Ah, February! The Gregorian calendar’s stunted, malformed second child. Cold and witless, what it lacks in mirth it mercifully compensates for in brevity. Most years I require a cucumber mask - Tom of Finland - and a Montrachet just to get through it one piece. Others choose to dare the weather - Albert from Boston sent me this lovely queery just the other day:
“I’m traveling with my wife to Florence this spring, and she has insisted that I not embarrass her with my odor. I enjoyed your Holiday Fragrance guide and hope you can help me out with this as well. Can you recommend me a place to buy a new fragrance while I’m there?”
Firenze! I know it well. In truth, this time of year I’d avoid it altogether, at least until the Milano season is over. One can’t swing a dead cat without running into groups of catty fashion bloggers and grubby-handed textile buyers pawing at spools of overpriced tweed. Shun the Fortezza da basso, whose ancient ramparts no longer protect from invaders but invite them inside for conventions and trade shows. With fake scowls and lensless glasses, they line themselves up along the benches of the inner courtyard and pretend they're unaware of the dozens of Hubble-sized cameras, and they count their victories by the number of “Daily Style Updates” in which they've been featured.
Everyone interested in fragrance mentions a visit to the Piazza de Santa Maria Novella; I say it with an effete shrug but know you’ll end up there anyway. While it was once a lovely hidden gem for aficionados, it’s now mostly a consumer blob filled with Japanese tourists and ornery Swiss sales associates. Spritz something without asking for their benefaction and they’ll release the hounds. Still, an ablution of Melograno (a lovely, fresh pomegranate scent) or the dark Patchouli is worth the price of admission. For those with more delicate senses, Colonia Russa or even the giant vats of rose water make for an enjoyable sniff.
I recommend instead a small place further north on the Viale Manzoni; I can never remember the name but it’s just there on the right. You can’t miss it; ask for Anna. She’s a lovely dear with whom I once shared a priceless vial of Must de Cartier, thick and dark as motor oil. We laughed and opened a hidden drawer in back wherein was kept the secret supply of Guerlain parfum - surely one of the best-known fragrance houses in the world, and one you must experience. They also stock a wide range of Etro scents; it’s the same as the fashion house, and their profumi is equally fun. Gomma and Lemon Sorbet sound just about right; the former a rich amber-y leather and the latter a jocular confection of citrus and woods.
But the single fragrance house that bellows FIRENZE to me is Lorenzo Villoresi. Not too outlandish to appear gimmicky, not too expensive to be prohibitive, and for the confused pedestrian traveler not too difficult to find on a daily sojourn. His concoctions are always a treat. Stop inside after a day of mincing around town in your Liverano-staple lime sweater and orange pants, one buckle of your monks flapping in the wind. You absolutely must give both Piper Nigrum and Sandalo a try. The first is warm and rich with a hint of menthol; think of a cashmere jacket around which too many of the local nobility have been smoking handmade cigarettes. The other is simply the best sandalwood scent ever conceived. Whichever you pick, each Villoresi is imbued with DNA that sets it apart.
With at least one of these in hand, dear Albert, rest assured that when your lovely wife wakes each morning with the Tuscan sun and glances at your still-mussed hair, she will see you not as a curmudgeonly Kronos but as a young and spry god, sprung fully formed from the wit of Italian myth itself. Enjoy your vacation - and enjoy the sweet scent of eternal youth.