This week, something magical happened. Well, I’m quite the optimist and can spot special things in almost every aspects of life if I try to; but it is not that often I leave an event feeling shaken to the core – knowing that I had too little time to learn everything I wanted to and ask all the questions that are still bubbling inside me. I guess that’s life, you meet certain people who quickly awakens your interest and if you’re lucky, those meetings will change something within you.
When my invitation to meet with Paolo Terenzi arrived, I didn’t really know what to expect. This was not a master class – I was invited to sit down together with the nose of Haute parfumerie and niche brand Tiziana Terenzi and learn a little bit about how to mix a personal fragrance. I knew I had 45 minutes sharp to get anything done; other than that, I had no idea what was expected out of me! I’ve been studying and learning about fragrance for a while now, I’ve made sure to get some really great people from the industry to teach me and all I can think of is something my golf PRO used to tell me: “It takes time to learn how to play golf, at least a lifetime”. It definitely applies to perfumery as well.
At first, when I sat down in front of Mr. Terenzi (from here on Paolo) I felt intimidated. The man had arrived at his table with a full entourage of people and I had some difficulties concentrating. He told me that I was free to be the perfumer and he would simply assist me. That line unlocked something within me because as an educated college teacher I know that it is one thing to know your stuff and a completely different thing to be comfortable enough to teach it. I felt instantly calm, thinking that Paolo must be very good at his job to let someone without a drivers license take the steering wheel! It didn’t intimidate me anymore, it made me feel safe.
With shortness of time we traded information in rapid speed: he wanted to know a little bit about my background and scent preferences and I wanted to know everything but had to start with the basics. For my answer to him I said that I’m very Scandinavian, I like it clean and fresh, I enjoy roses but I don’t need an overly feminine scent. I connect with the nature I’ve been growing up with, Sweden has it all from the woods, lakes, fields and the sea. I also told him that oud is not my strongest suit.
If you read any interviews with Paolo, you’ll learn that the fragrance house of Tiziana Terenzi is a family business, now in the third generation. Paolo and his sister are now owning the company, he is the creator and nose while she is the designer. The company was established back in 1968 by Granddad Terenzi and his wife – then focusing on artisanal candles with strong aromas and later on left to their son Evelino; Paolo’s dad. What you don’t find in those interviews is how Paolo got to understand scents! While starting to pick out notes for me to smell, Paolo told me that as a child he used to walk along with his Granddad in the nature and they would play this game where he was given certain flowers or leaves to smell and try to detect which one they where. I asked if it was like an education and he said: “no, it was a game, we played, we had fun, we liked to be together outside”. This clicked with me as I could see myself laying on my back in our garden at night while my own dad pointed out all the stars and taught me their names. I still to this day remember them all.
As we started with the Heart note of my perfume Paolo told me that it is there, in the heart that you’ll find you, it carries the whole fragrance and shows the real structure of the perfume, he suggested to build a fragrance around fougère, a well known olfactory base which reminds me of hay and fields, it is woody but not too dry and it mixes well with floral notes without being overly feminine. I would say it can be very unisex even though I know that fougère is popular in strictly male perfumes.
I sniffed and rejected some notes (the vanille and burnt caramel being one I didn’t care for) while immediately feeling a personal connection to the Floral note, a mix of magnolia, jasmine and rose. With the use of his dispenser, Paolo made sure that two parts of Fougère and one part of Floral became the heart of my perfume! I loved that smart dropper, how he could be sure that just the right amount of raw material got mixed into the glass beaker. That’s the novice in me speaking – always eager to learn about the tools!
What I very much enjoyed with Paolo was the different elements of him: I could detect the elegant Italian man in immaculate clothing, the crazy scientist (yes, he is a chemist by education) and the way he seemed drawn to philosophy and poetry. This mix of personalities doesn’t come into my world that often, either people are strictly about science or they have studied more philosophical disciplines. As I myself am the mix of them both, it intrigues me when I meet someone who seem to speak my language. Paolo is known worldwide for his creations, some of them made for large established brands where he needs to play by the universal rules of perfumery and then those that he’s created for the Tiziana Terenzi brand where you can see almost a need to paint outside the lines, break boundaries and give the customer some education and emotional connection!
While we started to gather some accords for my Base note it felt quite obvious that we think alike. I might not be comfortable with a whimsical and artistic approach to my wardrobe but I sure am when it comes to fragrances.
Yes, I like niche, a lot. A little too much?
But I do understand that it costs money and I’m not a “perfume snob”. Obviously, I do wear scents that you can purchase on the beauty department floor (I do not, however wear anything synthetic that you’ll find at, let’s say VS) and my wedding day perfume was CHANEL Mademoiselle – which is far from a unique scent! I try to build a fragrance wardrobe for all occasions and aesthetics such as bottle design also plays its role in how well I connect with a perfume.
Paulo, also a jazz musician, started to find accords to my Base note while telling me that building a perfume is a little bit like writing a tune. He talked about how to create something with passion and tension, to challenge the senses, while handing me small cups to sniff. We had to challenge the floral and I connected with the Marine note. Feeling the salty wind and rural country made me think of my husband and how he has devoted his heart to the sea and to teach me about it too. I said I wanted an almost masculine base and Paolo didn’t disappoint me. We ended up with two parts of Sandalwood, one part of Fougère and one part of Marine! I kept looking at my left side where the glass beaker where supposed to go onto a portable cooker. At the bottom of it, you can see the little magnet, and I felt the excitement steer. We were actually making a perfume!
For the Top note we had already decided to pick up on my love for roses. As I got to listen to Paolo describing the top note as the part that is there to attract fast people it made me smile. I could see someone in front of me running to a counter to buy a perfume, take a sniff at the blotter and say: “yes, it’s perfect!” I’m not fast at all. To the contrary I would say that I’m ridiculously slow when it comes to owning my feelings and connect with something or someone – but once I do, it is there for life. I truly appreciated how Paolo seem to look at the relationship between all notes as the same as with human beings – he tried to teach me that beautiful elements lie in that who is not perfect. I could see my perfume evolve and for sure, it is a crazy little mix; not at all the perfect road to a pretty scent! For the Top note we settled for both Bulgarian and Damask Roses and added just a drop of Bergamot at the top. Bergamot is always a good idea together with Fougère, they seem to understand each other.
While Paolo poured the alcohol into the beaker and added our mix of raw oils to it, placing it on the magnetstir, I sat there, watching the magnet connect and generate a magnetic current; spinning the magnet in the beaker to stir and produce the fragrance! As a special touch to his creation, Paolo started to slowly heat the mix up – not for long – but to make it boil. I’ve never seen anything like it and I can only dream of visiting the lab some day to see the full process! It was lovely just to see it come to life. My perfume!
Seeing the liquid poured via the funnel and into my small little bottle was a treat but the magic happened when we got to smell it. I know nothing about perfumes compared to Paolo, but I could see his face concentrating and shifting. I believe we had made something special – even members of his team wanted a drop! I just sat there, feeling emotional and all choked up, stupid in the middle of the perfume section at Harvey Nichols Dubai, but it was a moment of truth. Something happened with me. I felt proud and happy, intrigued and a bit sad at the same time as I knew my 45 minutes were up. The perfume need to rest in the fridge for two weeks before I get to enjoy it and I can’t express how thankful I am for meeting with and getting the chance to learn from Paolo. Maybe I should have presented the brand itself even more to you, but I wanted you to understand the nose, where he comes from, why he creates the way he does and what you can expect from his perfumes. They are melodies, meetings and challenges and I’m so lucky to have gotten the chance to see it in action. ♥