“EVERYBODY IS ALWAYS talking about Italianity,” says Massimiliano Giornetti, creative director for Salvatore Ferragamo. “Italianity can be the link between tradition, craftsmanship, culture and that certain Italian lifestyle.” We're sitting on the top floor of the Principe hotel overlooking Forte dei Marmi, a seaside town so posh that I swear I heard someone say “Vertu!” when they sneezed. Among the palm trees and gelaterie, the shops are a litany of luxury: Gucci, Prada, Dolce & Gabbana. In short, it's the perfect place to stay for the launch of Salvatore Ferragamo's new fragrance collection.
Founded in 1927, Salvatore Ferragamo is as Florentine a brand as they come. It remains one of the few fashion houses to be fully owned by the founding family and, under their guidance, has expanded beyond shoes into ready-to-wear, accessories and fragrances. Whereas most brands operate a licensing deal with perfume houses such as Coty or Estée Lauder, Ferragamo launched its own fragrance department 12 years ago. This means that unlike other creative directors who will have no part in the fragrance development, Giornetti is involved all the way. “I'm not just working on one element of Ferragamo. My aim is to work much more in the way of lifestyle. I want to create something that expresses the style of modern luxury, of being Tuscan and Florentine.”
Having grown up in the city of Carrara, Giornetti clearly has a vested interest in the region and its portrayal. When I ask about the inspiration for the fragrances, he's evocative, expounding at length and without prompts. “These are fragrances for those who love the quality [associated with Italy]. I don't like to use the word ‘unisex', but these aren't men's or women's fragrances. We used some notes like jasmine, fig, white pepper and neroli – the elements that we have in Tuscany – and expressed that in a cool and contemporary way. They are like the ingredients of the Italian lifestyle: the Tuscan Soul.” I'm intrigued. We've yet to see so much as a glimpse of a perfume bottle, let alone sniff a sample card. Despite Giornetti's eloquence, scent is hard to convey without resorting to fanciful metaphor, so I'm left to wonder exactly what the “Tuscan Soul” smells like.
Later that evening, a convoy of Range Rovers drives us up the twisty road to the Michelangelo Caves in Carrara. One of only four quarries in the world that produce Carrara marble, this particular one is not open to the public. As the car rounds its final hairpin, we all reach for our camera phones. The sun is setting in the Apuan Alps, dyeing the clouds pink, orange and violet. In contrast, the jagged mountains appear whiter than ever. At first glance, one would be forgiven for thinking it was snow when in fact it's the exposed white or blue-grey marble that the area is famous for.
Luciano Bertinelli, CEO of Ferragamo Parfums, kicks off the evening's presentation with a welcome speech and invites the audience to take a seat on the marble blocks. The floodlights are switched off, and in the darkness the high-altitude air seems fresher than ever. But before I can dwell on that, the mountain moves.
OK, so it's a 3D projection on the side of the mountain. The quarry's white marble proves to be the perfect surface as the optical illusion continues with it cracking and crumbling. Then, one by one, the Tuscan Soul Quintessential Collection is revealed. Set to the stirring operatic voices of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the presentation is a journey through the Tuscan land that inspired it. First comes Convivio, a grapefruit and cypress concoction. This is followed by Vendemmia's sensual take on Mediterranean fruits. Viola Essenziale is next, conjuring up May in Florence with its delicate iris. For the finale, Bianco di Carrara's white musk, white pepper and white vetiver leave no doubt as to which precious material it's celebrating.
As the final strains of Puccini's “Nessun Dorma” fade, I'm left with whatever patriotism is called when it's for a foreign country. I want to be Italian – no, I want to be Tuscan. They know how to put on a show. By the time the models hand out perfumed sample sticks, guests are clamouring for a sniff and swapping sticks in their eagerness to try them all. All too soon, it's time to leave. When I look back, I see the luminous words “Salvatore Ferragamo” still visible on the marble mountain.
The next morning as I sit down with Bertinelli, he asks what I thought of the launch. I reply that it was wonderful. Bertinelli seems pleased, but refuses to take the credit. “The cave is really something unique. The idea was to find a location to tell the story of Bianco di Carrara. Daniela [Sola] – she's the PR director – said, ‘OK, well Bianco di Carrara, we can go to the caves.' But the decision wasn't easy because of the risks – if it's windy or rainy, you cannot stay there. So you must be lucky. In the end though, she was right.”
At €150 a bottle, the collection follows in the footsteps of Hermès' Hermessence, or Armani Privé: an upscale fragrance line for a high-end brand. Needless to say, there will be no sports editions or celebrity-fronted adverts. “Normally, when you buy a product of US$50, you buy a brand. In this case, you're not buying the dream, you're buying the fragrance – real fragrance.”
For this, the selling ceremony is key. When the collection goes on sale in mid-November, it will only be available in 50 Ferragamo boutiques worldwide: Europe, the Middle East and Hong Kong. (“I love to repeat one thing,” says Bertinelli with a chuckle. “You [Asia] are the future, we are the past!”) From March, distribution will roll out to encompass China and the US, but even then it won't be available in department stores or online. Bertinelli's message is clear: “You must enter a Ferragamo shop to smell it. The objective of this kind of collection is to build the image of the company. It's not really linked with volume.
“Coty, Procter & Gamble: they cannot develop this [type of collection]. Impossible. Because you lose money! This is a project for the next 20 years, whereas they're looking for short-term projects. Our vision is different. This is why the Ferragamo family decided to develop this kind of project, to build the image, to check the quality, to check distribution, to check every detail. This is the reason.”
It feels like a pep talk, or a rallying cry before the launch of Ferragamo Parfums' boldest move yet. As the interview wraps up and I return to my room, I'm reminded of an off-hand comment the PR officer made the previous night. We'd been talking about our homelands when she'd remarked, “Italy is known for the three Fs: food, fashion and Ferraris.” It might seem premature, but with the Tuscan Soul Quintessential Collection, Ferragamo has made a convincing case for the inclusion of one more: fragrance.