New Italian niche project: Unum (2015)

So, together with Rubini, here is another fantastic discovery from this year's Esxence tradeshow in Milano. Tattooed artist, former church organist and now renowned ecclesiastic tailor Filippo Sorcinelli and his team at L.A.V.S. atelier are the creative minds behind this project, three fragrances manufactured by Cererie Terenzi (yes, that means they would be good anyway...). Passionate people with a really solid, broad and cultured approach to perfume making. A terrific consistent mixture of dark contemporary avantgarde aesthetics with Medieval Gothic art and architecture, and a keen eye on a non-banal "spiritual" approach. A "non lieu" anywhere between Nicola Pisano and Anne Wenzel. Or Christian Rinck and Kas Product, or a Kompakt dubplate. Three complete standouts.



LAVS is the first scent in (chrono)logical order from this line, meant to represent the “roots” of Unum – which are grounded in L.A.V.S. atelier (“Laboratorio Atelier Vesti Sacre”), a successful Italian tailoring workshop that produces vestments and regalia – even for the last two popes (Benedetto and Francesco). LAVS was basically produced as a room fragrance the atelier’s staff used to apply gently on the garments before delivering them to clients and sell as a room scent. Once they realised clients liked to wear it too, Sorcinelli and his team thought about starting a line of fragrances. LAVS is that early "non-scent" just reworked in a “wearable” form. And just to get straight to the point, it’s an incense scent. A majestic one, a “liturgical” one with a subtle exotic vibe, and despite I am not the most enthusiastic fan of this family of scents, one of the greatest around by far for me. What makes it great, besides an undisputable high quality, is that it finally shows some complexity and some classy, clever work with notes; whereas most of other incense scents just rely on a repetitive and overworked couple of molecules (which smell fantastic, like Givaudan’s Mystikal, or just bare play with Iso E), LAVS is built around a more complex evocation of a liturgical ambiance – the garments, the incense, the rituals, the history, the dust, the cold feel of metal and gold, the intimate relation one establishes with all of this. With some facets evoking more distant references, from coriander to spices, that provide a subtle but palpable sort of pagan, exotic feel.

The main accord is incense though, which smells dark, grey-ish, with a slight ash aftertaste but also breezy metallic nuances, not overly synthetic; and it’s beautifully and perfectly melted into a really airy and uplifting blend which definitely plays the balsamic-herbal-spicy card – I personally get sharp cloves, pepper, coriander and aromatic woods above all. As hours pass it becomes warmer and quieter, still carrying a powerful, and almost intimidating “ritual” feel; a round, mellow and resinous ladbanum-amber note with a hint of dark fruitiness emerges, defining the frame of LAVS and tightly connecting it to the other two scents of this line which contain a similar accord – like a secret sign of masonic brotherhood. So despite being at first clearly a monolithic incense scent, and to this extent being similar to others, it has definitely so much more to offer. If you compare this to other “liturgical” references like Comme des Garçons’ Avignon or Jovoy’s La Liturgie des Heures, you can easily get what I mean. Mostly because as I said, most of other incense scents stop at a more shallow level of “incense-ness”, just recreating and reiterating that same accord which simulates a cliché of incense.

Maybe also because LAVS is an extrait de parfum and therefore is also deeper and richer in nuances than Eau de Parfums, or maybe because Sorcinelli and his team know what they’re talking about when they talk “spirituality” ... but LAVS goes just deeper and further than any other, with a  passionate, balanced craft work around the nuances of incense. Spices, amber, musk, aromatic woods, flowers, they all discreetly enhance the main accord and they all help to define and deepen the incense aroma, like participants in a ritual. Not a thick scent, though, and above all, not “heavy” as you may expect: it’s deep and enveloping, but as regards of its substance, it’s incredibly balanced, really “spacious”. Totally pleasant to wear, even effortless. And well, all that aside since we’re talking about a perfume... the fragrance itself smells great, sophisticated, with a cozy and spiritual mood and a quiet feel of “sacred” austerity. If you’ve a penchant for “meditative” fragrances with a refined look, this may easily sit among your holy grails. Total quality.



OPUS 114

Probably my personal favourite among Unum line, despite the really bold opening which may be off-putting at first. Opus 1144 is inspired by the born of Gothic architecture and art and shall be meant to be a tribute to it; and believe me, if you try a non-prejudicial, “synesthetic” association with the idea of Gothic cathedrals and frescoes and all the cultural implications they were meant to convey, it does trigger an association. Nothing to do with incense or other more “liturgic” aspects, here the reference is the material feel and smell of stones, marble, woods, flowers, candles, paper, which all together create the “meditative majesty” of that artistic style.

The opening is triumphally bold and powerful: a thick, nearly overwhelming dusty-ambery blend (“ambery” à la Goutal’s Ambre Fetiche) with creamy candied-floral nuances (elemi and flowers) and a whole citric-astringent side of citrus and bergamot, perfectly opposing a warm and sweet vanillic base also comprising sandalwood (speaking decently-aged Shalimar here) ... in turn juxtaposed to dirtier, almost skankier notes of benzoin, jasmine, salty ambergris (forget ambroxan, I mean salty, slightly animalic-aqueous ambergris), and something that reminds me of tonka – a sort of sweet-exotic almond touch. Thick, radiant and deep, gourmand-ish on one side (this even comprising a weird sort of balsamic vinaigre feel), almost chypre-sque on the other; slightly waxy - meaning both powdery-iris and leathery as in Lutens’ Cuir Mauresque - monolithic but somehow almost “lascivious” thanks to its softer-darker sides, slightly reminding me of the (few) best aspects of Mona di Orio style – that sort of dusty, antique vibe, just less baroque and more austere (and, ok, uncomparably better executed here).

The drydown is equally great, and for me is quite the key to get the whole beauty of this fragrance. After the citric-vanillic opening it enters a sweeter phase echoing tonka and resins (echoes of “guerlinades” again), then an un expected drift towards an incredibly beautiful powdery-dusty drydown with darker shades that is as much uplifting, peaceful and mesmerizing as looking at the dust floating in the light of a Middle-European cathedral. Complex but so fulfilling from the very first sniff to the very final drydown (Terenzi’s lab made this, and you can smell that). It’s quite hard for me to describe this fragrance, so I’ll just cut it here; as the other two of this line the composition is incredibly well enginereed and harmonic, really compact, it would be enough to say it smells stunning and perfectly connected to the concept behind Unum line, and that’s all.




Within the concept of Unum line, which in rough terms drawns a line (pardon the pun) “from darkness/meditation to enlightenment/purification” with a tight connection to spirituality and Medieval Gothic architecture and art, Rosa Nigra is meant to be the third fragrance in order – the brighter, the sweeter, the “purer”. If you want to skip my review: a terrific standout, here and in niche in general. Not my personal favourite of the line, but still great. Although despite the name there is no rose in here, the first fragrance I though of as a rough reference at first was indeed a rose heaven - Lyric Man by Amouage; if my memory serves me correctly about that, I think here I get some similarities, mostly due to the “darkish” treatment of fruity notes, but overall tad quieter here, and less opulent. And honestly far more fascinating, less suffocating, with just the right amount of “weightlessness” and airiness allowing you to experience a really “dimensional” composition.

Anyway, in the first minutes it does overall evoke a rose smell somehow, especially its more dark-carnal and syrupy-fruitier sides, but avoiding any camphorous-soapy effect. Complex on one side, but also totally “straightforward”, almost simple on the other. Basically it’s a sort of bright and uplifting fruity-herbal sandalwood scent with velvety floral nuances and a warm base with powdery-vanillic hints. More fruity at first, with an incredibly nice smelling peach note (vintage Piguet’s Visa somewhere there...) showing a slight aqueous substance, surrounded by juicy flowers, leafy herbal angles and enriched by sandalwood. A clean texture, substantial but elegantly balanced between crisp sharpness and balsamic exoticism, wrapped in a sophisticated, warm and enveloping allure (the “trait d’union” among the three fragrances – a dusty, vanillic, slightly fruity ambery accord). On the drydown, quite the same but woodier, more discreet, somehow muskier too. Dense, rich, incredibly refined and appealing, deeply fascinating, with an undisputable high quality of materials and an irresistible feel of peace and radiance... still, with an austere, and kind of dark vibe, like the other two scents of this line. “Dark” in a “liturgical” meaning again, if that makes sense.

All of this backed with a solid concept: I usually can nearly never stand marketing releases and “storytelling” stuff, which often look like an unnecessary boring load of clichés, but here’s different – just give a look at Rosa Nigra’s page on Unum page while sniffing the perfume, you’ll get what I mean (if you read Italian). There is indeed a solid connection showing the brand’s solid and cultured approach to perfume making. A honest and non-shallow tribute to the “sacred sense of beauty”. Rosa Nigra perfectly fits some facets of this, as the other two fragrances do with other aspects. Perfect quality to all extents. Bravissimi!


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