UNUM: Narratives of Connection to the Infinite and the Intangible

Spirit goes beyond all boundaries and embraces the essence of every culture and religion. Therefore the work of Italian mastermind Filippo Sorcinelli for the UNUM Collection becomes not just scents, but stories, narratives that connect us to the infinite and the intangible.

Open to artistic immersion, UNUM stands as more than pure perfume; more of a philosophy and the way to surprise one’s self. Sorcinelli engages us in a reminder that we are all part of something greater, a pulsating life force that transcends boundaries and definitions. It’s tempting to think that we’re exaggerating, but a sampling opportunity of the brand’s fragrances, at the serene LKNU showroom, with an overview of the city and the Zen atmosphere of sipping a calming cup of something fragrant, will convince you that UNUM’s extraits de parfum are a must-try.

According to psychologist Mila Kretova who adheres to the theory of emotional intelligence, the element of surprise acts as one of our strongest feelings, energising and galvanising our perception. Images and texts pose as a challenge to a saturated mind. However the novelty, the wow factor of an unprecedented smell, such as the ones in the UNUM portfolio of scents, wakes up the mind and opens our mental horizons more effectively.

None is more surprising, more tantalising than But Not Today, UNUM’s bête noire, a fragrance inspired by the motion picture Hannibal. In the previous film instalment, Silence of the Lambs, professor Hannibal Lecter addresses agent Clarice Starling, describing her grooming habits, citing with silent menace she uses such and such products, and one classic fragrance …“but not today”. One might recall the morbid “meals” the titular professor consumed and But Not Today certainly features that unsettling metallic tingle of blood; a genuinely niche fragrance of artistic output. But it is the furry plush and smokiness of dirty civet and leathery notes which make the experience ultimately satisfying. These engulf the spicy element of cloves (evoking the dentist’s chair and carnations) and lilies to make you look over your shoulder. A spiritual terror rather than real, UNUM manages thus to create discussion, discourse, and wonder.

Ennui Noir (black trouble) precedes But Not Today chronologically, but is the next emotional step in this journey. Accompanied by Sorcinelli’s own quotes that tie it to the “demonic boredom” described by philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, it demolishes the wall of the hyperactive, surrendering to the acceptance of inexorable flow. The woody chords of patchouli and vetiver root create an aura of an archetype, gothic, edgy and dark, while the stunning use of lavender alongside heliotrope create a surprising touch of salty-sweet play-doh, a nostalgic reference to those hours of intellectual wandering of childhood. And chocolate, creamy, powdery, palatable rises against gourmand clichés… Ennui Noir is nothing sort of miraculous (yes, even for UNUM!) for trailblazing the genre of herbal and yet cuddly, dark, mature scent.

The first essence conceived by UNUM nevertheless was LAVS (an acronym for Laboratorio Atelier Vesti Sacri, i.e. liturgical clothing) which intended to celebrate its roots. The name stands for excellence, a factory where arts and ideas together generate spirituality, beauty and mysticism. And therefore the bois de rose (rosewood) was chosen as the core of the scent, as homage to the Spirit. The biblical references of the resins, balms and spices included are also widespread across the fertile Crescent of the Middle East. The deep character of LAVS belies its provenance, as it speaks to the deity within us all regardless of faith. It becomes the temple of the soul, where we enter with eyes closed and nostrils eager to savour the dry, peppery nuances of elemi resin, the powder of opopanax, fit for a stroll amidst the sarcophagi of the Pharaohs. Or to revel in the synergy of warm amber and mystical labdanum (drying to ash…), which used to be collected off the hair of goats grazing on rock-rose, an endemic plant of the Mediterranean two millennia ago. What a trip!

For Reliqvia (relics) - the depth of human longing for protection, for safety in spiritual healing, for the desire to reach sanctity - takes shape in an amalgam of traditional resin (olibanum, elemi, lentisque and pine rosin) and smoky elements, aerated with citrus -a natural facet of olibanum- and tart fruit to cut through the density. If LAVS has taken you by desire, then Reliqvia will please you no less, yet in a different way.

Typically inspired by art and spiritual voyages, the next UNUM fragrance is called Io Non Ho Mani Che Mi Accarezzino il Volto, translating as There Are No Hands to Caress my Face, and is inspired by the work of photographer Mario Giacomelli, with whom Sorcinelli had a rapport as a child delivering materials from the print shop where the latter worked. The depiction of young priests by Giacomelli is not a nod to theology or religion specifically, but rather an exploration of the personalised experience of the cassock, with photos in black & white of young priests smoking cigars for instance -rendering havoc with the photographer’s permission to continue his work at the Seminary in Senigallia where it took place. Thus Io Non Ho Mani Che Mi Accarezzino il Volto becomes in the hand of Filippo Sorcinelli an étude on the genre of how the photographer smelled: tobacco, ink, photographer’s tape and human smells. The bright top note of green-rosy geranium and warm piquant clove with cinnamic facets catches attention from the get-go, but discussing the story of the scent at the LKNU showroom is what allows you to further appreciate the narrative: its warm lit tobacco shades, its woodiness, its narcotic ylang-ylang heart note, glimpses behind a clandestine world…

In Lascia ch'io pianga (let me weep) on the other hand we have a specimen of one very vocal art form metamorphosing into another. Originally a sarabande (a form of dance music) appearing in Georg Friedrich Händel's Almira (of 1705), the same named piece was transformed into the aria Lascia la spina (1707) and found its final form in the composer’s Rinaldo (1711). The main character’s lover, Almerina, is imprisoned in an enchanted garden, expressing sorrow and hope at the same time in her soprano singing. And lo and behold! This fragrance by UNUM rises, in verdant glory, its tuberose reigning supreme amidst the tentacles of green witchcraft and woody-musky subtle tonalities; the heroine creating drama for herself as this flower of clotted cream and eucalyptus-like fresh top note usually does. Together with luscious jasmine they sing their feminine romantic tune…

But the operatic inspiration does not stop here. Quando rapita in estasi (lost in ecstatic happiness) is also inspired by singing, this time by Donizzeti’s Lucia de Lamermmoor. But the company does not revel in tragic fates for females, so they changed the gender from rapito into rapita, for women being happy by themselves, according to Sorcinelli himself. The stunning bottle, silver cap over the glass like a cap over female shoulders, with a pearl as its crowning glory, accurately recalls the memorable performance of the aria by Maria Callas in 1952. The chypre scent, cut in two halves, one sweet and fir-rich, with peachy velour like sweet whispers of love, the other bitter with moss and incense, represents two sides of a woman; yet men should try it too.

For Symphonie-Passion the original idea might stem from the Passion of the Christ, yet the spiritual echo of pastoral notes, of ice flowing on rivers, cooling flowers and hymns played on an organ have a profound and soothing effect to those who smell it. UNUM is taking the woody musky floral and renders peony and lily of the valley into a melody that is delicately supported by rooty, earthy vetiver; like a single voice accompanied by basso continuo.

In UNUM’s Scusami one is surprised yet anew. Because even though Sorcinelli’s fragrance are laced with a mystical overlay of somnolent resins and hazy paintbrushes, here we have a happy pink composition reminiscent of the fruit bowl to the point of succulence! Sweetish but never too sugary, it beguiles through its smiling façade. Feminine and guaranteed to be pleasing to all who come into contact with it trail, it’s the safe gift for when you’re spoiled for choice.

Rosa Nigra is more demanding, by nature, with no typical rose used, but with green, bitter accents of artemisia over sweet peach; created with lactones, molecules that evoke its fuzzy exterior, these notes together manage to evoke an enchanted rose held inside a snowy cauldron, like in the fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast. In fact, it’s another unisex Gothic masterpiece in which Sorcinelli succeeds to place the core structure of his most echoing thoughts; we find that deep chord in the heart of the next fragrance Opus 1144. In that one, the pop notion of Gothic has taken umbrage and we return to the artistic phenomenon that has cut through the fabric of creation for over two centuries. Norman leaden skies find their cloud motifs reflecting in the delicate but persistent scent of citrus with jasmine, delicately folded in elemi with its spiritual tradition and all embraced into starchy iris. It therefore dries down into a powdery trail of pure abandon. Like a modernised Shalimar, the archetype of the bronzed amber-powdery scent, Opus 1144 is talcum-like, comforting and unsettling all at the same time, making it a must try.

Last but not least, Né il giorno né l’ora comes in 2023 as the latest instalment in the UNUM line of stunning fragrances. Reflecting the powerful emotion of fear, making us face it, embrace it, take it heads on, the scent unites familiar smells like citruses with aquatic notes -bright, squeaky even, fainting into metallic woody nuances that darken with iris, spicy amber and a hint of rose. The inclusion of a pair of scissors to cut through the intricate packaging of the bottle of Né il giorno né l’ora isn’t a gimmick, but rather an artistic view into coming to terms with our very humanity: our fears.

Discovering the UNUM collection by Filippo Sorcinelli is akin to falling into the rabbit hole of olfactory adventure; never before has sampling a collection of pure extraits felt so positively intriguing.

©2023 Arlette - LKNU Parfumerie.