In conversation with Marina Shemet, the co-founder of the Apulian perfume brand, IPROFUMIDIPUGLIA. Thanks to her initiative, the brand unfolds scents that reflect Puglia between the dunes and vineyards and puts the kaleidoscopic emotions of the land into a simple bottle.
There is a colloquial saying in Russian – слышать запахи (slishat’ zapahi)– which stands for ‘hearing the smell’, and it is a phrase that Marina Shemet occasionally comes back to, to describe the process of perfume-making during its first phases. Perhaps it also traces the inspiration behind her brand IPROFUMIDIPUGLIA, which was born during one of the friendly gatherings in a masseria for a non-formal wine tasting when Marina and her friends ‘heard’ the smell of heavy rain accompanying the past days’ heatwaves. It is a smell common to most but is troublesome to explain. Think of late May, days of balmy weather distracted by a fresh pouring rain that gives away notes of the coming summer. With a glass of Primitivo in one hand and good-humored conversations kissing her ears, Marina’s friend, business partner, and chemist pharmacist, Gianpiero Delle Grottaglie turned to her and asked, “You did cosmetics and perfumery before. Why wouldn’t you take this smell and put it in the bottle?” As funny as it sounded in the moment, Marina recalls waking up the next morning thinking, “Why not?”
Before launching IIPROFUMIDIPUGLIA around two years ago, Marina was managing a cosmetics company in partnership with a business colleague with whom she built it from scratch. A few years later, after closing the brand, Marina decided to continue working in perfumery. She balances it with her ongoing work in a winery, where she is responsible for the sale and promotion of wine to fourteen Russian and Eastern Europe countries.
Do ideas for a new scent come to you spontaneously, or are you working conceptually? And how long does it take to realize a single scent?
Now we are working on three perfumes. One of them is tied to wine, namely because we are a wine region. When Gianpiero visited a vineyard during the harvesting period, it was full of mature grapes, and this is when it came to his mind to develop this kind of scent. Now, we are selecting a color and a form for it. The perfume is created with this vision – first, in mind, then, we hear it in a particular place. In general, it takes approximately six to eight months to develop a single scent. As Gianpiero and I developed the fragrance together, we are currently waiting for the first prototype to arrive.
What challenges do you currently face as a perfumer, both creatively and in terms of the production, distribution, and marketing of your perfumes?
One thing that we encounter is – the scent is a product that if not felt by an individual, would be difficult to understand, no matter how well I describe it. Because each person has specific sensations and feelings, a scent that I prefer can be heard differently. One of the challenges we face is to convey the aroma to a person. Nobody buys a fragrance for its beautiful package, but they purchase a scent regardless of its package if it is exceptional.
You have three fragrances: La Pizzica, Le Dune and Le Masserie. Which one is your favorite?
Le Dune. We create perfumes with the understanding of a type of person. If you smell Le Dune: it is soft, round, and feminine. It reflects a glorious woman who loves the house and her children and enjoys cooking and baking cakes. She likes the fireplace, figs, sweet, and warm; she is a mom, and she is elegant. La Pizzica is an active person. Le Masserie, on the other hand, is an elegant perfume portraying an individual with a balanced lifestyle. They are not running, everything is scheduled, and they don’t have a peak of emotions. Most of the hotels and interior design stores prefer this perfume.
Since you need to be in Puglia to understand the fragrances, how can the online experience help customers get a virtual glimpse of the scent?
Considering that we managed to present our products in physical stores (the permanent ones are in Maruggio, Ostuni, Polignano a Mare, Trani, Naples, and Prague; while the ones that are out of the season, vary from Bari, Gallipoli, Campo Marino, and Lecce) for the past year and a half, those people who have experienced the scent in the summer bought them now, during the pre-New Year period. The other positive factor is that people who were in a masseria or visited the dunes can understand what kind of scent it is simply by reading the name.
Are there any artisans from Puglia who contributed to the production of IPROFUMIDIPUGLIA?
Most of our suppliers are from Puglia and we strive towards working with suppliers who are all based here. However, sometimes it happens that, as with our glass bottles – you can’t find them physically in Puglia. We are buying them from a supplier based in the North of Italy. This chemist is a collectionner and he collects old bottles that are around 200 years old. When we are buying bottles, we are looking for those that are pharmaceutical.
Medicine was based on cultivating plants and herbs, milling and pouring them into these bottles, and the idea was to give prestige because it is a product that does not simply appeal to the idea of perfume – for instance, perfume of rose or lavender. Instead, we have created a perfume that is connected to a region with the attachment to aliphatic notes. And all this we assembled into a pharmaceutical bottle to give it high quality. There is another Apulian brand with whom we collaborate for our upcoming fragrances; it is a company that designs ceramic bottles for us.
What message do you want to share with your customers?
To tell the region through perfume. If you hear the perfume – Le Masserie, the major notes here are figs; because almost all the masserias in Puglia have at least one fig tree. Plus, it has the black currant, almonds, and also notes of the sparkling Fiorita mandarin due to the presence of Lily of the valley. We have included this ingredient – the fiori di campo – meadow flowers, Apulian ones because when they start to bloom, they mix with the smell of the olive tree. When you hear the scent of Le Dune, we collected all the notes attached to dunes. The same with Pizzica.
If Puglia was a scent, and all its attractions, restaurants, food, or scenery, were ingredients – what fragrance would you create?
Puglia is 400 kilometers long and 200 kilometers more in length, so to collect in a single perfume is challenging. We have been working on it for more than two years, but sooner or later, we will arrive at it. Inside the Apulian fragrance, you must have everything: wine, sea, spices, and also the air of the seaside that is quite specific.
Any must-to-visit places in Puglia?
One should see the dunes, [dance] the Pizzica, and feel the taste of the Apulian cuisine. This dance, La Pizzica, is a unique experience that does not exist in other places. As for the Apulian cuisine, here you have a wide variety: meat, seafood, mozzarella, and the list of rich tastes that it can bring. One should run through bars or visit Foggia, where they have delicious salami of black pork. At least one or two must-see castles are enough for a short trip to the region; here in Oria, we have the Swabian Castle of Oria, built at the behest of Federico II, who also built Castel del Monte.
What stands closer to your heart: winemaking or perfumery?
I work in a winery, and I will continue working there. Through my work as a wine exporter to international countries, I narrate ‘Puglia’ to the world through wine. In the same way, I want to transmit and tell the story of Puglia through perfume. I will neither leave perfumery nor winery since they are both connected to feelings and perfume. You feel a fragrance with the nose, while the wine also with the taste.
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Tatevik Avetisyan is a Milan-based freelance writer specializing in fashion, travel, and art. Her master project for Istituto Europe di Design, “Which Character Are You?” fashion film was published in Vogue-Talents. She leads her fashion blog and travels around the world in search of new inspirations. Besides content creation, her biggest passion is jewelry design and gardening.