March 18, 2011 by

A ‘Fumey Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum…


Categories: Gianfranco Ferre, Travel, Tags: , ,

… 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.


19 Responses to A ‘Fumey Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum…

  1. Tiara

    PERFETTO! The way you found the shop, the perfume you found and bought (you had me worried for a moment there) along with the title. So glad you found something to love in Italy. And you certainly will NOT smell like anyone else!

    BTW-seems to me the CEO took some pleasure in this perfume shopping side trip whether or not he’ll admit it!

    • malsnano86 Post author

      It was really cool, T!

      (Wait, what were you worrying about? I didn’t find anything, or I bought something available at home?)

      And I think you’re right, The CEO had a blast too. Especially since because we went that direction, we discovered the Portico Ottavia, which wasn’t on the map but was really interesting for us because they’re restoring/excavating right now.

    • malsnano86 Post author

      Oh, enjoy, K! If you can find it, do pop in and say hello – the guy is super nice. And free sniffies… (Take a phrasebook with you, though. We forgot to take one.)

      Hope your trip is delightful!

  2. Elisa

    I think sometimes perfumes don’t list aldehydes in the notes because a normal consumer wouldn’t know what to conjure up in their head when reading that? It might also be subsumed in the listed “mandarin” since aldehydes have citrus aspects. I smell aldehydes in lots of things that don’t list them in the notes. I think they were in almost EVERYTHING in the 80s! (Everything feminine that is.)

    Glad you made a find! I like going into a shop *determined* to buy something. 🙂

    • malsnano86 Post author

      You could be right with the aldehydes listing. Fragrantica usually lists them, but it’s possible Ferre didn’t provide that info (like I said, the ingredients list just says “alcohol, fragrance, water”). Also, that definitely isn’t the only Ferre frag with aldehydes…

  3. Tiara

    When your husband said “you want it?” I read it as YOU WANT IT?! As in “are you nuts?!”

    Then this is your birthday $….I was thinking you’d back out! Should have had faith that credit card would be whipped out!

  4. Marte

    Wow, what a find, and a lovely story as well 🙂

    I have a small sample of Ferré 20, and on me it’s more gourmand than aldehydic. Reminds me of a grown-up version of Hanae Mori Magical Moon. Would love to have a bottle of it.

  5. Ann

    Hi lady, what a great post! And adorable photos to boot! I enjoyed it so much, felt like I was right there with you on your ‘ ‘fumey’ adventure.
    And I loved it that your DH was such a good sport and fun about it. Not sure mine would have been so supportive — he likely would have looked at me, raised an eyebrow and said, “Do you REALLY need any more perfume?”
    Hope you’re enjoying your new treasure immensely!

    • malsnano86 Post author

      Thanks, Ann!

      I’m not sure he’d have been so easy to deal with except that I told him ahead of time what I wanted to do and when and with what money… and yes, I’m enjoying the 20!

  6. Rita

    What a fantastic story!! Great memories for your travels, and a stellar (IFRA-free) scent to boot…

    I *wish* I had nice things to say about the local scents here in Buenos AIres, but, since I don’t, I won’t say anything at all.

    I can say that if you want to go vintage bottle shopping, with nary a hope of anything worth sniffing left inside, this is your town.

    Have a great time in ROME, you lucky duck!! (Oh, yeah– and happy birthday as well!! When’s the joyous day?)

    • malsnano86 Post author

      HI RITA!!! Glad to hear from you – so you’re in BA for a matter of several months, right?

      Bummer it’s a perfume desert. I mean, I *like* vintage bottles, but really I’m more interested in smelling what was in them. (Not that I can complain all that much about home; I could probably nab every empty dog-shaped Avon bottle at the Goodwill, but nobody ever has a partial bottle of No. 22 for sale…)

      Rome was terrific for the two days we were there, on our way back from the conference in Malta. (And my birthday was in January, but I just tossed those checks into the bank and sat on ’em for just such a shopping opportunity.)

  7. Connie

    I love this story … it is what makes travel so magical.

    Mals, I’m surprised you didn’t look for Mariella Burani! 🙂

    Looking forward to more lovely posts from your trip!

    • malsnano86 Post author

      Oh, I looked for some MB… couldn’t find it anywhere. In fact, in most of the places I looked for perfume, it was all mainstream stuff I could get more cheaply at home. Sigh. (I did find a few Guerlain travel exclusives at the Duty Free, but nothing I wanted for myself.)

  8. Aparatchick

    And now I have:

    “Something appealing,
    Something appalling,
    Something for everyone:
    A comedy tonight!”

    running through my brain!

    It would have been perfect if you had been wearing Serendipitous that day. 😉 I love those kind of discoveries.

    • malsnano86 Post author

      I was actually IN a production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in college! (I played Tintinnabula, the “noisy” courtesan. That was many years, and, sadly, pounds ago…) It was fun.

      It really was a lucky sort of thing. None of the other perfumeries I went into had anything nearly as interesting on the shelves.

  9. vanessa

    The CEO was on fine fettle with his witty title, and am happy that you bagged a rare bottle. I know the Ferre from 1984? (the Pierre Bourdon one with iris) but not this one. I have been enjoying that Ines de la Fressange you introduced me to – nice aldehydes in that one.

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