an old ‘record eater’ that played 45s like CDs before CDs were even invented. The music is largely rock ‘n’ roll. In the middle of the room is a low coffee table surrounded by a motley collection of antique chairs. There is has a large recess in the wall furnished with bright cushions upon which to lounge, surrounded by bookshelves of Nietzche and Freud. Staff work in one corner; scribbled notes are scattered on the table.
Yet what could seem like cacophony is harmonised by Lorenzo, as he discusses philosophy, vinyl, and the time Billy Joel sat down at the piano only to find it was painfully out of tune.
Lorenzo came to perfumery when he was travelling in Africa and the Middle East as a philosophy student. Both myself and my photographer studied philosophy as undergraduates, so we naturally move into a discussion of Lorenzo’s thesis, which concerned the Hellenic and Judaic ideas of death. Apparently they are surprisingly similar in their rejection of an afterlife. Even Homer’s descriptions of Odysseus in Hades were a later addition.
And then room three, the crowning glory. An old dining table sits in a room walled by French windows. It is plain save for the tasteful curtains and a few ornaments. The glory is outside: the serried orange roofs of Florence, punctured by cream steeples and the glorious Duomo dome. It is here that we sit down for our interview.
Read part two of this feature.