“An unwise and unfortunate creation caused by bad judgement and care” is not how you’d expect someone to describe their own perfume. When you’re dealing with Alessandro Gualtieri, you quickly learn to throw out the rules. The man behind Amsterdam-based perfume house Nasomatto, Alessandro is the Galliano of the fragrance world.
With scents like Black Afgano (inspired by hashish) and the latest Nudiflorum (inspired by ‘nude desire’), Nasomatto has built a cult-like following with its mysterious, offbeat approach to scent. Don’t expect to find indulgent descriptions of the notes, or even a list of the ingredients – Alessandro’s creations are designed to provoke your most primal desires, using only your senses and your imagination.
It’s a true labour of love for Alessandro, who founded the brand after many years creating signature scents for the likes of Fendi and Versace. We caught up with him to talk freedom, the creative process and the unexpected inspirations behind Nasomatto.
Hi Alessandro, what’s your earliest memory of fragrance?
It was at the farm I grew up in with my grandfather. I grew up in a family of butchers in Milan. Hanging around a humid shop with lots of meat around. It was very unusual! Some influence definitely came from there!
Tell us the philosophy behind Nasomatto?
Nasomatto was born out of desperation! (laughs) I was tired with how things were going after working for multinational companies for so long. At a certain point you say I’m done with sh*t and you want to try something on your own. That’s how I started, wanting to do something unique that gave me freedom.
Over the last few years, niche fragrances have seen a huge boom. Why do you think that is?
I was there from the beginning I believe, but now there’s a lot of B.S. around it. The idea initially was to depart from the 80s and 90s aesthetic of brands and visuals and models, I wanted to make what was inside the bottle important. Reformulating ingredients and creating a culture of quality. Of course, everyone has a different idea about quality. I really went in search of it. We didn’t have the money to invest in packaging and marketing, so we started with just a very simple container. Every penny I had I wanted to focus it on the liquid – the perfume itself. This is the essence behind niche fragrances but of course like any industry, it has become more commercial and focused on the marketing too. It should really be about the scent.
Do you think the customer is becoming more sophisticated in terms of what they’re looking for and their knowledge of ingredients?
Yes and no. Fragrance and smell have always been subjective. I don’t like to talk about ingredients. From the 1970s onwards the press have been like ‘there’s a black tulip from the mountains in India’, things that aren’t even true to try to explain the magic and mystery of fragrance. How can you bring something that has a sense of smell to life in writing? A smell is a smell. It’s very challenging. The awareness is there but lots of descriptions of fragrance are completely misleading and there are too many trends around particular ingredients. That’s why I don’t like to talk about ingredients, I’d rather people react without that prior knowledge. It has to be a natural reaction. Either you like it or you don’t!
The narratives around fragrance do seem to be getting a bit more outlandish – is this something you consciously wanted to avoid?
When I started, I had nothing on my packaging. I tried to write about my fragrance and it took me months to write three lines – and even these are open to interpretation. For me, you spray it on you and that’s it. It’s no more complicated! It doesn’t need any outlandish statements around it. Scent is about communicating and it’s very personal.
Your packaging is very distinctive – is visual inspiration important to creating the scent?
I’m really into materials, the wood is something that I collected and worked with a carpenter on. It always has to do with the materials for me. I didn’t want to get too carried away with the design as I always wanted to invest in the scent instead. People say ‘why don’t you make shower gel’, haha! You can get that in the supermarket! ‘Why don’t you launch a bag?’ No! I’m making perfume!
How long does it typically take you to work on a new fragrance?
The longest has taken six years, I’ve had other that took around eight months. Then sometimes you can work on something in a week and revisit it, add another element and it’s done. When you lose control. You know it’s good. There can be a lot of pleasure and pain in creating something new.
Do you pay any attention to trends in fragrance?
No! It’s a waste of energy. I do my own thing!
Is the future of fragrance genderless?
I do like the feminine and masculine signifiers in scent – but a woman can feel masculine and a man can feel feminine and it’s interesting to experiment with these, especially in how you can combine.
Is there an unexpected ingredient that you are drawn to?
All the time I’m looking for new scents that surprise me, that’s an amazing moment and that’s why I do this – I’m looking for something that brings me pleasure and seeing how I can transform it.
Why is fragrance so important to us in our lives?
It’s an extra level of communication. We have denied our own body smell for so long. We shower twice a day, we bleach our hair, we do all these things…but we also constantly smell each other. This is an extra layer for us as humans, the sense of smell is constantly evolving. Imagine centuries ago in London how it must have smelt. The fear of smelling bad has always been there, fragrance has always been important.
Nasomatto’s latest fragrance, Nudiflorm is available now from libertylondon.com