Imagine wearing the scent of sacredness. A heavy, sacral and ethereal scent that feels opulent and spiritual at the same time
Imagine a scent that feels not only like a fragrance but also like a deep-rooted experience with a multitude of layers. Such are the perfumes created by the designer, multitalented artist and perfumier Filippo Sorcinelli. He is the creative force behind UNUM, an Italian fragrance brand whose perfumes draw inspiration from sacredness, spirituality, art and beauty.
The story behind UNUM is unique: in 2001, Sorcinelli created LAVS, an atelier that designs and makes sacred garments, including for Popes Benedict XVI and Francis. From this, Sorcinelli created a fragrance to be sprayed onto the clothes before they were shipped to the Vatican. That is when the idea of UNUM was born, an artistic perfume series filled with mind-exploring fragrances and aesthetic olfactory journeys. Sorcinelli is a photographer, he plays the organ, he designs and paints and he is usually referred to as a highly conceptual thinker who experiences the world through beauty, art and aesthetic dimensions. Needless to say, interviewing someone like him is like diving headfirst into a pool of poetic formulations, complex threads and visionary discourses.
We talked to him about his creative endeavours, what it means to be an artist today and how he works with his unique experience fragrances.
A lot of references in your UNUM perfumes are directly related to the Catholic church. Is the church and its unique culture something you’ve always had in your life?
“I was born in a small village in Mondolfo, Italy. Everybody knows that Europe feeds itself with its own history, roots that are deeply tied to the Catholic church – my life is part of this world. It is therefore easy for me to go deep into this ‘matter’, which is a rare collection of culture, spirituality, art and cult of beauty. I grew up this way.
“When I was five, I would accompany my mother when she cleaned the Mondolfo. Walking between the columns, I smelled incense for the first time. I entered the sacristy and I saw the sacred vestments. After finding an old key I climbed up to the organ and laid my hands on it. This is my background, my education, my artistic and human preparation and the nourishment for my music – until the day I started to work for the Santa Sede, the Pope and the Catholic church.”
How did the idea for LAVS come about?
“It was born out of a call from a friend telling me about his decision to become a priest. I told him, ‘Don’t buy anything!’ I asked my aunt who ran a little tailoring shop with my sister, did some research into style and fabrics, something helped by my years of study at the Istituto d’Arte di Fano, and my first creation was made.”
Was it a natural transition to go from making sacred vestments to perfumes?
“It was very natural, because each handmade item from the atelier is carefully shipped in customised boxes. A detail was missing at the time, a detail that lets the customer live a sensorial experience and adds more beauty – the perfume.”
What was your inspiration behind these scents?
“UNUM was born thanks to the idea of a fragrance dedicated to the liturgical vestments. From there, mysticism, music, my own feelings, my love for gothic art and photography – these have become UNUM. In other words, the unique story of a life made by choices, many of them courageous and tormented. Different experiences and elements fitted in between each other in an inseparable and coherent way that led me to be what I am.”
Your sixth perfume, Io non ho mani che mi accarezzino il volto, will be released this year, created as a tribute to the late photographer Mario Giacomelli. How did you come up with the idea?
“I met Mario Giacomelli when I was very young and working at a printing shop in Senigallia – he would often bring in stuff he couldn’t print himself. The name of the fragrance reveals a fascinating story – in 1961 Giacomelli met a group of young students from the Senigallia episcopal seminary. With the permission of the church administration he started taking pictures of them relaxing after the long hours of study and prayer. He developed images of the [trainee] priests playing football, walking in the snow in their capes, having pillow fights.
“One Sunday, Giacomelli took some cigars and photographed the students smoking. He was accused of creating chaos in a place where discipline had to reign, and they withdrew his permission to photograph. Don Enzo Formigoni, the seminary’s rector and a friend and supporter of Giacomelli, was removed from his office. Giacomelli titled the series Pretini, Young Priests, then he decided to choose a strophe from a poem by David Maria Turoldo, ‘Io non ho mani che mi accarezzino il volto’ – there are no hands to caress my face – binding those images to a precise concept, to a difficult choice.
“The bottle is in a metallic paint similar to one of Giacomelli’s ever-present cameras. The lid is covered with a double metallic fabric. The draping alludes to the ‘dance’ of the young priests’ dresses and the fabric is to evoke Giacomelli’s bag, which always smelt of tobacco. The picture on the bottle is to remind one of Don Enzo Formigoni, the rector who lost his job at the seminary because of those shots, shots that today are famous all over the world.”
You are often referred to as a renaissance man and a true artist in every sense of the word. Why do you think that people tend to see you as this multi-layered and high-conceptual philosopher?
“Why not? Of course I haven’t chosen to be one, but I think that every step, every vicissitude and also my personal aptitude have nourished me with all forms of art. In me, art produces a thought metamorphosis that becomes matter, sound, sculptures. One is an artist not just in virtue of ability and culture but also of a gift. The person who has something to say through art but is never happy about the accomplished work is an artist. I translate into matter what my interior space and my authentic impulses produce. The matter and its transformation is today my humus and they make me communicate to others a world and a way to live. It is immediate, alive, true, free and coherent and I want to talk about it in the same way I’m living it.”
Where do you find inspiration?
“The nature of things, the winning of curiosity versus mediocrity becomes my imagination, my visions. Every single idea generated by my curiosity gets in touch with my way of seeing the essential, the beloved and the infinity. Every intuition becomes revealing music, a gesture that goes to the bottom of things, towards thought labyrinths, in the dangers of distressed hours, among the ghosts of soul solicitations. Inspiration is a dramatic vibration that gets involved in all the senses. Life and art are tied by a casual flow that neutralises the fears. Improvisation is like entering into the substance itself, with that pure freedom where the more intimate images are settled. No formal strategies, just a spontaneous and always new wind that links me with the nature. I welcome it with astonishment, solitude and an innocent shaking, following the internal impulse to get involved with beauty.”
What are your next creative projects?
“There are many, but never too many. With my staff, I realised it’s time to talk to everybody about a whole universe, not just a discipline. A new tessera is coming – SAUF haute couture, an exclusive collection of tailor-made garments, completely handmade, almost unrepeatable, I would say – conceived from a segment of precious fabric, shaped in a single gesture. The intention is to neutralise the body and its image in order to reach its core. A preview will be presented at the Pitti Immagine, Florence, in June, followed by an installation in January, in complete harmony with UNUM, SAUF Bijoux and SAUF Fragrances, which are UNUM’s little sister. In September I will launch NEBBIA, a new series of fragrances dedicated to this interesting atmospheric phenomenon that has fascinated me, moved me and embraced me forever.”
Words by Camila Catalina
Image courtesy of Filippo Sorcinelli