Dr. Paolo Vranjes is a maestro of scenting, creating home fragrances with all the nuance and complexity of an orchestral concerto. Walking into his home, a picturesque villa in the Tuscan hills overlooking Florence, one isn’t struck by the architecture or decor so much as an overall sense of gracefulness. That’s the beauty of his creations—fragrances that seamlessly enhance a room’s ambience and buoy one’s mood without being obvious or overpowering. Vranjes trained as a pharmaceutical chemist and has spent the past 35 years marrying science and the senses to create the kinds of fragrances that alchemize a house into an exceedingly charming home. His distinctive Florentine-glass-and-bamboo-reed diffusers have been a fixture of discerning Italians’ bookshelves and side tables for the past three decades and, now, Dr. Vranjes’ cult fragrances are finally making their stateside debut.
While I’ve certainly had an appreciation for the effects of a well-scented home, I had never invested that much thought in it: a few candles here and there, the occasional linen spray, generally things I’d received as gifts without any loyalty to a particular fragrance or brand. When I mentioned the name Dr. Vranjes to friends, several recounted stories of discovering the brand while traveling through Italy—how they’d fallen in love with the scent of their hotel’s lobby or followed their noses into one of Vranjes’ jewel-box boutiques—and brought a few bottles home. As of late July, the Vranjes range is available at Bergdorf Goodman (starting at $80), so procuring it no longer requires an Italian holiday. But, in order to fully understand the reverence for Dr. Vranjes, I traveled to his factory in the outskirts of Florence to see firsthand what sets his creations apart.
Sitting in the doctor’s office, which had a fittingly clinical sterility, he began with the basics. Displaying his collection of more than 2,200 essences, the building blocks of every fragrance he creates, Vranjes explained: “I call it an organ, because fragrance is made just like music. Music is made from seven notes and all their different variations. Imagine how many fragrances can be created from more than 2,000 essences.” Thanks to his background in chemistry, Vranjes has been able to distill natural elements like rose and sandalwood to tinctures with a uniquely high concentration of fragrance. Beyond that, all of Vranjes’ products boast between 10 and 23 percent pure eau de parfum—a ratio that is significantly higher than most other home fragrances on the market.
“The most important thing in a home fragrance is finding something
that makes you feel well, whatever that means to you as an individual.”
As we discuss how Vranjes conceptualizes his blends, combining different essences to create an evocative fragrance, he furthers the music metaphor: “There are no bad notes, objectively; the art is in finding a balance between them. The final goal is harmony.” Of course, how one defines harmony is very personal—and what makes for a harmonious scent in a kitchen may not sing in a bedroom. He likens it to the effect of ambient music: You want something that sets the mood but doesn’t dominate the senses, and that complements how one uses any given space.
There are no set rules as far as what scents are best for which spaces, but Vranjes does offer suggestions for achieving certain results via certain notes. Orange flower and lavender are calming, making them ideal for perhaps a living room where one primarily wants to relax. Warm and earthy scents like amber and oud are suited to more intimate spaces, like bedrooms. Ginger and cinnamon are energizing, so a prime choice for offices or studies. Fruity scents, such as grapefruit or berries, are a good match for kitchens and dining areas as they won’t overpower food. Further, the medium used for scenting plays a role: Diffusers are ideal because they provide a consistent, measured release of fragrance over time; sprays aren’t as long lasting but are good for textiles, like bedsheets or rugs, as the fabrics will absorb the scent and disperse it subtly; candles can complement a diffuser, and offer an additional sensory experience through the ritual of lighting and observing their flame.
The most essential consideration, though, is how a fragrance expresses one’s personality. Are you crisp and fresh, like pepper and lime? Delicate and romantic, like jasmine and iris? Bold and sultry, like patchouli and tobacco? For a few select clients, Vranjes will work one-on-one to create an entirely bespoke scent. “It requires a deep sense of the person. I need to spend a good amount of time, at least one full day, not even thinking about scents but just getting to know how they think, their tastes, their psychology.” He’ll then guide them through several rounds of scent sampling, zeroing in on the categories that the client responds to best. “Very often, I understand more about what direction to take from the person’s facial expressions than from what they actually say,” Vranjes admits.
Even without going down the custom route, selecting a home fragrance is an exercise in self-reflection. One’s home is one’s most private place, and scent is much more tied up with emotion and memory than any other sense, so deciding what “home” smells like is considerably more existential than choosing paint or curtains. “And unlike personal perfume, where you’re also thinking about the image you want to project to the world, home fragrance is something you choose mainly for yourself,” Vranjes explains. “The most important thing in a home fragrance is finding something that makes you feel well, whatever that means to you as an individual.”