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At the beginning of the 1900s in Milan, work was underway for the 1906 World’s Fair, which had transportation as its theme: wagons, bicycles, motorcars, railways, surface electrical transport, air balloons, ships; as well as luggage, postal service, and telegraphs – the transport of communication. The Civic Aquarium was opened, and is the only fair pavilion still standing today, maintaining its turtles, original mosaics, and the statue of Neptune. It took some effort to bring the first fish there from every corner of the globe. In 1906, in the same way the fish arrived, people arrived. Czar Nicholas II of Russia brought his collection of imperial ceramics. In the Chinese pavilion, one of the first Chinese restaurants in Italy was set up, with three Chinese chefs cranking out roasted dogfish with prosciutto. In the streets, posters painted by Leopoldo Metlicovitz appeared, depicting Mercury, the god of commerce, emerging from the new tunnel Simplon Tunnel – thanks to which Milan was directly connected to Paris via rail. In the poster, Mercury is seen alongside a female figure who represents Science. They are illuminated by the red glow of a locomotive. They face the exit of the tunnel, beyond which one can see the outline of the Duomo.

In 1906, the pavilions were designed and built in the Liberty style, with a mix of Gothic, Baroque, and Rococo elements. More than 1,400 electric lights illuminated paths and gardens, forming a sort of gigantic, horizontal Christmas tree. There were some forty nations represented, and five million visitors. In the fairgrounds, which today house the CityLife development and Parco Sempione, an elevated electric train operated. It had two tracks and was seven meters above ground, with stations at the two opposite ends of the fairgrounds that were illuminated by forty-eight arc lamps. Light, light, and more light – artificial light, that is. The elevated train clattered along, leaving from the Peace Arch, going, going, crossing Via Pagano and continuing along Via Guerrazzi, all along Via Abbondio Sangiorgio, passing over the Sempione freight yard, reaching the Piazza d’Armi just south of the present day Piazza VI Febbraio, and then the station with its wide platform. Visitors could see a retrospective exhibit of transportation and an exhibit on fishing and agriculture. Twenty thousand meters were covered with galleries of decorative arts from Italy, Japan, Holland, and Hungary. The golden Italian pavilion was the flagship. France, for decorative arts, occupied a building with a ten thousand square meter hall, and, calculated to amaze, a central cupola that measured thirty-five meters high.

In Via del Cairo, Arab life was represented, with actual bazaars and mosques and coffee. Chief among the amusements was a toboga, a flume ride with boats that plunged into an artificial lake. On the way up, riders would see the panorama from above – Milan looked like an amusement park. Then the boat would speed down towards the water. There was the Animal Theater, with wild beasts and their tamers. There was the Wild West Show with Buffalo Bill, the Automat – the world’s first self-service restaurant – and Marconi’s radio. King Vittorio Emanuele III announced a prize of a hundred thousand lire for a raffle winner. Two gold cup auto races were held, with purses of a hundred fifty thousand lire. The brave could try flying up in the air in a balloon that was moored to the ground. When the World’s Fair opened on April 28, 1906, the sun was shining high in the sky. Milan wished to be on a par with Paris and New York – a melting pot of visions, vistas, tactile impressions, languages, and sounds. And scents. 

In those years, Giuseppe Casolari, class of 1899 and future hairdresser, was making his first moves. His first salon opened in the center of Milan, and his career was launched during the World’s Fair of 1906 thanks to a network of contacts that he began extending across Europe. Following the First World War, he moved in 1924 to a shop on Lungarno Acciaioli in Florence. In 1928, Casolari returned to Milan, and counted among his clients Maria-José of Belgium, wife of the future Umberto II, known as the May Queen. Casolari began importing hair accessories and perfumes that were impossible to find in Italy, and continued until – after the bombardments of 1945, and establishing a new shop in Via Verri – he set up a separate venture focused on the distribution and import of artisan perfumes. In 1955, Calé was founded – a merged acronym of the last names of the two families of their founders, Casolari and Levi – and became the longest-standing European perfume distributor. In 1997, Silvio Levi, a chemist and formula enthusiast, returned to his roots when he took over the family business and opened the first of the Calé shops. A distributor discoverse perfumes through trusted networks and exchanges of hushed whispers among connoisseurs. Calé has, over time, forged links with French, English, and Austrian brands. Behind each brand is the story of a family. Here, we tell the stories of a few of them, as though we were just browsing the shelves at Calé.

Creed. Still directed today by Olivier Creed, sixth descendant of the family. The Creed story goes back to 1760, when James Henry Creed, who owned a tailor’s shop, worked for the Count D’Orsay, Queen Victoria, and Empress Eugénie. The idea of producing a perfume is born from the desire to create an olfactory “logo” for Creed’s clients. In the 1980s, when representatives came to Italy with Creed perfume, few knew the name. But it did not escape Calé, which in 2014 celebrated thirty years of collaboration with the English brand.

Floris. The firm was established in 1730 in London by Juan Famenias Floris, and has been in business for eight generations. When Floris came to England from the Balearic Islands, he sought his fortune as a barber and hairdresser, opening a shop in Jermyn Street. Shortly thereafter, his nostalgia for the aromas and fragrances of the Mediterranean led him and his wife Elizabeth to create some perfumes. They counted among their clients Mary Shelley and Queen Elizabeth II. Floris also makes the perfume that Al Pacino’s character recognizes in The Scent of a Woman. James Bond wears Floris 89.

Knize. Austrian roots are at the heart of the Viennese tailor’s shop founded in the middle of the Nineteenth century by Joseph Knize, a former Czech military officer. In Berhard Roetzel’s Gentleman: The Ultimate Companion to the Elegant Man, he names Knize Ten, created in 1925, as one of the eleven eternal essences. It is said that architect Adolf Loos designed the bottle. What is certain is that behind this fragrance is the nose of master perfumer Vincent Roubert, whose story begins in Grasse, the perfume region of Chanel, where he worked for the company created by Antoine Chiris. Before the First World War, in 1912, Robert created L’Or for Coty. Twelve years later, he created Knize Ten, also for Coty. The number ten symbolizes the highest possible handicap in the game of polo. Knize Ten, which is known as the Marlon Brando of perfumes–bitter, earthy, woody and grassy, just like the American actor – counts among its fans David Niven and director Billy Wilder. Knize also attracted women – he made pants for Marlene Dietrich.

Humiecki & Graef. A perfume must create reactions, even oppositional ones, like anger. This is the spark that prompts the mixture of vetiver and ginger with birch tar, with cardamom to make it less classic and to recreate the olfactory analogue of a man crying. It is an authentic image, because “when a man cries, he does it authentically.”

In 2001, Calé’s headquarters moved to Via Santa Maria Podone, and then in 2013 to Corso Magenta, next to Eighteenth century buildings. Together with the brands that are exclusively distributed by Calé, a store brand was created in 2008. Colored ribbons adorn the necks of the perfume bottles. Pink indicates floral scents, brown for woody, black for leathery, yellow for citrus, and so on. Calé has created a signature line that is associated with music composed by Filippe Abussi. The eleven fragrances are inspired by sensations, often born of a voyage. The fragrance called Mystery recalls the image of a male figure who comes to help us see things in a different way. To achieve this effect, Calé has used oud, called the wood of the gods, which has a resin that impregnates and protects the wood, giving it a leathery scent that is sensual and untamed. The Calé fragrances Fulgor and Roboris come from a trip to Death Valley, and a flash flood in the desert. Two distinct sensations are represented: the savage fear represented by Fulgor, and the contemplative dampness of water, represented by Roboris.

Translated from the original Italian by Deborah Wassertzug

Calé

Via Santa Maria Podone, 5

Italy

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