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A distinctive design house adds scent to its repertoire

Fornasetti strikes out into the world of home perfumes

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A distinctive design house adds scent to its repertoire

September 20 2010
Lucia van der Post

I know, I know… I keep going on about fragrance. But just at the moment lots of creative minds are obsessed with scent and all the weird and wonderful things they could be doing with it. This month, for instance, Fornasetti, the wonderful Italian house founded by the Milanese painter, sculptor, interior decorator and craftsman Piero Fornasetti, is launching what it calls its Profumi per la Casa (“perfumes for the house”).

Now, the interesting thing about this project is that Fornasetti as a design house primarily comes up with objects – chairs, stools, plates, chests of drawers, cupboards, vases, that sort of thing – with a visual language that is utterly distinctive, instantly recognisable. Piero’s son, Barnaba, has looked after his father’s heritage with much love and care, preserving the striking aesthetic as well as the rigorous handcrafted techniques of the atelier while developing and enlarging the range. The result is a cohesive collection of objects, all bound together by the idiosyncratic Fornasetti imagery.

When it came to the notion of introducing perfume, Barnaba Fornasetti was attracted to the “the idea of working with a sense other than sight and touch, then to combine it with objects; scent could be seen as a way to extend the poetic dimensions of the Fornasetti objects”.

Which is how he came up with the idea of combining fragrance with some of the atelier’s distinctive decorative objects. He chose the French “nose”, Olivier Polge, son of the great Jacques Polge (Chanel’s master perfumier), to develop the scent. So here we have two sons – Barnaba and Olivier – collaborating, each carrying on his father’s artistic traditions.

To start with the fragrance itself: there’s just one, and it’s called Otto. It has top notes of thyme and lavender (Mediterranean herbs loved by Barnaba), a heart of orris and cedarwood (symbolising the wood used in Fornasetti furniture), and base notes of Tolu balsam, incense (for the dreamscapes that are part of the world of Fornasetti), birch/styrax and labdanum. What I like about it is that there’s nothing sweet and artless about it. It’s rich and mysterious and herby.

This scent comes embedded in fine wax candles (made by Cire Trudon, the oldest French candle maker), but the containers are not your usual pretty, inoffensive little glass holders – these are ceramic objects demanding to be looked at and admired. They sport typically witty Fornasetti images (the facial expressions, dramatic eyes, sensual lips, the architectural drawings, the butterflies, owls and monkeys). Each of these is £95.

Then there are scent spheres, great beautiful bowls with an option of three different face motifs and three different applications – a diffuser with oil and a ceramic diffusing lid, scented rocks, or an incense burner with 40 incense sticks and a lid. Each of those is £220. Refills – because you wouldn’t want to throw the containers away – cost £75. The spheres need to be seen to be appreciated. I love best the one with one eye open, one eye closed, and one eye winking (third picture).

There’s also a boxed set of incense sticks (first picture, £125), embellished with seven fat pairs of lips, the seventh one being slightly open to hold the incense stick. And finally, there are fabulous room sprays which come in striking tall decorated bottles (£75) – one featuring a Fornasetti face (second picture), the other some butterflies.

From September 22 for six weeks the range is exclusive to Selfridges’ Wonder Room, but after that it will be going to specialist stockists around the world, including Barneys, L’Eclaireur, Lane Crawford and 10 Corso Como.