Interview: Filippo Sorcinelli of UNUM & LAVS

Filippo Sorcinelli has been called “a Renaissance man,” and the term seems fitting. He is not only the force behind Unum Parfums and the LAVS Atelier that makes vestments for the popes, but he is also a painter, photographer, musician, and conceptual post-modernist artist whose work has been praised by the Louvre.

Photo: Rita Francia for Unum and Mr. Sorcinelli. Source: UNUM.

Photo: Rita Francia for Unum and Mr. Sorcinelli. Source: UNUM.

Unum 5

My first introduction to Mr. Sorcinelli was through his wildly popular parfum, LAVS, which was originally a room and clothing spray for Pope Benedict XVI and the current Pope Frances before being transformed into a scent for the skin. A number of people who love liturgical or churchy incense consider it the best incense fragrance ever made. Unum also has other parfums in its line, two rich floral orientals called Opus 1144 and Rosa Negra. What struck me was the role of history, art, and religion behind all three scents, as well as the attention to the smallest detail. For example, I was completely tickled by the use of the Fibonacci Sequence or Golden Ratio in the planning of the perfumes’ packaging. The more I looked into Mr. Sorcinelli and his background, the more intrigued I became, so I wrote to him to see if he would be interested in an interview.

Filippo Sorcinelli.

Filippo Sorcinelli.

Mr. Sorcinelli kindly agreed and was exceedingly generous with his time because, as you will see, most sections below are rather long. That is because I included a lot of necessary background information for readers who may be completely unfamiliar with his life in order to provide a context for the actual questions at the end.

Mr. Sorcinelli answered at great length but, if I’m to be completely honest, I don’t really understand many of his responses as they relate to the specific questions. It is my failing. He is a man who thinks purely in conceptual terms, and who sees the world through the larger lens of Art (with a capital “A”) and, sometimes, Religion. I am not an artist but a lawyer, so I’ve been trained to focus on facts, specifics, and details. It’s a completely different mindset — the polar opposite, in fact — so Mr. Sorcinelli’s philosophical conceptualism and avant-garde, metaphysical approach are a little over my head. I’m sure the deep-thinking philosophers and artists amongst you will understand his meaning plainly.

Regardless, I wanted to thank Mr. Sorcinelli for the time he took in replying, as well as the whole UNUM team for assisting me and providing the many photos that accompany this interview. All the black-and-white images shown here are from or by Mr. Sorcinelli and UNUM, unless stated otherwise.

  1. Your accomplishments range across a number of artistic fields, but your first love seems to have been music. At the very young age of 13, you were the organist at the cathedrals of Fano, Rimini and San Benedetto del Tronto. You later got a Master’s degree from the Art Institute of Fano, but you also studied at the Rossini Conservatory in Pesaro and then at the Vatican’s prestigious Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music in Rome. Since that time, however, you have also become a painter and photographer; worked on art installations around the world; created things in conjunction with museums; been praised by the Louvre for your work; and also become “The Tailor to the Popes.” As a child, did you ever have one specific career in mind, or feel conflicted about which artistic path to follow? Or is there no separation between the Arts for you? If you could only choose one artistic field in which to work for the rest of your life, which one would it be?
One of Mr. Sorcinelli's art pieces.

One of Mr. Sorcinelli’s art pieces.

The one who feels as an artist inside himself, lives an eternal conflict within his own live.

Since I was a child, I always had the need to things beyond any reasonable border. I have to say that during this tormented journey, my family , an extremely simple family, always supported me letting me the choice about everything . As a “special“ kid, my attending some peculiar environments has surely “molded “ my destiny, making in my early age , this sort of interior magma that is still today, the foundation of my creative activity : Music, Painting, Photography, Fashion or anything else I decide to develop. These are beautiful gifts, terrible and uncontrollable at the same time.

The organ at Chiesa di Santa Maria in Servi, Rimini. Source:

The organ at Chiesa di Santa Maria in Servi, Rimini. Source:

The ones who are conscious of it, even as a child, know that they will have to face the life a little bit apart from their coetaneous. Being a cathedral organist at age thirteen is not just a prestige but also a big responsibility putting aside a kid’s normal activities. My friends played soccer or hide and seek …and I asked to be chaperoned to play the organ at the bishop’s pontifical celebrations . This may change the perception of the life.

Unum 1These early contacts with Art and Beauty and their countless facets have overwhelmed, stigmatized my life forever : incenses, Gothic and Romanesque cathedrals, organ music, choirs, old and modern sculptures, sacred vestments, paintings and much more : all these solicitations have wrapped and preserved the emotions of an excited young heart. That ‘s way I have never felt specials conflicts about choices…rather interior torments , own to the one who creates. Still today I can’t imagine a separation among the artistic disciplines that I practice I rather see them connected, joined by the subtle wire that always lead my thought. So, the ones who indulge in freedom, in free expression , in order to fight the progressing roughness, can not choose just one art form , they have to run, urged by all the calls their soul receives[.]

[Editor’s note: Below are a few clips of Mr. Sorcinelli’s more modernist or avant-garde interpretations of classical organ music. His website has other pieces. He also recently released a new CD on Amazon called Francophilie that is more traditional in nature.]

  1. In 2001, you created your tailoring Atelier, LAVS, short for Laboratorio Atelier Vesti Sacre but also a reference to the Latin word for “praise” (laud). You work with a partner, Marcello, to make sacred vestments for much of the Church hierarchy, in addition to furnishings and accessories for the Church liturgy or ceremonies. On your website, you said the Atelier was inspired mainly by the forms and the ancient tradition of the Church, revisited in the light of Vatican II and the liturgical reform that subsequently emerged. Tailoring seems like a sharp change from what you had been doing before this time, whether it was studying music, being a musical director for festivals, or art collaborations with museums and galleries. What happened to make you decide that you would like to expand into not just into tailoring, but into tailoring religious vestments for the Catholic Church? Had you ever sewn clothing before? If not, did you teach yourself, or did you stick primarily to the overall design? Did you have to spend a lot of time analyzing and learning the more modern forms of religious attire, post Vatican II?
One of LAVS Atelier's church vestaments. Source: Unum at

One of LAVS Atelier’s church vestments. Source:

As I already said , there is not the interruption of a work and the beginning of another; when I process a visionary, artistic project I try at all costs to realize it, LAVS was born that way, too : during my roman studies at the Sacred Musi Pontifical Institute, I kept the task of being the organist of Fano’s Cathedral, but the attendance in Vatican opened even more my universal vision of the Catholic Liturgy with a special concern for sacred music and vestments. LAVS was born from these internalizations : greater LAUD, highest ART at service of the CULT. Since ever men offer to God the best of theirselves, together with their artistic and literary expressions. LAVS is this : style, honor, Beauty ,Glory, because for Roman church the liturgy must be the mirror of the celestial Glory.

Since I was a child I tasted the beauty in tailoring, through the little atelier managed by my aunties and my sister. Valuable tailoring and wedding dresses. Nourished by highest concepts, coming back from Rome, after accurate iconographic researches and with my artistic awareness, I started this new course consistent with what I think, helped by the little family atelier that still today works for me. A gift that I received ( even if I consider it as a double edge weapon ) is the capacity to absorbe as a sponge everything around me, and to use after, the other gift : the insight, the intuition. Here is way I don’t need special technical lessons, but I just need to remain in contact with what arouses my interest.

Pope Benedict, possibly wearing LAVS Atelier clothing. Photo: L'Osservatore Romano. Source: Unum.

Pope Benedict wearing LAVS clothing. Photo: L’Osservatore Romano. Source: Unum.

The first specimens were the result of different contaminations, experimentations, and researches, based on a attentive vision and internalization of two extraordinary historic periods, expeccialy for sacred art: The Romanesque and the Gothic. Through this study, I wanted to elaborate the foundation of LAVS’s stylistic thought , translated in a modern way, obviously. I revisit materials, shapes, embellishments, following rules and creative instinct, dedication and love…in order to create excellence in this field, too.

“Think high, you always will have time to go down.“ This is the “slogan“ the “motto“ and I owe it to my mother.

Marcello has been foundamental support to nourish and translate my visions into in a wider meaning of LAVS. He is my closer collaborator and he deserves all my estime and trust. Trust translated and developed into UNUM, where we formalized a real Company.

  1. Your Atelier is enormously successful, and you’ve become the tailor to Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. In an interview with David Nicholas on your personal website, you were called “the Designer to the Popes.” I’m utterly fascinated by this part of your career. In your interview with Alfarom on Basenotes, you simply said that you got the call from the Papal Liturgical Celebrations office one day. How long had your Atelier been running when you came to the Vatican’s attention? Can you elaborate on the specifics entailed in the tailoring process? For example, does a secretary from the Office of Papal Liturgical Celebrations call you with Il Papa’s measurements, you choose special fabrics, create the vestments with Marcello, and then do the fitting alterations on the Pope himself? How long does it take to make each outfit? What specific design issues go into making a papal garment, as opposed to one for a less elevated member of the diocese? Has the design been the same for both popes when it comes to the same sort of vestment?

That’ s true. LAVS has had a great Italian and international success by virtue of its uniqueness, its vocation for excellence, its internal dynamicity. LAVS is an admired atelier by virtue of its meticulous care of details, its relationship with the commission and its organization. Very important elements ,today more than ever, to stay on a high level in the professional scenery, worldwide. This is reason why one day I received a call by the pontifical Liturgical Celebrations office asking me for a visit at the Vatican in view of a first contact, that in a short time leaded LAVS to dress the last two Popes: Benedetto XVI and Francesco. It is also clear that the press set off this aspect qualifying me as “ the Pope’s tailor “ In a way, this is true because often we often happen to collaborate with the Popes and the Vatican, but on the other hand I have to say that the role of Pope ‘s tailor doesn’t exist, we simply do well our job.

Pope Benedict XVI wearing a LAVS Atelier vestament. Photo: REUTERS/Tony Gentile. Source: LAVS/ Unum.

Pope Benedict XVI wearing a LAVS Atelier vestment. Photo: REUTERS/Tony Gentile. Source: LAVS/ Unum.

The Pontifical Liturgical Celebration’s office calls : we evaluate together many aspects, among others the research about drawings and materials. In short, a real work together in order to have a perfect agreement in every aspect. LAVS realizes sacred vestments for Liturgy, that is why they don’t have special hierarchic differences. Usually, in order to underline the hierarchy they add other liturgical vestments as headgears and others accessories. The Popes, as any other human being , have personal style and taste, coming from their own personal choices and their own culture. To get dressed, is also a cultural matter, every Church man has his own sensibility and it might lead to an only goal , glorifying God by an act. The one who celebrates doesn’t do it by himself but with the others, he get “depersonalized “ in order to embody someone else. In the ecclesiastic language they say “ in persona Christi “.

  1. What specific differences in general style, taste, and character have you noticed between the two popes?

Above, I answered in a generic way, saying that everyone has a its own liturgical sensibility, and it is true.

Pope Benedict. Photo possibly by Reuters. Source: Unum/LAVS.

Pope Benedict wearing LAVS Atelier clothing. Photo may be by Reuters. Source: Unum/LAVS.

We can’t deny that the two last Popes have substantial differences : Benedetto XVI is among the most important intellectual characters of this century, he is a profound studious, Art , Music and Beauty lover, very shine and mild in his private life. We have to assign to him the credit of having been able to ferry Peter’s boat trough stormy waters, often caused by the previous pontificate. Francesco embodies the thought of a religious among the people, sometimes with carefully designed forcing, strongly amplified by the media. The risk of putting aside high aspects of a religion that is based overall on ritual elements is to reduce its mission to an humanitarian organization, forgetting that the Spirit has to be cultivated, supported, nourished with prayer. This prayer assumes a rite, a liturgy, an ensamble of shapes, movements, rules in order to reach high peaks, in order to build by the Beauty. That is what people are expecting by the Church and by the Pope. Is not the Art in charge to save the world ?

  1. You’ve mentioned in an interview that you scented the vestments, and that perfume was first born out of “need” for you. I’m assuming you’re referencing the LAVS room spray that preceded the actual fragrance. Can you explain what made you think there was a need to scent the clothes to begin with? Who created the room/clothing spray, and what were its main olfactory notes? Do you recall the reaction of each pope to its scent? Is one of the popes more scent-driven than the other?
Photographer unknown. Source: Unum/LAVS.

Photographer unknown. Source: Unum/LAVS.

For us, at LAVS, it is custom practice to give a fragrance to finished garments before delivery. We intend our artifacts to be a demanding journey of the senses. The UNUM project origin is rooted in this idea: the need to create a fragrance that could make our creations stand out. UNUM LAVS therefore means celebration of our atelier and has always encompassed the fascination and mystery of a place where we conceive objects intended for Spiritual cultivation.

LAVS room and clothing spray. Source:

LAVS room and clothing spray. Source:

The first ambient fragrance featured clear top notes of Frankincense, Myrrh and Juniper Berries on a noble base note of Balms, Oriental Resins and Precious Woods with fragrances of Old Leather, Musk and Golden Amber.

In all honesty, I rather get a completely personal opinion about pontiffs… it is however no less clear that, as men, they are ‘tormented’, just as much as we are, by olfactory desires. My fragrances are nothing but a journey/drama inspired by the moon, surrendering to heaven, indulging in the calls of oneiric nature and of ever forbearing trees in the fog. At the same time I think about the completed work and its deepest roots.

  1. The Lavs room/clothing spray was obviously a huge hit for you to decide to turn into a fragrance. For each of the 3 Unum creations, you worked with a nose who prefers to stay anonymous, but perhaps you can elaborate on the development process in adapting and transforming a room spray into an actual extrait de parfum to wear on the skin? I’ve never tried the room spray, only the LAVS perfume, so what notes were changed, augmented, or supplemented? Did you have a specific image in your head for how the parfum should be (as opposed to the room spray), and was the finalization process challenging? If so, how many “Mods” (the industry term for the various versions that a perfumer goes through in creating a scent) did it take to perfect LAVS?

LAVS is the ideal declination reflecting my way of seeing the world. It is not just a celebration of a work but a true life style pledge. It is my perfume I cannot ever give up. It is my spiritual garment that transcends all boundaries, perfect alchemy between the world and my art. It could not remain only an ambient intended fragrance. I therefore rely on those who can comprehend this deep thought of mine… in the end, it is not the nose that matters but what I can interpret through it, availing myself of its experience, its technical valence, to generate that metamorphosis of thought which this way becomes sound. My work means this: to create a free and coherent thought, coming from my most intimate, hidden, restless and quivering part of my being, reaching an art that possesses real time; it arises while remaining in suspense.

LAVS parfum. Source: UNUM.

LAVS parfum. Source: UNUM.

For me, the task of the nose is to create for myself that harmony in diversity nearly like trees in a Forest, in a ratio that is in between pain and love… the nose is a means, a bridge connecting the scattered gestures of my life. It has not been difficult to translate an ambient perfume in extrait de parfum intended for the human body… we have decided together to maintain as much as possible its basic character. A few months later, a black totem was created, from patches of gold consisting of complex olfactory stimuli that are rare but extremely appealing: rosewood, musk, black pepper, carnation, elemi, coriander, cardamom, labdanum and, last but not least, sweet myrrh. In the recent months, many people see it next to the incenses of well-known names that have shaped the history of artistic perfumery; and this fills me with joy and satisfaction. Meanwhile, many others distort it as a mere marketing operation… these last considerations give me strength and confirm my thinking: having friends always means getting just as many enemies. If both are present in my life, it means I’m on the right track!

What you say can only further confirm my thoughts so far. I have reached my goals! UNUM is precisely this free space, this mix that certainly has roots in a restricted world of beauty so as to then afford to fly without formal patterns. This entire process of evolution, of change comes after years and years of artistic itineraries that were likely to remain closed in my soul. Fortunately I managed to release them into the world, leaves in the wind, in a spontaneous elemental process. This is independent art, since the more this art detaches more from coded aspects the more it reflects me, because by now I reject everything that makes me feel a sense of obligation. Having inspiration means remaining always innocent and make burst that inner impulse that feeds my life: this means, for me, to create Beauty. I can also say that this is my way of creating the true absinthe, the real ingredient not only for artistic perfumery, but for everything I do. Surely, in these activities so out of the ordinary, it is likely to be little understood, even by those around you… but nowadays I can no longer allow anyone to deprive me of or limit this creative freedom of mine.

  1. You were working with a blank slate for your two other fragrances, Opus 1144 and Rosa Nigra, because they were conceived from scratch. The former was inspired by Gothicism (especially the architecture), while the latter builds on parts Opus 1144 but adds elements referencing Egypt, Buddhism, Taoism, and the Chinese Queen of Heaven. You then mixed all that up with a touch of The Green Fairy, or absinthe, the favorite drink of famous artists like Toulouse-Lautrec. Religious, symbolic, and intellectual themes connect all three creations, but two of them are extremely different in actual olfactory style not only to LAVS, but also to your own avant-garde aesthetic. They’re olfactory French Haute Classicism. They’re not brooding, baroque waves of darkness with a strongly religious set of notes. And they’re a far cry from the avant-garde edginess demonstrated in your organ music and photos. In fact, one of the perfumes (Opus 1144) is almost gourmand in nature, while you’re quite focused on fitness, exercise, and vegetarianism. So, how do Opus 1144 and Rosa Nigra express who you are, artistically and aesthetically?
Opus 1144 via Twisted Lily.

Opus 1144 via Twisted Lily.

Opus 1144 is my Creed… it is the date of laying the foundation stone of Saint Denis… the beginning of the Gothic. By now, everybody knows me as a Francophile: I also dedicated my first record to these very strong feelings I have for Paris… city I adore in the dissension of its interpretations. It can make me cry for hours in a mixture of striking happiness and pain.

Opus 1144, as Rosa Nigra keep representing me because they are linked to each other like LAVS… they are part of my life as they are the line that marks my art without any ties, an art certainly born from restlessness, from an elegant way of being cursed, that experiences meetings in solitude among different cultures and stimuli… UNUM coexists with me this way and it started with this desire to appear to the world with its frantic gothic quest, to mark and to build… it is only right that now it runs through my innermost thoughts, shared by those who respect its ingenuity and magic.

During my gait in Art, I went through such dark and difficult moments, but I finally found some travelling companions, kindred spirits and accomplices, who feel the need to bring out from me any hidden artistic feeling: the time of the eternal “do” is reached, and thanks to those who see in me a life source, to those who have the courage to “take risks” with me, I am alive, with all my multi facets of Black.

  1. Putting aside the intellectual theories behind each scent, and focusing purely on their olfactory bouquets, Opus 1144 and Rosa Nigra deviate strongly from the High Church/ High Mass liturgical world that you’re so familiar with, and opt instead for a very Guerlain profile, like Shalimar, L’Heure Bleue, and Nahema. Were you drawn to the Guerlain aesthetic, perhaps because of women who wore such fragrances as you were growing up? Given how Opus 1144 and Rosa Nigra differ from a Church scent, was the development process with the perfumer challenging and push you out of your comfort zone? If so, what were the specific challenges that you faced in shaping the direction of each scent? Did one take longer than the other to perfect?

There is no comfort zone inside me, but rather the artist’s will to overcome conventional barriers and explore, while remaining consistent with his way of seeing the world. LAVS is indeed a celebration perfume but, as already mentioned, it is projected outside the conventional pattern and consequently moves away from the flavour Church when attention shifts towards a more complex and articulated artistic path. Certainly, the Gothic has been the style that has given stimulus to sacred art in the world but it is at the same time a true Renaissance of all arts.

The upcoming, new UNUM parfum, Nuage Maison. [Photo cropped.] Source: Unum.

The upcoming, new UNUM parfum, Nuage Maison. [Photo cropped.] Source: Unum.

In short, this is the thin thread that for now ties the three fragrances and with them the new LAVS Nuage Maison that we introduce at Pitti Fragranze 2015. Turning to the olfactory notes, I would say that I do not find LAVS so ‘liturgical’ and that it articulates with Opus 1144 and Rosa Nigra. Firstly because each one of them has the ambergris as natural link. In Opus 1144, shades of woods of LAVS, ambergris, musk resonate and then move to notes of vanilla, Sandalwood and Cashmere to open afterwards up to citrus flavours such as tangerine and bergamot.

Rosa Nigra via Unum. [Photo cropped for size.]

Rosa Nigra via Unum. [Photo cropped for size.]

Shalimar is a perfume of oriental flavour, exquisitely created by Guerlain to talk about the love of Emperor Shah Jahan for princess Mumtaz Mahal. Similarly, Heure Blue and Nahema are created as exclusively feminine fragrances yet that has nothing to do with a personal experience nor with Opus 1144 and Rosa Nigra, since these two extraits de parfum decline their philosophy in a universal manner, both suitable, I would say, to a more varied audience: I knew that so many men and women wanted in their own private homes all three fragrances simultaneously, in a kind of frenzy symphony of flavours and sensations. So please believe me when I say that all three extraits de parfum are “chained” together by an indissoluble bond that goes beyond the common thought of sex.

As for the fragrance that has required longer time to be created, that certainly is Rosa Nigra, although apparently among the less complex, it arouses lots of surprises its application on the skin: Bulgarian rose, but also irises, freesias, peach from symbolic multi-facets to Absinthe, liquor of artists.

  1. One of the things that piqued my interest about your perfumes early on was the clear attention to detail and intellectuality shown in your perfume descriptions. In particular, I was impressed that you used the Fibonacci Sequence or Kepler’s Divine Proportions for something as minor as the packaging, containers, and cap. But, if you will forgive me, I have the sense that perfume is more of an intellectual and theoretical exploration for you at this point, rather than a true, genuine, olfactory passion. In your Basenotes interview with Alfarom, you said scent was originally merely a “need” for your Atelier tailoring business, but, after the positive response to your three fragrances, “now, perfume is part of our lives, too. It is among arts, one of the most complete sensory, mystique and spiritual experiences.” That makes it sound as though you didn’t grow up wearing fragrance, or having any interest in the field until late in life. Did you wear fragrance as a young man? Do you wear it now for yourself? If so, what do you wear, and how would you describe your own personal fragrance style and taste? What olfactory notes do you personally respond to, emotionally and viscerally, and why?
Photography by F. Sorcinelli. Source: Unum.

Photography by F. Sorcinelli. Source: Unum.

You say it and I repeat: for me, perfume means an intellectual and artistic experience that is close to me, I am passionate about it because I consider it a different way to communicate my thoughts. This explains also why I generally “contaminate” this olfactory discipline with other experiences. Is it a mortal sin to engage, late in life, in something fascinating never explored before? Artists, in order be artists, should not fossilize in one environment, they are eternally curious up to grazing on the pathological, always eager to learn new things and turn them into something personal, intimate, mixing it to their own life and re-conveying it to the world in a new dimension.

If this means breaking the tradition of classic perfumery, perhaps it is the most striking example! As mentioned earlier, by now, the olfactory experience is a means for me to communicate even more about my experiences and my life, along with other artistic disciplines. And this is precisely because of the fact that among the many arts, creating fragrances is without doubt one of the most mystical and spiritual one, that I choose and nurture. Hard to imagine that, as a young man, I have not worn perfumes or that I have not been in contact with sensorial and olfactory experiences… my whole life has been a flavour, since I have climbed the trees in the back yard and smelled hands soaked with the flavour of rusty iron along with the intense scent of fig leaves ointment.

Photography by F. Sorcinelli. Source: Unum.

Photography by F. Sorcinelli. Source: Unum.

Or when, before music lessons, I used to run with my dog and rest my body against pines and cypresses, in a desire to be joining in an indissoluble way the trunks furrowed by the resin that was pouring out from the deeper creeks, identifying similarities with the myrrh used in the church during liturgies I attended first as an acolyte and later as an organist.

Or when I was trying to dig the earth increasingly deeper, looking for ever different olfactory sounds: mosses, scorched earth, at first wet, then dried up and mixed with iron or coal. Those are unforgettable experiences that I always carry with me and that will be part of the ever growing story of UNUM. I could say that, at a young age, I had worn all that. Now I wear LAVS, and I do not repent it!

  1. You’ve mastered so many of the other Arts, would you ever want to conquer this one for yourself by taking perfume classes and developing your own nose?

Indeed, it is true, I cultivate many arts and I am working on many projects, some very ambitious such as fashion, the real fashion that has always been ‘challenged’ me… after thousands of suggestions I decided to approach it from a pure, more artistic standpoint, creating fine tailored garments using a special technique. I hope I will be in the position talk to you about it as soon as my ‘feminine transposition’ in art, with whom I share a great part of my life, and I decide the venue of presentation. It will certainly be an additional artistic stimulus keeping me alive, along with all the others.

Having said that, I express my interest in becoming nose, but I wonder if in fact there is a need to. After all, there are very few real noses in the world… claiming to be a nose nowadays does not necessarily mean you are one: from my little experience in this lovely area, I got to know the most varied aspects and I realized that the real noses are those who do not enjoy public exposure, who love welcoming you and share your vision in absolute silence, who like knowing you deep down, cry with you because of the beauty in the emotions you offered them and translate these visions in unprecedented sensorial and olfactory experiences. The gesture even of reaching out to them with the nose is a profound action. The magic comes from there. Who can say that nowadays? I too am unable… time and the path of UNUM olfactory lines shall give us the right answers!

Photography by F. Sorcinelli. Source: Unum.

Photography by F. Sorcinelli. Source: Unum.

  1. In the David Nicholas interview on your personal website, you said that you are driven by Beauty and Art, that you’re inspired by freedom, and that both travel and the power of the colour black move you. One part really stood out to me. In translation from the Italian, you said: my artistic choices cut across the interior dimension. Innate torments, passions unconscious are enclosed spaces surrounded of Infinity: a sliver of Eternity. The real art is unattached and dating lives in solitude.” I’m afraid I don’t know what that means, but I’m curious if perfume ever triggers “passions unconscious”? I know music does, but how important is Perfume to you on a concrete, non-theoretical, actual basis? Have you ever smelt a fragrance, and been mentally transported or emotionally moved? When inspiration strikes you, is it ever about Perfume?

Unum 2I am convinced that creating Art is a very powerful experience, mainly lived in the most intimate solitude. Set or generated for the merits of others. And this happens even in the cry of a scent. I can remember strong pains and powerful feelings generated by a perfume or a simple scent. Certainly I consider myself a dangerous being on a journey, black, almost unfinished, deeply moved by the sartorial detail in all things, deconstructed as raw material vanishes, burns, consumes, folds, drapes itself, becomes thin, like a fog that envelops and overwhelms you. It is the absolute pursuit of mysterious drama and style, in an inner enhancing process, away from constraints. I am free in art as in life, vulnerable in the most hidden passions and childish in the genesis of artistic thoughts, even though fueled by the complexity of a life spent in relentless pursuit of an art form that can translate completely around the inside of my soul, the final dark and the silhouette of a forest bathed by the night.

One of Mr. Sorcinelli's art works. Photo: UNUM.

One of Mr. Sorcinelli’s art works. Photo: UNUM.

‘Any other colour bothers me by now’, just as says Yoji Yamamoto. A grammar of colour no longer exists, without the universal poetry of colour summation that only Black can generate. For me, Black is a never ending miracle, who drowned with its intensity my entire life, kneading it with my magma and making my whole life become a continuous hymn, free of grammar and vocabulary, without precise form and guidelines, stimulating new mental and expression processes and techniques. Every art form I cultivate is a resultant and not foreseeable, the classical concept of form setting the arrangement of composition elements no longer exists, but the artistic form results from emotional and poetic strategies and paths that I want to express at a given time. My painting, as well as my photography, installations, organ improvisations, videos, fashion, and last but not least UNUM, should be lived from time to time, in an open and free relation. Living and breathing every each thing. It lies in the choice of those who to have dare to penetrate into in order to understand, as it would definitely mean understanding themselves as well.

  1. In your Basenotes interview, you said that UNUM will release “environment perfumes” next September. I assume that means more room sprays. Do you have plans to create any more perfumes to wear, or was the trio simply a one-time thing for you? In general, do you think your exploration of this world has left a mark on you in terms of the way you think and create as a whole? If so, how?
The upcoming, new UNUM parfum, Nuage Maison. Source: Unum.

The upcoming, new UNUM parfum, Nuage Maison. Source: Unum.

Honoured to be able to participate in this edition 2015 of Pitti, officially presenting the LVS project Nuage Maison, clouds of olfactory richness for ambient declined from the extrait of parfum that has had broad consensus worldwide. We will continue it naturally even through other disciplines: with a video, with images and with installations. I am happy because I have next to me people who have embraced my visions and made them their own. Marcello is with me in these very ambitious projects and together, from the beginning, we managed to give character to and to power this brand. I feel I have to thank him so openly because it is not always easy to stand beside me, sometimes as enthusiastic admirer, sometimes proactively translating into reality every creative vision of mine.

I have already been working for months to create two new fragrances, in full immersion with the magmatic thought of UNUM, increasingly consistent with the lines of our artistic life, more and more impregnated with that rare density derived by those who do not invent their story because it is real and they want to tell it, for better or for worse.

The UNUM project is on a journey of growth, it is alive and is by now inserted as an iron nail in my heart as an artist, and has become instantly part of my life, contributing to my growth as man, person, artist, also fueling my torments, yet accepted from the beginning because they are real and because they are like humus from which I draw on to feel alive in the middle of the world. UNUM is, after all, as nomad today as I am, it means parallel journey into a world of poetry and dream, nestled in the woods of our most hidden feelings. It is alive because it has been created in the drama of mist and, in the mist, wants to tell the world that freedom is the only way out.

You can learn more about Mr. Sorcinelli on his personal website which also includes a gallery of his art and a music section. Unum Parfums and the LAVS Atelier have different sites. If you’re interested in the fragrances, I have reviewed LAVS and Opus 1144. Retail and pricing information for those scents are at the end of each review.

9 thoughts on “Interview: Filippo Sorcinelli of UNUM & LAVS

  1. Absolutely fascinating! I’m going to come back and read this again. His thoughts on the difference between Pope Francis and Benedict are truly thought provoking ideas. He clearly understands the transcendent power of ritual. Little did I suspect to read about this in an interview with a perfumer!! I also found the music wonderful, but I love early music and art, and that which springs from the well of the Catholic church has always moved me greatly, even though I am not a believer. Go figure.

    Well, now I’m fascinated by Mr. Sorcinelli. He speaks the language of Art in the language of old. I fear that much of the opacity of the language here is due to his not having a full command of English more than anything else, but there are passages of lyrical beauty and the meaning is (mostly) clear to me. He seems to have a nearly synethesic experience of life and art.

    And those vestments!!

    Where IS my Unum sample? I know I ordered one and I never tried it! I must remedy this.
    Thank you for this most interesting interview, both my dear Kafka and Mr. Sorcinelli.

    • You’re very welcome, dear Jules. Since you are an artist yourself, I knew that his words would speak to you, and that you would understand his language.

      PS — the embroidery on that one reddish papal outfit was MAGNIFICENT, wasn’t it? My jaw dropped at the detailing and work.

  2. This post was so completely unexpected but fascinating. It is something to keep for future reference. Thank you so much for posting it. It is such an interesting read. Thank you!

  3. Kafka,
    As abstract and conceptual as his answers to your questions were, there is a profoundly deep and intellectual thread to this man’s philosophies and theories on what it means to be a burdened ‘artist’. I don’t wish his exposure and under the loup life at the young age of 13 on anyone, including my enemies ( well, maybe… ). This experience no doubt had a marked effect and influence on the person he is today.
    You know my obsession with liturgical scents. As a recovering Catholic this man speaks a language that I respond to with full instinct. I’m ordering his scents ASAP!

    Bless you for enduring the translation of his verbiage. I suspect migraines were a side effect. Kudos! You did it! I get it!

    Your adoring fan,


  4. Deeply profound guy. Wow Kafka, I couldn’t have asked the questions as well as you did. I’ll also need to re-read everything. I haven’t sleep much lately so I’ve got to interpret some of his answers. lol My head is a bit sore. You did hint that you were going to interview someone on your holiday and
    I guessed correctly on Signore Sorcinelli. Definitely looking forward to Nuage Maison if it is anything as beautiful as Opus 1144 and LAVS. I can’t believe the magnificence of the vestments- must be dazzling
    up close, especially in the sun. Oh, I agree with Rich on his abs. lol
    After this I should be able to sleep! Once again thanks for the interview. 😀

  5. Amazing interview! This guy really believes in the dark night of the soul, a la St. Teresa de Avila, he sees himself as a tortured artist. It’s the religious version of Serge Lutens!
    Interesting reading for sure. Did you see the pic on Fragrantica of his exhibit for Unum? Of course it was black thorns, creepy looking. One would need angels to rescue one from this environment!

  6. Amazing interview, Kafka! I’m slowly making my way through your posts after a particularly hectic summer.
    I loved learning about Mr Sorcinelli’s creative process for Lavs and his other fragrances. It also had a deeper, more personal resonance for me. As a Catholic, I particularly enjoyed reading how Mr Sorcinelli connects the different aspects of his work -organ music, perfume, sacred vestment, liturgy and all-, and the meaning he infuses in them. Fascinating read, really.
    I’m bookmarking his soundcloud page.
    I wrote to Neos1911 about purchasing a sample of Lavs, I am waiting to hear back from them. The ultimate High Church Incense perfume? I MUST try this! 🙂

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