The Legendary House of Borsari
Borsari goes back a long time, Lodovico Borsari, a barber who lived in Parma in the late 19th century. The stories of how Borsari came to be a perfumer and the source of his first perfume have an almost storybook quality. Many feel this quality comes through in the scents of the fragrances he created.
The Barber Who Became a Perfumer
Some point in the late 1800s, it is said that a man walked with his young son through the streets of Parma early one morning. The pair arrived at a barber shop, where they met the owner, one Dario Sacco. The two friends chatted for quite some time about those things people always chat about: family, business, the weather, and the young man who had come with his father. But father and son did not come simply to visit a friend. The boy was to be apprenticed to the barber. As the third son in a family of twelve children, this boy, the young Lodovico Borsari, was eager to try this profession, rather than his own father’s profession of carpenter.
At that time, Parma was known for its indulgence in the arts, a legacy of the former Duchess of Parma, Marie Louise, wife of Napoleon Bonaparte. So young Lodovico was also indulged in his pursuits, and allowed to work in the back room of Sacco’s shop to formulate his own perfumes and cosmetics. The young man was so talented that Sacco considered making Lodovico his partner. One perfume in particular made their shop famous.
Borsari created a perfume based off a fragrance that had been popular when Marie Louise still ruled Parma. This perfume, Violetta di Parma, was an instant success. By 1897, Borsari was able to work exclusively on perfumes, creating a number of classic fragrances.
As with so many great perfumes, the bottle was very important to the success of the fragrance. Borsari went to the great glass works, Bormioli, to create some truly exquisite samples of glass and crystal. Even the labels and boxes were hand-designed by great artists of the time. The evolution of art can be seen in the packaging of Borsari fragrances across the years.
The Legend of Violetta di Parma
It is said that the first version of the perfume that would become Violetta di Parma was made by monks for the Duchess Marie Louise, called Maria Luigia in Italy. The violet flower was a great passion for her. The flower was part of her signature, and she even wrote her letters in violet ink. She did all she could to support the monks in creating the essence of the violet, so she might have that scent with her always.
Marie Louise was the second wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, and they did not marry for love or passion. As the daughter of the Emperor of Austria, she was part of a plan to solidify Napoleon’s own power. Napoleon and Marie Louise were married in 1810, but in four short years,
Napoleon’s power was broken and he was forced into exile on the island of Elba. Marie Louise and her son would return to Vienna, where she was given the Duchy of Parma. She moved there in 1816.
Like the violets she so loved, Marie Louise was shy, sweet, and gentle. Her new subjects adored her. She did all she could to bring joy and beauty into the lives of the people of Parma. What she is best known for, however, are the violets. She prevailed upon the monks to create a perfume from the violets she had sent from Vienna.
After Marie Louise’s death in 1847, Lodovico Borsari was a visitor to the monastery, and he learned of this violet essence. In time, he convinced the monks to give up their secret, and Violetta di Parma was created.
By today’s standards, this perfume might seem somewhat simple, but in its very simplicity there is a charm more complicated perfumes cannot match. The natural sweetness of Violetta di Parma, is timeless. It has all the appeal of a flower garden, violets with hints of rose, lily, heliotrope, jasmine, and other notes, and it is widely acclaimed as a true classic among perfumes.
Timelessly beautiful, the Borsari legacy of perfumes still endures in Parma today, where the headquarters doubles as a museum for the fabulous works of art created to hold the works of art created by Lodovico Borsari and those who followed him.