Lorenzo Villoresi was born in Florence, in an austere town house on one of the city’s oldest streets. Its sober architectural fabric still untouched, via de’ Bardi, surrounded by the compact green maquis that cascades down from Costa Scarpuccia, takes its name from one of the most illustrious families of the medieval mercantile aristocracy, whose warehouses were located along this very street. The Bardis were a great banking family who dominated the political and economic scene of the pioneering Republic of Florence, which already ruled over Eastern shipping routes and was the undisputed leader – together with the Republic of Venice – in the processing and distribution of the most valuable commodities.
Lorenzo Villoresi has drawn fully on this desire for adventure, to travel and to recover forgotten stories and traditions and made it his own. A cosmopolitan by blood, vocation and curiosity, he belongs to a family that springs from the most diverse sources and has developed a rich culture of diverse memories, customs and languages that are consciously applied even in everyday life.
It includes ancestral Savoyards, including one Carlo de Loche, a ship’s captain worthy of Emilio Salgari, whose innumerable travel souvenirs form a nineteenth-century Oriental cosmorama, telling stories of far-away seas, mixed with the image of a Hungarian grandmother, whose imposing portrait dominates Lorenzo’s study. The ancient Tuscan family tree into which all these branches are grafted is populated by those typically honest and unfussy, subtly ironic, but at the same time sophisticated and speculative people who live in the most civilised countryside in the world and cultivate olive trees and ancient memories of home in the same way. An unregimented childhood spent with his family at the foot of Monte Morello and in close contact with nature, its seasonal patterns and its secrets, surrounded by an agricultural world which has now all but disappeared, has left a deep imprint. A key figure in this introduction to the natural world, to loving and understanding botanical species and their healing properties, was his father Luigi. A man who witnessed and participated in the dynamic and enthralling life of a Florence that was still a prodigious wellspring of culture, he combined art and literature with the simple life of the countryside.
The family home, a magnificent early medieval building that was extended in the fifteenth century, was a favourite place for playing games and exploring fantasies. The extremely long loggia, the tempera paintings by Bartolomeo Pinelli and the neoclassical frescos by Sarti, the polished terracotta floors, worn down by centuries of use, the mysterious and cavernous cellars become, like the walled garden, a horticultural enclosure, dissected by rigid lines of box hedges and planted with lemon and bitter orange trees, a much-loved place for indulging the olfactory senses.
The call of the East, where Lorenzo travelled during his years at university, was a constant feature of life in the Villoresi family. In the first few difficult years of the post-war period, his mother, Clarissa Villoresi, had bravely returned along the path travelled by Tuscan traders of old, opening a boutique in Cairo that sold the most highly refined Florentine craftsmanship. The Egyptian capital, a real international crossroads where you could come across dispossessed kings and spies just as easily as activists from the burgeoning Middle Eastern political movements and members of the jet set, was experiencing a particularly intense period of its history. Stories and memories of this experience recounted by his parents form part of Lorenzo’s rich store of emotions and fantasies. Several years later, in order to expand his knowledge and complete his classical philosophy studies, Lorenzo himself set off on the road to the East, a road which was somehow already familiar to him.
On the tracks of ancient cultures, primarily Jewish but also Egyptian and Mesopotamian, seemingly distant but in reality so close to our own, he spent long periods of study and travel in the Middle East, where he researched the dissertation for his degree on the challenging subject of death in Hellenistic and archaic Jewish thinking.
He discovered the world of essences and perfumes, as well as the flavours and customs of those distant lands. The journeys were long and had no precise destination. His search for aromatic spices and fragrant oils became an opportunity to go on solitary, unstructured and above all unhurried journeys, free from timetables and precise destinations, with a willingness to accept destiny that led to continuous enrichment. Entire days were spent in the Cairo bazaar, the Omdurman market in Khartoum, the tormented heart of ancient Jerusalem, without any precise objective but always making fascinating discoveries and acquaintances. On the Sinai mountains, near the ancient monastery of Saint Catherine, in areas that were seldom travelled at the time, Lorenzo learned about the medicinal plants of the desert from the knowledge handed down orally by each generation. He learned about habaq, an indigenous spice used in an infusion, and other species with different properties.
The Orient therefore became a source of scents and sensations with which to fulfil Lorenzo’s desire to re-establish the vanishing tradition of Florentine perfumery.
This complex life history characterised by lively ferment, was then brought up-to-date by a prolonged period of immersion in present-day New York, the beating heart of the modern world.
Perfume, says Villoresi, introduces you to the world, it is a nuanced illustration of the way you think, a way of revealing your soul to a greater or lesser extent, a gateway open or closed to others, an opportunity, a game, a form of seduction.
The winding search for new scents delves ever deeper, experimenting with a wide assortment of essences that are difficult to control. A range of elements rooted in Tuscan tradition, like laurel absolute, the Laurus nobilis of poets, or historically prized and essential, like the white root of the iris. Essences that are dear to Western traditions are revisited with deference but very often with a pinch of irony and sorcery, blended and subverted to reflect the mystical wonders and inebriation of those well-known and beloved countries of the East. The results are highly refined perfumes, in terms of the sophisticated artisanal production methods and of the sophisticated materials – silk, leather, crystal, silver – used for the boxes and bottles.
The message that Villoresi wants to convey is continuity and respect for perfumery, a tradition that may have been forgotten but which was born precious and then treasured until the dawn of the modern era. He is inspired by a desire to reconstruct an art, putting together all its most secret pieces, unveiling this world gradually, updating it without conflict or pointless regrets, using materials that transcend time, the intrinsic value of which is just as recognisable to us as it was to the people of the ancient world. His perfumes therefore reflect the personality of their creator, but in their rich complexity and accurate insight, they are also the personal manifestation of the people who buy them. These are fragrances that teeter on the edge of old-fashioned, far from the clamour of modern consumerism and from a trite nostalgia for a past that is often so mystified, so poorly understood and in any case unrepeatable.