Spend a day in Catania, a baroque jewel on the east coast of Sicily, and you will understand why Boudoir 36, an artisanal perfumery, is such a great fit for this exuberant city – a place where every scent, taste and colour seems more intense, from the jasmine draping the buildings and the oranges piled into ziggurats on the pavements to the blue of the sky framing Mount Etna. The perfume selection at Boudoir 36 rivals the finest boutiques in Paris and London, but the shop’s flamboyance and opulence are uniquely Sicilian.
The entrance is framed by a sumptuous red‑velvet curtain, and as you pass through, you leave the bustle of historical Via Santa Filomena and discover an Aladdin’s cave of fragrance. “Boudoir” is an appropriate name – the space is small, only 22sq m, and it has the intimate ambience of a private salon. There is shelf upon shelf of bottles, porcelain jars, gilded candles and soaps wrapped in colourful paper. Flowers in extravagant arrangements spill out of vases, and crystal chandeliers cast a soft glow over the antique furniture. “I want to offer an experience that involves all the senses,” says Antonio Alessandria, the visionary behind the store. And the reason he succeeds is because of his contagious passion – obsession even – for scent.
At the end of his working day as an electronics engineer, Alessandria repairs to the boutique until late at night and spends his free time studying fragrance. His knowledge is encyclopedic and he will share it generously. More than selling you a pretty bottle, he wants you to be seduced by perfume.
Alessandria approaches his collection as if he were a museum curator – with exacting attention to detail and thorough research. He stocks Boudoir 36 with the very best of fragrances from luxury houses such as Jean Patou, and niche producers of the likes of Tauer. It is one of the few places in the world where you can sample such rare scents as “1270” (€115 for 100ml) by P Frapin & Co, the makers of prized Pierre Frapin cognac, or Tauleto Wine Fragrance (€80 for 100ml) by Umberto Cesari, which is redolent of Sangiovese grapes. There are also home-aroma and bodycare products that are equally outstanding. Devotees seek out Cire Trudon’s Trianon candle (€68 for 270g), which radiates a scent inspired by Marie-Antoinette’s garden at Versailles, as well as Les Sens de Marrakech Black Olive soap with eucalyptus (€28), which pays homage to Moroccan hammam rituals.
Alessandria’s loyal clientele ranges from celebrities and connoisseurs to local residents, and he shows the same devotion to helping Italian actress Isa Danieli choose her ideal cologne as he does to any other visitor. When one of his neighbours returns to purchase Frédéric Malle’s Carnal Flower (€160 for 50ml), a lush tuberose she discovered thanks to Alessandria’s gentle guidance, he beams. “My customers are above all people who wear perfume as a way to express their moods and personalities,” he says. Part of his magic is finding the perfect match.