It is such a pleasure to share my story of La Flora and how this product came to be inspired by a beautiful country and a little Roman mythology. La Flora is very special to me personally and is the first product designed from a new method of formulating Karen and I are working on. This series of truly exclusive, experimental projects we’ve deemed, The Master and The Muse takes us back to our roots digging deep into our passions combining artistry with our love of wild ingredients and beautiful surroundings. It is also quite a challenge as we start from a place we haven’t attempted before so there will be a lot of trial and error before we’re able to release more of our, The Master and The Muse collections. I haven’t been this excited since last summer when I came across the heart of La Flora, the delicately floral, cactus flower oil. This ingredient hypnotized me and became the central inspiration to these wild ideas. Let’s start from the beginning…
It was squelching hot in Florence last June. I had just arrived into the city of Florence from a little town in the Tuscan hills called Pontassieve. Prior to that I was in Milan for a week and stopping into little towns in between. For some reason I thought it would be charming and romantic to drive in Italy. Let me settle this for any of you that may have also watched, Under The Tuscan Sun one too many times, it is in fact not remotely charming or romantic. Unless romance for you means having angry speed demons curse you out in Italian because you drive too slow or experiencing a mini heart attack upon arriving on your first roundabout in Milan. Chuck that thought out the window! I suggest you either hire an experienced driver or opt for buses and bikes. By the time I arrived in Florence I was ready to walk all the way to Rome so I scheduled a hiking tour through the Cinque Terre instead.
The Cinque Terre is on the coast of the Italian Riviera in the Liguria region. It consists of five stunning yet rugged villages that are built on steep landscapes overlooking the sea. There are a lot of arrangements to be made to get there because the area is also part of a UNESCO world heritage site and a national park. There are entrances not allowed to enter by bus or car and you need to hike your way in. Luckily for us we had a guide and were a part of a group that consisted mostly of Europeans, a couple of Canadians and a few Americans. It was early in the morning and it was already scorching hot and I had only been able to consume a small cappuccino so I was getting cranky with all the chatter and buzz. I was however, super excited because our guide, Paolo promised an authentic Ligurian lunch after our first hike. (The lunch did not disappoint and I was able to experience pesto like I’ve never had in my life!) The big hike had commenced and little did I know I was in for a big and pleasant surprise!
After our first hike and a charming lunch with strangers we set out to hike through four more towns. The blazing sun and my mistake of overeating was slowing me down. The group was trailing way ahead and I was hiking like a turtle on vacation. So I did what I usually do on these occasions and stopped to take a few Instagram photos. I had been so busy playing catchup that I hadn’t even looked up to notice how blue the sky was or that there were bright red poppies adorning our path like flowered gems on the ground. The higher we hiked the sweeter the air became perfumed with the scent of earth, sunshine and wildflowers. Suddenly I saw dozens of cactus growing high on the side of the cliffs. Like nature’s diligent soldiers these strong and sturdy cacti faced the sea, growing wild and free among such breathtaking beauty. My heart began to pound, overwhelmed by my love for these plants, the abundance of such spectacular views and the fragrant air that was making me dizzy with delight. I caught up to our guide who hiked this terrain four times a week and asked him if it always smelled this amazing. He explained that summer had arrived early in Italy and the sweet air was likely due to the cactus flowers that were blossoming up all over Liguria. He said that they were more fragrant than previous seasons and the soft sea breezes carried the delicate aroma up into the rocky trails. I attempted to get closer to the cactus embedded on the cliff’s, but thought better of it as I imagined a fall in which I couldn’t recover. Instead, I closed my eyes and allowed the moment to envelope me and become part of one of my most memorable and treasured experiences during my time in Italy.
A few days later I was visiting a perfumer in Florence and we began talking about the process of perfuming. We were swapping stories and I mentioned my hike and the scent of cactus flowers that just wouldn’t leave my olfactive memory. He pulled out a pen and paper and wrote down an address and said, “go here. She’ll help you find things you want.” Now if you know anything about Italians you should know that every single Italian living in Italy is in love with their country. (I’m sure Italians living outside of Italy feel the same, but when you’re there you see the love in their eyes and taste it in their wine.) Their love is intense and rich with a sense of pride and passion I haven’t seen or felt anywhere else in the world. You tell an Italian you love their country and you become an honorary Italian complete with insider tips and secrets you would never have gotten from any guidebook. I was grateful for this scoop from the perfumer and headed directly to this alchemist’s apothecary only to discover it was closed. (Mondays in Italy are no good for business.) I was leaving early Wednesday for Rome so I crossed my fingers the alchemist would open on Tuesday. It was my sole mission and luckily for me (and many of you) the apothecary was open and Signora Maria was present and available. We chatted dramatically, me in my convoluted Italian and she happily showed me her collection of handmade products and vials of extracts, oils and rarities. She was a stickler about purity, freshness and organic material. Her enthusiasm for my curiosity allowed me to explore her treasures and then magic happened. I opened a vial she presented me and it was one of those moments that will forever imprint itself in my heart. Could this be the essential oil of the wild cactus flowers that was haunting my olfactive senses? “Cos’e questo?” I asked. “Ahhh, pura essenza di fico d’india,” she replied with a wide smile. Pure barbary fig flower oil! And then I cried. I couldn’t help myself and tears of joy, love and pleasure streamed down my face. I had found what I was looking for.
My trip led me to Rome where I truly discovered Flora at the Palazzo Nuovo. I had seen her image in art and of course Botticelli’s famous painting of Venus where Flora appears, just a few days earlier in Florence, but it was in Rome where I felt Flora in my heart, bones and spirit. I visited the Circus Maximus, once Rome’s largest entertainment arena and venue for Roman religious festivals. This is where gladiators battled and chariots raced and where The Floralia was held. The festival that honored the Sabine-derived Flora, goddess of spring, renewal and blossoming plants. The arena was not spectacular. I was slightly disappointed as I imagined it would be grand and historic. The heat had followed me and I needed to take shade under a tree and drink the site in. It reminded me a bit of the mall in Washington DC. It was momentous when I noticed the smallest purple flowers surrounding me in the grass. I smiled as I imagined Flora’s presence beside me. Flora, I decided was a part of every woman and certainly a long line of women that have inspired me in my life. I want Flora to inspire you to create and bring forth your passions.
This is my intimate story. I am the “master’ of La Flora and Italy and it’s adopted goddess is my muse. Because the creation of La Flora is so dear to me and the source of our cactus flower oil is (rich in amino acids and vitamins) rare, we decided to design our packaging in tribute to Flora’s beauty with rose gold printing instead of our signature silver. Karen even went so far to design something extra special, but you’ll have to wait until the product launches to see how beautiful La Flora is from the inside out. I’m so very excited for you to try this voluptuous scented version of our beloved barbary fig seed oil. I hope it transcends your usual experience of ritual and takes you on your own personal journey of passion, love and beauty. Launching February 2016.
With pleasure and love,