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FrontRunners: Scents of History

Laurie Kahle

Dr. Giovanni di Massimo, an unassuming Florentine perfumer and apothecary, was sorting through the mess left in his ancient shop’s basement after the devastating 1966 flood when he unearthed a collection of antique manuscripts containing secret formulas.

While this tale may read like the opening of a mystery novel, it actually describes the origin of a unique fragrance collection. The documents included recipes for Caterina de’ Medici’s personal perfumes, along with formulas commissioned for other members of the Medici family and blends known to have been popular among Renaissance nobility. Capitalizing on this serendipitous find, Massimo re-created the historical fragrances using only all-natural ingredients and his own methods for essence extraction and named the collection i Profumi di Firenze (310.319.1896, www.isabellaimports.com). One favored potion replicated from a 16th-century formula commissioned for Caterina de’ Medici was chosen to carry her name. The ambrosia floral bouquet features all-natural notes of Damascus rose, lily of the valley, and Iris of Florence. After decades of being available only through Massimo’s shop, the collection of 21 scents for men and women was recently introduced in the United States at Jeffrey New York, Palmetto in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, and other specialty stores.

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Photo by Ted Morrison