Counter-cool fragrance master Alessandro Gualtieri on Amsterdam, leather and ‘feeling it’
Of course, the first thing that hits you is the smell. One would hardly expect anything less from the lab of a perfumer. A potent concoction of musks, florals and glue-like, plastic notes, it erupts from the opened doorway like an invisible, olfactory tidal wave. But within a few moments, the decor makes a compelling bid for attention.
Placing tatty chic alongside what can only be described as ‘goth opera’, it combines antique wood fittings and early 20th-century fragrance bottles with ornate candlesticks and animal skulls hanging on the walls. And then, in the basement, at the bottom of a treacherous, spiral staircase, next to a midnight-black table that threatens to suck every last ray from the Amsterdam sunshine outside, stands the scent-creator himself: Alessandro Gualtieri, founder of one of the most successful independent brands of recent years, Nasomatto.
A slight, wizard-bearded figure in bright red plimsolls and a wrap-around, teal lab coat, he doesn’t immediately come across as the contrarian that his rare, past interviews suggest he is. However, it’s not long before his anarchic streak makes itself known, punctuating his conversation with an energy that’s as vibrant as his blue eyes. He acknowledges that much of his success stems from the hashish-fuelled Black Afgano – a fragrance so popular, there was a time it seemed to disappear from shop shelves mere moments after a new stock delivery – but he doesn’t want to talk about it.
When I tell him his peers and colleagues are convinced he’ll never go the way of some other independent houses and sell his brand to the likes of Estée Lauder or L’Oréal, he laughs and says, ‘You want to buy? I’ll sell it to you tomorrow.’ He claims he doesn’t enjoy interviews and can spare only one hour of his time, but he ends up giving two, after which he even provides a quick tour of his canal-bordered neighbourhood.
It’s an attitude that’s served him well. In a notoriously competitive environment – where brands struggle to create and maintain distinctive identities – Gualtieri has managed to capitalise on his status as the unpredictable eccentric: the Puglia-born, butcher’s son who avoids media attention but produces scents so loud, they create a 10ft force field around their wearer.
However, propping up the persona is an industry-trained perfumer with decades of experience under his bluster. In the 1980s, while working at what was then Haarmann & Reimer – a major industry establishment behind several fragrances for prominent brands – he followed his nose to Sharjah in the UAE. ‘That’s where I got hooked. Completely fascinated. That for me was the real deal of perfumery. You could touch it, you could feel it.’
Growing obsessed with a composition style markedly different from Europe’s, he travelled to Oman, India and Saudi Arabia in order to learn as much as possible about the countries’ ancient perfume-making techniques. Years later, as an independent agent, he composed a handful of grandiose scents under his newly-founded Nasomatto banner. And finally, after much knocking on doors, one shop agreed to stock his work. Many others followed suit.
Gualtieri has just unveiled his 12th addition to the range: Nudiflorum, a characteristically opaque piece of work, heavy on abstract florals and tannery-centred notes. ‘There is an insane amount of leather in it. But at first it was really sour. So I had to use other materials to create a “cushion” around it, to let the leather become less violent. It was a very long process. I’ve never suffered so much as I did making this.’
True to form, he doesn’t want to dwell on the subject of the new scent, claiming that when a composition has been completed, it’s not for him to talk about it. ‘Why ask me? People always need to explain everything, to understand, to give a reason to things. Sometimes, you just need to feel it.’
Instead, he prefers to chat about his travels – Iran comes highly recommended, not least because of the infectious buzz created by its youthful population – and to tease about upcoming projects, including a scented-fountain installation in Palermo.
And what of the future of the brand that has made him a household name amongst perfume aficionados worldwide? ‘I wanted to close Nasomatto, actually, but I wanted to support my new brand, Orto Parisi, so I thought I could use the income from Nasomatto.’ He smiles. ‘But there was a point one-and-a-half-years ago when I said, “Guys, I’m done. Let’s close it. I think that’s the coolest thing I can do.”-
Time to stock up on Black Afgano? There’s no way he’s telling. §