Fashion & Beauty / Who, What, Why

The Fashion Royalty With a Nose for Niche Fragrance

Heir to the Nina Ricci empire, Romano Ricci follows in the wake of his family's perfumery business, forging a path of humour, inventiveness and charm

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Who? Romano Ricci hails from esteemed fashion heritage. His great-grandmother, Parisian couturier Nina Ricci, was famed for her reignition of the Haute Couture industry after WWII, her innovative draping technique – pinning swathes of fabric directly onto a live model – garnered her status as a must-visit for gowns of the debutante and wedding trousseaux variety. Her son Robert Ricci, Romano’s grandfather, with whom she founded the family business, was later responsible for Nina Ricci parfums; his second fragrance, the potent L’Air du Temps was launched in 1948 and remains a best-seller to this day. Romano Ricci has followed this latter aspect of the family business too, albeit in his own, divergent, right.

The path was not straightforward. Ricci spent much of his early professional life avoiding the inevitable “tensions” of the family business. “I really swore to myself that I would never work in the business,” he explains on a rainy London morning in the terrace cafe of The Sanderson. “But I guess at a certain point, when you try to escape something, it can come back to you even stronger.” Inevitably it would seem, Ricci launched his own brand, Juliette Has A Gun – an eclectic collection of now 15 niche fragrances – in 2006. Eschewing the celebrity-endorsed, glittering world of designer fragrance of his forebears, Ricci subscribes to a new generation of perfumiers, painting abstract works using off-key ingredients.  

“I think it’s sad to stick with only one fragrance, because I like the idea of you taking on a little bit of the fragrance's intention when you wear it. I want people to use the fragrance to be a different person, in the same way that you wear different dresses, or different make-up…” 

What? Ricci’s is a modern approach to fragrance, one that both builds on his family heritage and subverts it. “I remember when my grandfather presented Nina, it was at the opera and it was so upscale. There were ballerinas dancing Swan Lake – it was so beautiful! The bottles were made by Lalique and it was a different world, it was perfumery. I learnt so much from my grandfather, he was an incredible man but I do think he and I would have very different ways of looking at women… He was looking at women like they were all virgins: they were 16 years old, running through fields and hugely innocent. I think my vision of women is that they have more character. They are more mature.”

Like a collection of short stories, the perfumes share a uniform packaging style, but explore a new space with each scent. A renegade innovation like Not A Perfume, a practically scent-free pheromone-enhancing spray – the application of which was once described as being like “sprinkling salt to bring out the flavour” – for example, sits on the shelf alongside more classical, though no less subversive, perfume explorations like Another Oud (a fruity interrogation of the ubiquitous sweet and woody scent) and Mmmm… (a gourmand reading of raspberry and geranium notes).

The perfumes’ wry monikers belie the creator’s wry intentions. “Fragrance is ultimately about compliments,” he confesses. “You always adopt the one that people comment on. It’s embarrassing to admit but it’s true! At the same time I think it’s sad to stick with only one fragrance, because I like the idea of you taking on a little bit of the fragrance’s intention when you wear it. I want people to use the fragrance to be a different person, in the same way that you wear different dresses, or different make-up… I know that I’m not the same when I wear a suit as I am on Sundays in a sweatshirt. I see fragrance as an invisible dress I suppose.”

“I really swore to myself that I would never work in the business but I guess at a certain point, when you try to escape something, it can come back to you even stronger.”

Why? Because this month sees the release of Ricci’s latest fragrance: Sunny Side Up. It’s a dreamy, sun-creamy unctuous scent, except without the Malibu tendencies (pictured here with its sunshine yellow lid). “It’s easier than my other fragrances,” Ricci explains; offering another example of the idiosyncratic approach with which he tackles each new scent incarnation. With its warm, rounded out nose, rather like that nutty baked note your skin takes on after a day in the sun, it’s soft enough to drape all over the body for daytime – but with just enough solidity to inject a little warmth to your mood. “It reminds me more of a bright sunny morning than the beach,” he confirms. Though in this particular “invisible dress”, we defy you to feel anything less than blissfully beachy.

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