Health & Grooming | The Reconnoisseur

On a retreat in Italy, a woman discovers her signature perfume

A scent that speaks of shiny, smiling contentment

On a retreat in Italy, a woman discovers her signature perfume

May 01 2010
Maria Shollenbarger

About two years ago my favourite fragrance was discontinued by the venerated Italian fashion house that had produced it for more than a decade, and replaced with a new one that was equally fine, equally prettily-packaged… but really, really not me. After my hoarded supply ran out, I wandered for months in the olfactory equivalent of Dante’s selva oscura – a woman minus a signature scent and, therefore, minus a heretofore essential part of her adult identity.

Then last spring I attended a week-long writing workshop at Le Sirenuse in Positano – a place of ravishing vistas and coddling, attentive service, where the rooms are hung with Pirenesi etchings that have been in owner Franco Sersale’s family for centuries and the dining room is lit entirely by candlelight every night. (A relevant aside worth filing: there are few gentler, more healing places to retreat to in the wake of heartbreak, personal disappointment, or any of the other garden-variety existential wounds we sustain in life.)

Franco’s daughter-in-law, the kind, generous and formidably stylish Carla Paravicini Sersale, commissions signature scents for the hotel from her Milanese cousin Marina, roughly one new one a year. The original, Eau d’Italie, is used for all the in-room products – it instantly evokes crimson sunsets, salt air and long, delicious baths for me. But then I discovered Magnolia Romana. With fizzy top notes of basil and crushed lemon leaves, a deeply earthy base note, and a solidly, gorgeously floral centre, it is utterly perfect. Which is to say, in that way that fragrances do (and the reason why women bond so fervently to them), it embodied a version of me I’ll always associate with that place and my time there – smiling, content, a slightly shinier version of my habitual self.

The fact that you only find Magnolia Romana at Le Sirenuse (and at the impeccably chic boutique in front of the hotel entrance, called Emporio Le Sirenuse), or online at, is all the better.

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