Discover the Art & History of Perfume in Venice
The Art of Perfume in Venice
Fragrance connoisseurs, perfumers and aficionados have long considered perfume an art form. Even Clive Christian is said to have said: “Perfume is an art form. In the same way as with music and painting. It requires talent, competence and above all passion “.
Art and perfume share many similarities: they both inspire us, arouse emotions, can ignite memories, and can mentally transport us to another place and time.
Therefore, in the city of art par excellence, Venice, an experience focused on the world of perfume could not be missing.
So if you have wondered about the history of the perfume you wear or if you are looking for something new to do in Venice, well, turns out that now you can come over and create your own fragrance in a Venetian perfume workshop!
The Merchant of Venice now offers you the opportunity to develop your own personal fragrance with personal guidance from an expert olfactory writer during a perfume creation class in the centre of Venice.
I got to attend one of these new workshops organized by The Merchant of Venice at the newly refurbished Libreria Studium near San Marco and I had so much fun learning, sniffing, and concocting in their Perfume Compository Laboratory, a totally hands-on perfume workshop.
A perfume workshop in Venice
How has perfumery developed over the centuries? Where do the raw materials that make up the perfumes come from? What is the profession of the perfumer and who are the “noses”? What do we find at the basis of the conception and development of a fragrance? How to “educate” our sense of smell to recognize smells?
All of these answers and much more in the new Perfume Workshop by the Merchant of Venice!
You too can get the opportunity to book a workshop that allows you to develop your own perfume with the personal guidance from a professional. You will learn about the history of perfume, smell the main ingredients for perfume making, devise your own perfume formula based on your personal preferences, and then mix and bottle your own perfume, which then can be taken at home!
Interested in attending a perfume workshop in Venice?
I will share a bit of history of perfume making in Venice (yes I know, you all think it all started in France, but it did not) and how to book a perfume workshop for you next visit to the city of canals. But no, I will not tell you how to make your own perfume – to do that you will have to book one of these perfume workshops!
A Brief History of Perfume in Venice
Perfumes are the strongest tool to trigger sensations, memories and suggestions in all of us, and fragrances have the great ability to influence everybody’s emotions and moods.
The history of perfume dates back more than 3,000 years and it is believed to have originated in Mesopotamia and Egypt. The actual word perfume comes from the Latin word per fumum, meaning “through smoke”. Ancient perfumes have been discovered all over the world, including Egypt, Cyprus, India, and Italy.
Perfumes have been used for medicinal purposes, as part of spiritual and religious rituals, to mask bad smells, to ward off evil spirits and diseases, and as aphrodisiacs. Early perfumes developed for the purpose of simply smelling pleasant and often had one main natural essential oil, rose water.
Most perfumes were scented with natural essential oils until synthetic scents (introduced in the late 19th century) became popular in the 20th century. Modern perfumes, such as the ones we wear today, have their origins mainly in the 19th and 20th centuries and the majority of it contains a blend of natural and synthetic ingredients.
Perfume was not invented or perfected in France, but France has come to be seen as the centre of the modern perfume-making world for a couple of reasons. First, thanks to the French Riviera town of Grasse, in southern France, now considered the perfume capital of the world. In the 16th century, glove makers in Grasse began selling perfumed gloves to appeal to the nobility and begun farming a number of flowers used in the production of the fragrances. From 18th century the demand for scented pomades, ointments, and perfumes increased, so the new production methods combined with a large amount of harvested flowers allowed Grasse to become the centre of the French perfume industry. Today, most of fragrance companies are headquartered in France and many of the world’s top perfumers (called nez or noses) train and work here.
The second reason France is associated so strongly with perfume is that it has become a world-leader in perfume marketing and sales. France, particularly Paris, has been long associated with fashion, luxury, and style. Mixing perfume with haute couture has been a winning combination for a number of French fashion labels.
But it is only thanks to Venice if perfume has made its way to the world.
“In Venice, for the first time in Europe, the stinking dark centuries suddenly smell good, thanks to an exotic beauty that comes from the East. It is the Byzantine Teodora Ducas who married Doge Domenico Selvo in the 11th century. Beautiful, elegant, refined like her namesake empress, she immediately creates a great sensation: she uses a fork and perfumes herself!
The trend started by the beautiful dogaressa is destined to have a great following. The indefatigable merchants of the Serenissima import perfumes from Persia, Greece, Egypt, from the most refined courts of Arabia and Constantinople.
At the end of the 13th century Marco Polo returns home bringing back with him the glands of Moschus, a small mammal from which the fragrant musk is obtained, as well as the description on how to extract and use it. For Venice it is the beginning of a great love and a thriving market.”
From “Perfume, a Venetian story” by Pieralvise Zorzi and Stefano Soffiato.
But there are also two other Venetian women who made the history of perfume: Isabella Cortese and Caterina Gennari. The first is a very rare case of a female alchemist, who wrote the volume Notandissimi Secreti in 1555. A collection of therapeutic and cosmetic recipes and remedies.
The second is a Venetian perfumer, expert in the distillation of alcoholic essences and grandmother of Giovanni Maria Farina, the progenitor of the creators of Eau de Cologne.
Why was Venice such a centre for perfumes?
The availability of raw materials for the production of fragrances, soaps and cosmetics in the Venetian market would not have existed except thanks to the work of commercial and diplomatic exchanges between Venice and the various European and Eastern countries.
Here comes the important role of the “Mude”, the famous Venetian naval routes that connected a vast territory, which went from the East to Africa and all of Europe to the Northern seas. The “Mude” departed from Venice and reached ports which in turn were the destination of other trade routes: here there was a complex interchange between raw materials and finished products.
In this way the Serenissima was able to reach knowledge and raw materials that it would not otherwise have been able to procure directly in its own territory, and through skilled craftsmen (the “muschieri”, the perfume makers, together with the Cyprus powder sellers and the “saoneri”, the soap makers) invented new techniques of production that made Venetian perfumes and cosmetics coveted in all European courts of the time.
Who is The Merchant of Venice?
The Merchant of Venice represents Venetian Perfuming Art. It underlines the role of progenitor that the city had in the world perfume tradition and aims to enhance the long tradition that has made Italy, and in particular Venice, one of the main centres in the history of perfumery. The Merchant of Venice is a luxury line of perfumes divided into a wide range of exclusive Eau de Parfum and Eau de Toilette, accompanied by toiletries and products for the home and accessories. The Merchant of Venice is a cultural luxury brand born in Venice from the will of the Vidal family who has been operating in the perfumery sector internationally for more than a century.
Their lines are inspired by the “Mude”, the famous Venetian naval routes that connected the territories of the Republic of Venice.
Perfume workshops in Venice
The Perfume workshops can take place at Libreria Studium or at the Museum of Perfume at Palazzo Mocenigo
Perfume workshops at Libreria Studium in San Marco
The historic Libreria Studium di San Marco, in Venice, has recently reopened with the new management of The Merchant of Venice: a renewal of both the layout and the offer that strengthens its soul as an international bookshop, enriched, now, by an unprecedented olfactory library.
Thanks to the agreement between the company Sib srl, owner of the Studium bookshop, the Patriarchate of Venice and The Merchant of Venice, it was possible to relaunch and develop a historical and cultural activity that today finds its realization in the new offer by this San Marco bookstore, which reopened to the public with a selection of over 10,000 titles with a particular focus on Venice and its history, but which also includes a wide choice of fiction and children’s books, art catalogs and, above all, titles in English, French, German and Spanish. There is also a section dedicated to the imaginary traveler Corto Maltese designed by the Venetian master of comics Hugo Pratt. In addition, the Bookshop offers a line of high-end stationery exclusively developed for Studium and created by the Toscolano Artisan Paper Mill with themes linked to Venice and in particular to the Marciana area.
Perfume workshops at Museo del Profumo
The First Perfume Museum in Italy!
The perfume section, strongly desired by Mavive, the Venetian company of the Vidal family, main partner of the operation and creator of a real act of patronage aimed at reaffirming the deep bond with the city of Venice, was created to enrich the exhibition on the first noble floor of the San Stae Museum. In the five rooms dedicated to perfume, perfectly integrated into the exhibition suggestions of the whole museum, multimedia tools and sensorial experiences alternate in an unprecedented path of information, emotion, in-depth analysis. A video illustrates the role of Venice in the history of perfume; a room evokes the laboratory of a sixteenth-century perfumer (muschiere). Raw materials and processes are exhibited and illustrated, while an olfactory map describes the “Routes of Spices” travelled by the ancient Venetians. An extraordinary collection of bottles and perfume bottles from the German company Drom is then presented, including various materials dating from the Middle Ages to the present day, granted for the occasion in long-term storage at the museum. Finally, the visit ends with the opportunity to experience, through some olfactory stations, the great “olfactory families” from which all perfumes are born.
The perfume workshops in details
The Perfume workshop consists of a class dedicated to adults. On our arrival (we were only three people) in front of each of our seats there were perfume testing strips, a notebook, an eyedropper, a small perfume bottle, a pen, some perfume small samples.
The beginning of the workshop starts off with a presentation by Joan Giacomin, the brand ambassador for The Merchant of Venice, that includes a lot about the history of perfume, how perfume is made, the fragrance pyramid, and the different types of bases and fragrances.
Participants are accompanied, through multimedia supports and an olfactory approach, in an evocative historic journey between different cultures and geographical areas, addressing the classifications of the bases of perfumes, the concept of the “olfactory pyramid” and the knowledge of the most important raw materials, up to the preparation, thanks to a kit supplied and the teacher’s guide, of a very personal perfume which you then get to take home.
The olfactory itinerary provides visitors with a multi-sensorial experience, made of spices and raw materials and the perfumed tales by Joan Giacomin.
The Merchant of Venice offer also a Layering Workshop, a Love Atelier, a perfume workshop dedicated to couples, The Fairy Tale and its perfume, a workshop dedicated to families with children.
The workshops are on request and with a limited number of participants.
For more information, costs and to book the Perfume Workshop go to the end of the article.
The courses are held by Joan Giacomin, brand ambassador for The Merchant of Venice. Joan Giacomin is a born and raised Venetian make-up artist and olfactory writer, author of “Carnet de Voyage. The illustrated perfume” together with Guido Fuga, illustrator of Hugo Pratt.
She won the fourth edition of the “Boboli Perfumes” International Award for the best creation of a new and original fragrance. She also wrote “The little book of Makeup in Venice”, a book dedicated to the history of make-up in Venice or better: A lady’s tricks – the art of the beauty: power and liberty.
She was for years the make up artist at Gran Teatro La Fenice and now she works for major international film sets. She also attended many courses on the art of perfume and of composing fragrances, achieving many awards and successes.
But after this impressive resume, let me add two words about Joan: she is incredibly passionate and knowledgeable, totally engaging and entertaining! She literally made the two hours fly by and filled the course with so many interesting information about the history of perfume in Venice.
Promoting Venice as quality
Marco Vidal, the legal representative of Mavive Spa, the company that owns The Merchant of Venice brand, is a born and raised Venetian and he recently declared: “We want to propose Venice as a lively and productive international city that focuses on quality and not on mass.”
And because of this in 2020, he launched, together with Giovanni Alliata di Montereale, Bottega Cini, a new Concept Store in Venice, in total contrast with a period which saw a drastic decrease in tourist numbers, and created to be a point of dialogue between culture and companies, not only in Venice.
Bottega Cini is located in an emblematic place, in the centre of Dorsoduro in Venice: in front of Palazzo Cini. For 35 years the Palazzo has exhibited a significant part of its art collections on its two noble floors (as well as temporary exhibitions), thanks to the donation to the Giorgio Cini Foundation of the building and the objects contained therein by one of the daughters, the princess Yana Cini Alliata di Montereale, and to the numerous free loans of other heirs. A place that is, therefore, a symbol for the Venetian cultural reality.
Bottega Cini has the goal of creating a new type of Museum Shop. In its commercial space, it combines the art of The Merchant of Venice fragrances with other typically Venetian artisan excellences. Among the many there is a resident artisan, my dear friend, the Impiraressa Marisa Convento who has her own workshop inside the store and who creates necklaces and accessories with traditional Venetian beads in Murano glass. You can find NasonMoretti and Ercole Moretti glassworks with their creations exhibited all over the world as well as Marsilio and Lineadacqua publishing companies, the ancient Toscolano 1381 paper mill and the Fallani screen printing workshop. And finally the forcole by Saverio Pastor.
Venice is so much more than the cheap souvenirs shops, the horrible tourist traps and the over tourism which all international medias are concentrating on and Marco Vidal is proving it every day, but investing in local artisans, local tradition and true Venetian history!
Book a Perfume Workshop in Venice
The cost of the Perfume Composition Laboratory is Euro 120.00 per person, from 3 people to 12 people Euro 80.00 – maximum 12 people per course.
They are held in Italian, English and French.
Duration: The Perfume Composition Laboratory Workshop lasts approximately 2 hours.
Workshop Dates & Times: All workshops are on request but can be held every day, from 10.00 am to 7pm, but in summer they are usually held at 5pm, due to the heat.
Can I book a perfume workshop as a gift? Yes, of course- just write to email@example.com for more info – this definitely makes a nice birthday or anniversary surprise!
Booking Reservations: For more information and to book the Perfume Workshop or any other workshops offered by The Merchant of Venice please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website www.themerchantofvenice.it.
In your email please specify you read about the courses on my blog, so they will look after you!
I hope you will find inspiration in this article and get you to try something new in Venice on your next visit!