If you're new to niche perfume, you might not know the name Luca Turin. Here’s a brief education: His remarkable nose, refined taste, and scientific theories on olfaction have given him an iconic, almost god-like status in the world of scent. He is also co-author of what many fragrance lovers call the "bible" of fragrance criticism, Perfumes: The A-Z Guide. In other words, when you are a perfumer and Luca Turin comments on your work, you are the real deal. And when he blesses your perfumes, you are a big deal.
So what does Turin have to say about Maria Candida Gentile, one of our featured May artists?
“[Her scents] are rich, warm, versicolored, joyful compositions that make you smile with pleasure. Ms. Gentile seems to proceed by successive approximations from one fragrance to another and her creations have a strong family resemblance. Unlike many firms, she does not try to do the canonical set to please every type of customer.” They are, he says, “neither provincial nor touristy, do not frighten horses or save the planet: they are proper fragrances, the way the French used to do them when they still cared.”
Yes, Maria Candida Gentile cares. And her care shines through each of her creations.
Gentile is the only Italian maître parfumeur (master perfumer) to graduate in the last 30 years from the prestigious Grasse Institute of Perfumery. She made her mark in the world of perfumery long before launching her eponymous line, with creations such as the wildly popular Vittoria Apuana for Profumi del Forte and Bateau for Farmacia SS Annunziata.
By the time she launched her own line in 2009, she had plenty to say—and a unique way in which to say it. Her scents use a high ratio of natural materials and essences but are classic in every way: sophisticated, complex, elegant, evolving. She sources rare and highly valuable ingredients not for the novelty of doing so but because she knows how to coax something unique out of them.
In short, her line deserves every bit of attention it has received, and we are thrilled to introduce subscribers to her work via Cinabre, a marvelous spicy rose that journeys through peppery to powdery before settling into a deep, sweet smokiness. We spoke with Gentile about her art and her life near the sea in Liguria, Italy.
Olfactif: Many of your scents are based on memories of places or things that you have experienced personally. What role does imagination play in your work?
MCG: My imagination is the first ingredient of any Maria Candida Gentile perfume. I create stories with my fragrances, inspired by other stories—books, music, places, people—until they become my own. For example, the day I created Hanbury—a paean to Lady Dorothy Hanbury and her gardens near Ventimiglia, Italy—it was the end of February in 2008. The gardens of the Villa Hanbury were battered by the wind, there was a storm on the sea, and I was alone. I was so caught up in that moment that in my mind’s eye I traveled back in time, before the garden was destroyed during World War II and I saw Lady Dorothy wearing an elegant white dress and a big straw hat on her head. I was there with her and inhaled and smelled the heady aromas of flowers in full bloom.
O: You use a lot of natural essences in your scents. Why do you prefer to work with naturals when possible?
MCG: Yes, as much as possible. Natural ingredients evoke strong emotions for me, reconnecting me to the earth. That makes the difference and makes the fragrances magic. For me, a good fragrance is a fragrance that does good to the one who wears it. The only way to make it happen is to use a high percentage of natural essences, the ones that our bodies and souls understand and love instinctively, and to make it with our hearts. Only what comes from the heart can touch the heart. This is what differentiates my collection from lines where three synthetic molecules are blended together. They do not inspire the wearer and they are engineered to smell the same on everyone, obliterating elegance and eloquence.
O: You have said, "When I became a mother, it became very clear that creating fragrances was the passion of my life." How did motherhood help to inspire this realization?
MCG: When I became a mother, I was more aware of what I wanted—for my children and for myself. As a mother, you have to manage your life, balancing love and responsibility to your children with your own aspirations. But ironically, that was the time that I knew I must be a perfumer. Now my children are grown, 30 and 20 years old. Marco lives in New Zealand and Giacomo lives in a magical place in Aosta Valley. In Valley d' Aosta where Giacomo lives, the beauty of the place inspires me. So as a mother and a perfumer, I was inspired by Giacomo to create Gentile, a new twist on classic fougeres for men, from my Exclusive collection.
O: Your bottles have such a beautiful vintage look and feel. How did you come up with this concept? What influence does the past have on your work and aesthetic sense?
MCG: The style of bottles was chosen by my dearest friend Federico Luci, who was a graphic art director of Mondadori publishing house during the 1980s. My flacons evoke the heritage of the great French classics and the eloquence of Italian perfumery.
O: Many of your scents are inspired by other artists and works of art. Barry Lyndon is inspired by the Stanley Kubrick movie adaptation of the Thackeray book, Lady Day is inspired by Billie Holliday, and Gershwin is inspired by George Gershwin. Can you talk about the inspirations that you draw from other artists' work?
MCG: Yes, many of my scents are inspired by other artists and works of art. For example, Sideris is a purely poetic fragrance dedicated to the last night star in "In The Morning You Always Come Back," a poem written by the author Cesare Pavese to the American actress Constance Dowling.
O: Do you know whether Kubrick has ever smelled Barry Lyndon?
MCG: No, but I would like this!
O: Can you describe the room in which you do most of your composition work?
MCG: I live in an old house on the top of a hill. I love to work during the night. From my windows, I have an amazing view of the sea and mountains. My lab is full of raw materials and pictures.
O: Can you tell us about the development of Cinabre? How did you know it was finished?
MCG: Cinabre represents perfume as alchemy. Three years in development, I was looking for a balance between spices, roses, and vanilla—but finally I understood that I did not want a balance but magical transformation. How did I know it was finished? I just knew. it is a feeling of elation and completion.
O: What was the most important idea to communicate with Cinabre?
MCG: The inspiration for Cinabre is ancient. In Rome, there is a door called the door of Vittorio Piazza. It is one of the entrances of the Palombara Villa, where the Marquis Massimiliano used to organize very secret events with the elite of that time dedicated to alchemy. On the door, you can still read, "the seed from which was born our flower cannot be found in the markets," meaning that the alchemy is a science shared among an elite. Also on the same door, it is written, "the Hesperides dragon hides the entrance of the magic garden.” This dragon was depicted next to a huge dracena tree, also known as the dragon blood tree. The uniqueness of this tree is that it produces a sap that changes color when one puts it on the skin. It becomes red, hence its name “dragon’s blood” or cinnabar. Cinabre takes its inspiration from this ancient wisdom—that you must search out what is not common. Why is it alchemy? Through the magic of perfumery, I am able to create olfactory illusions of roses that defy conventional soliflores. These are the secrets of master perfumers.
O: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us and for sharing your work with us.
MCG: It was a pleasure, and I am very pleased that you chose Cinabre for your May curation.
Purchase your full bottle of Cinabre here.