Making Perfume in Italy

I recently made my own perfume. Now, I’m not really a perfume person. I think the last time I even wore perfume was pre-pandemic and even then it wasn’t real perfume, just a cheap body mist that smelled like Christmas cookies. I’ve never had a signature scent or even a perfume bottle that wasn’t plastic. Honestly, the thought of it always felt a bit pretentious.

So how did I end up making my own? A friend invited me to a perfume-making class in Florence and although I’m not a perfume person, I love friends and Florence and new experiences. Win-win-win.

The class was held in a classic Italian profumeria, its walls lined with the most delightful bottles of dried plants, multicolored brews and translucent potions. (I’m fairly certain that perfume is actually just a front for alchemy or potion making.)

An older woman wearing a pink headband and spectacles presented us with three containers full of tiny bottles with rubber lids. The first group of bottles were for the “base,”  which she explained form the base of the scent. The second group was “cuore,” which means “heart.” This group creates the scent’s fullness. And the last group of scents was called “testa,” which means “head.” These scents are meant to deliver the first impression, or most potent note of scent.

There were scents of every variety in those boxes. Gardenia, hemp, rose, jasmine, lavender, cinnamon, jasmine, freesia, lemon, green apple, lily, peony, magnolia, orange blossom, narcissus, green tea, cedar, pine, and a bunch of names I’ve never heard of before. The woman told us to smell each scent, pick our favorite two from each container, write the name on a thin piece of paper and then drip a single drop onto the end. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was most drawn to food scents, like chocolate and vanilla. Maybe because I’m a bit of a glutton. I joked with the lady that I wanted to drink my chocolate scent. She laughed and told me I could, as long as I went to the hospital right after.

The only non-food scent I selected was wisteria, which smelled exactly like the lilac bushes that grew outside my first childhood home. And now that I think of it, the other scents I picked were connected to my childhood too. My maternal grandmother made and sold fudge. I have many memories of sitting in the store she shared with my grandfather (who did vacuum and sewing machine repair back when people still wanted to fix things), my belly pressed against the cool Formica counter, licking warm fudge off the spatula my grandma used to scrape out the bowl.

Apparently, my signature scent is much more signature than I realized when I was making it. Isn’t that funny? How memories can hunker down and lay dormant inside of you, slowly nudging your choices in one direction or the other without you even knowing it?

Once we’d selected all our scents, another Italian woman with short grey hair and sassy teal glasses arranged the paper strips into a fan, with some extended outward and others lower to the base. Then she fanned the air with it and asked if we liked the resulting smell. I did. I think. Honestly, I was so caught up in the experience and trying to speak as much Italian as I could, I just went with it. But I think it was good.

Then the woman wrote down her recommended recipe on a piece of paper, a certain number of drops for each flavor – more for some, less for others – and handed it to a young man with dark eyes who was wearing a pentagram necklace (told you it was a front for potion making). The young alchemist then gathered the appropriate bottles and, using an elaborate glass decanter (I think that’s what it’s called – I just know it looked magical), concocted each person’s scent in a beautiful glass bottle.

We were told that the scent must sit unused for 20 days to reach full maturity. I’m not sure what really takes place during that time, but in 20 days, I’ll smell like fudge and lilacs – and that seems like a pretty great signature scent to me.

Published by Andrea

Writer and avid explorer of all things.

4 thoughts on “Making Perfume in Italy

  1. Andrea – I love this story and your experience. What a great thing to do while there and frankly, everything in Italy is so quirky and fantastic. Glad you are making so many great memories, and sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

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