… really, no kidding! On Friday, I’d had amorphous, tentative plans to go looking for niche Italian perfumeries in Rome later in the afternoon, after our Forum/Coliseum tour. But The CEO was dragging me down this street and up the next one, looking for the Pantheon, and my feet hurt, and near one of the bridges over the Tiber I said, “Let’s go this way,” and pointed to the right. “I think we can get there from here.”
So we went to the right, and half a block later I saw the magic sign PROFUMERIA over one of those hole-in-the-wall Italian shops that close with a metal garage door, so I dragged The CEO for a change. “I’m going in there,” I said emphatically, and pointed.
The older Italian man in the shop spoke very little English, but enough to know that I was looking for specifically Italian perfume. “Bulgari,” he said, pointing. “Bulgari, Ungaro, Gucci. Gucci, Hermes, Dior, Givenchy…” I was shaking my head, No, No, Italiano, so he went on pointing. “Bulgari, Prada, Armani, Moschino. Aquolina, Dolce et Gabbana. Bulgari. Chanel?”
I consented to have Bulgari Jasmin Noir sprayed (generously, I noted) on my left wrist, and Gucci Guilty on my right, with Ungaro Fleur di Diva on my right forearm. At this point, The CEO intervened by pointing to a poster on the wall. “What about the Lolita one? Do you like that?”
“The men’s is too shaving-creamy for me, but I’ve actually never smelled the women’s,” I said. As I turned back to the counter, the shop owner had the Lolita Lempicka tester ready and spritzed my left forearm.
“Yes?” he asked, beaming. “Is bella?”
(It actually is. I found myself liking it more and more as the afternoon wore on and the anise-vanilla note held true through a sweaty, confusing, miserable-feet afternoon. But I didn’t buy it.)
“I don’t know,” I said and shook my head. “Organza Indecence?” I asked, pointing. It isn’t Italian per se, but that one is getting harder to find in the US for less than about $130. This box was 100ml for 78 euros, not a bargain at the current (disastrous) exchange rate. I shook my head again. About then, I saw a couple of black-and-gold Gianfranco Ferré boxes, and one of them bore the legend “20.” That one, I knew, is an aldehydic floral that is either discontinued or very hard to find in the US, and at least one perfumista I know sings its praises. I pointed. “Ferré?”
“Ferré!” exclaimed the shop owner, shooting a finger into the air. “Ferré, si.” He seized the tester and sprayed the inside of my left elbow, again generously. “Yes?”
I sniffed too soon and got a snootful of aldehydes, which made me laugh. “Aldehydes,” I said to the shop owner, waving my hand over the wet spot and rolling my eyes, and he laughed too. When I sniffed again, I got sparkly aldehydes bright as the disco ball at the skating rink, over a piquant fruity top. I didn’t wait for the topnotes to subside. Every Ferré scent I’ve tried (three or four of them, all with frustratingly similar names) has been nice, top to bottom, so I claimed Ferré 20. “I can’t get this at home,” I told The CEO.
“You want it?” he asked. “This is your birthday money, right?” I nodded, and pulled out the credit card. Currency conversion charges be darned: 52 euros later, the aldehydic-floral goodness of Ferré 20 was mine.
I picked up the little package, and with many thank-you’s and grazies, we started out the door. “Wait,” The CEO said to me. “You want a picture?” Yes. Yes, I did. The shop owner, whose name I never learned, graciously agreed to have his picture taken.
The CEO and I wandered around from there, finding the ruins of the Portico Ottavia, the Teatro Marcello, the big white building with twin statues of Nike (we never figured out the name of the thing, but I think it’s an art museum), the naked statues of Castor and Pollux and their enormous marble packages, an ancient bronze statue of Romulus and Remus suckling the she-wolf, and eventually the ancient Forum, from the opposite perspective than we’d seen earlier in the day.
After taking some more pictures, The CEO came up next to me and said, “That was cool that you found that little shop – and now you have a funny story to tell, right?” I nodded. “A funny thing happened on the way to the Forum!” he said. “A ‘fumey thing – don’t you say ‘fume?” I nodded again. “You can use that. I give it to you for free. Great blog post title. And much better than buying mainstream stuff in the Duty Free shop.”
Much better, I agree. I also noticed when I got the box back to our hotel (several hours and six blisters later) that the ingredients list says, “Alcohol Denat., Parfum, Aqua.” Even cooler! I have snagged myself a bottle old enough to have been produced before the IFRA regulations existed. It smells that way, too. Notes (from Fragrantica): blackberry, mandarin, bergamot, rose, jasmine, iris, vanilla, musk, cedar, sandalwood. I’m surprised no aldehydes are listed, because they are certainly present, and I also suspect a bit of benzoin in the mix. Otherwise, 20 smells very much like you’d expect, a nice woody floral given a touch of fun by the tangy fruit and a touch of elegance by the aldehydes.
So if you’re ever in Rome, go to 26, Via di Montesavello, near the tiny Piazza del Ierusalem , and tell the nice man at Idea Profumeria that the crazy American lady said Buon giorno! Buy some perfume while you’re there. Give him a hug when you leave, decorated with the contents of six tester bottles. Leave happy. Done.
Image of Ferre 20 from Fragrantica. Other photos courtesy of The CEO.