Laura Burdese, President and CEO of Acqua di Parma On How Love, Italian Values and Culture Are at the Core of the Luxury Fragrance House

Lindsay Judge   |   06 - 05 - 2020

In 1916 an Italian man; Carlo Magnani wanted to create a fragrance for himself to wear. He wanted something that truly captured the mood of Italy and lightened the mood. He created a personal scent; Colonia, that was soon loved by many of his family and friends.

 

After realizing the popularity of the scent it quickly turned into a business and this special fragrance was distributed locally in Italy. Soon, Acqua di Parma was born as a luxury fragrance house and has continued to this day to specialize in niche scents of the highest quality that offer that personalized approach to the customer, making it more than just a fragrance house, but a lifestyle.

 

Leading Acqua di Parma today is CEO and President Laura Burdese. Laura has a background in luxury and her modern approach combined with the history and traditions of Acqua di Parma is carving out the future of the luxury fragrance house. Here we discuss legacy, the importance of Italian values and the exciting year ahead for Acqua di Parma.

 

What does Italy mean to you personally?

I don’t think there is any nationality in the world so attached to its country as Italians are and I’m not an exception. It would be easy to respond by saying that Italy is art, nature, culture, but for all of us, Italy is much more than that. First and foremost, it is family and love.

 

Tell us more about the importance of “Made in Italy” and why do you think there is such a fascination with this concept globally?

“Made in Italy” is one of the most powerful brand names in the world. I do not exaggerate when I say that high-quality craftsmanship and design has made Italy, until now, the beating heart of luxury manufacturing. I can list many factors that make Made in Italy so appealing, like the perfect balance between style, elegance and authenticity of our products, or the effortless elegance that exudes from them, but I’d say that the most important element is the human factor behind it. Italy is made up of hundreds of thousands of small factories and workshops, that work together and pass on the know-how from one generation to the next, allowing them to generate value. This also means solidarity within the supply chain, a value that will become more and more important in the future.

 

 

How important is it to you to preserve traditional methods in fragrance?

It’s key! It’s extremely important to preserve traditional methods, especially at Acqua di Parma. Consider that developing a new fragrance usually takes two years. We do not focus on the time to market; we just want to create the best fragrances possible. Acqua di Parma products are famous for their exquisite craftsmanship but maintaining such a high level of quality in a fast-paced, technologically driven world has been a real challenge. I must admit that matching hand-crafted processes with an always faster time to market while delivering outstanding products, has not been easy at all, but I think there will be changes in this respect too.

Research and development are also key, while our Quality Control Department works closely with our artisans from the very inception of a product, controlling each phase of the process, not only the outcome. I believe this is a very productive and stimulating way to manage the creative process, which lets the essence of our products shine through.

 

When it comes to these techniques – what do you think Italy offers that is unique?

The uniqueness of Italy resides in the richness of the raw materials and the ancient traditions passed on from generation to generation. The combination of nature and culture generates art!

 

How do you think the values and culture of Italy are seen throughout Acqua di Parma?

Our products are the expression of our love and relationship with Italy. They taste, smell, exude Italy because behind them there are always people. We have collaborated for many years, in some cases even decades, with the same suppliers, with whom we share the same values and care for quality, which is at the base of everything we do.

 

 

How do you think the legacy and history of the brand is still relevant today?

In some cases, a brand stands out because of its disruptive ideas or outbreaking innovations, in other cases, a brand arises because of its history. This is where Acqua di Parma falls. What we do today is the expression of a vital purpose Acqua di Parma was born with: the purpose of perpetuating the Italian “Arte di Vivre”.

 

Let me explain, Acqua di Parma was not born as a brand to be “marketed”. Mr. Magnani created it, for himself, and his inner circle of friends and family. He didn’t want to create a brand, but something personal. Acqua di Parma was never conceived as a “marketing creation”, that’s why, as the time passed, it turned into a quintessentially Italian experience for all those people looking for an authentic, transparent and genuine brand that really stands for something.

 

Being created as a personal scent gives the brand intimacy and truthfulness, which you hardly find these days. Just think that for the first 60 to 70 years Acqua di Parma was never sold in fragrance stores, it was only sold through tailors who used it to spray Colonia on the suit as a finishing touch. Isn’t it a wonderful story that gives depth to the product, elevating it beyond any other fragrance? In my experience at Acqua di Parma, I’ve met so many people who told me they might have used the brand once, yet they all love it. This happens because Acqua di Parma resonates with people, something that genuinely delights me.

 

Italy has suffered greatly throughout the global pandemic we are currently experiencing – when all of this is over what do you expect to see from the recovery of this crisis?

I believe that after this situation ends and those who have the illness recover, we will too have to recover our soul. I hope recovery will go hand in hand with solidarity between people, but most importantly between countries. This crisis has touched all of us, with no distinction between races, nationalities, ages and genders and at the same time it has been teaching us that it is only by collaborating with each other that we can move on and win. I also hope the recovery will go hand in hand with trust and openness because we need to beat that sense of fear that has been gripping us during this period. In this respect, brands must behave accordingly, aiming at the full transparency and accountability of their processes and responding to the real needs of their customers not just creating new ones.

 

 

In every crisis, there is always an opportunity – what is something positive that will come out of this situation?

This is exactly the right approach; we must learn from our mistakes to improve our lifestyle and ourselves. I believe this crisis has taught us a lot, from both a human standpoint and a professional one. What I appreciate the most is the incredible creativity I’m seeing in every field. It’s like new constraints, new borders and limits have been squeezing people’s minds and new powerful concepts and ideas have born. I’m experiencing this within Acqua di Parma. I’m working with people who haven’t lost any passion or commitment since the beginning of this crisis. Every day I receive new ideas on how to feel connected with our audiences, how to communicate solidarity, proximity and positivity. It’s touching, believe me. At the end of the day, we’ll be discovering our inner human resources, the most hidden ones and even those we didn’t think we had. This is our biggest opportunity as humankind.

 

When all of this is over will you be changing any of the strategies of the brand and has it had an impact on how you will move forward?

We have never had a strong marketing approach. Our objective has always been to deliver excellence, Italian excellence to be precise, thus we have always evaluated new product launches very carefully. If I have to sum up our product strategy, I’d say quality over quantity. Now I think this approach pays off even more. Of course, we’ll have to slightly adapt our product launches for the new global demand we’ll face, but this doesn’t mean to change the strategy. We have to slow down, as everyone else, but what will come up will have a huge value. Imagine you are an artist and you can create only a few artworks because you have limited resources; you’ll do your best to create the most extraordinary artworks of your life. I like to think this is how we will work in the future.

 

 

Do you think it will impact the buying behaviour of customers?

Thinking that a global event like a pandemic cannot change consumer behaviour would not be realistic or wise. Coronavirus has not just been a global crisis; it has been and still is a collective trauma. Our entire lifestyle has changed and needs to adapt to new safety rules for the time being. We do not know yet when all of this will be finally over but be sure, the consequences will impact the buying behaviours for a very long time. What I truly believe is that people will need to trust what they are buying is worth it and it’s not something unnecessary, redundant. People will want to buy something that pampers them without letting them feel superficial or silly. Something that soothes the soul, without wasting our planet’s resources. People will want to gain and perceive added value from products/experiences because they understand that every action they take can have a profound impact on our lives and on our planet.

 

What do you think fragrance can bring to people’s lives at a time of crisis?

Relief and care. We all need to let ourselves go in this period of self- isolation. Sometimes it is difficult to find the energy to be positive and to smile when every day is like the previous one, but as the ancient Greeks said; “the body is the home of our soul” and we must take care of it. A fragrance, a cream, even a candle can lift your day and make you feel special. It’s a small habit that makes you feel connected to a “normal” life.

 

What is the motto you are living by during this time?

“Andrà tutto bene”, that means everything is going to be all right. Not only because it is the motto that you can see everywhere in Italy, but because I truly believe in it. Humankind has been surpassing the worst tragedies so far and we’ll surpass this as well.

 

Looking forward, what does the second half of 2020 hold for the brand?

The second half is going to reveal that we have been walking the right path. We’ll have a big addition to our product portfolio. Remember when I said that people want something with a real added value and that is not depleting our planet resources? We have something that responds exactly to these requirements. We’ll expand our Colognes universe, but we also have some great plans for the Holiday Season. Stay tuned!

 

 

Who is the customer that wears Acqua Di Parma today?

Acqua di Parma was born over a hundred years ago as a personal fragrance and it soon became a must-have for a grown-up generation of illuminated and discerned connoisseurs. The reason of our steady success over the century is that Acqua di Parma is a timeless and genderless brand, able to evolve accordingly to the age we live in, always driven by passion and beliefs – not by the obsession of reaching a specific gender or age. We celebrate nature, sincerity and generosity – a way of life in its most sophisticated form and this is how we can exert appeal on very different cultures. With such a strong legacy, our creations are not simply products but rituals that grow within our lives and in the long term become tools to transmit values from one generation to the other.

 

We want to talk a little about the latest collections – what can you tell us?

Thinking about the Middle Eastern preferences, I’d suggest our “Signatures of the Sun” collection. It’s the highest expression of our fragrance mastery. Each ingredient, selected from all over the world for the preciousness it encapsulates, represents the leitmotif running through this collection. You can nd ingredients like Oud, Vanilla, Amber, Yuzu and Osmanthus. They are distilled by Acqua di Parma until the purest essence is obtained; each one is the protagonist of a fragrance that reveals itself to be nothing less than an olfactory epiphany. Acqua di Parma filters each ingredient through the sensory prism of Colonia, our iconic fragrance since 1916, bringing light to it and gifting the Sun to each new fragrance. “Signatures of the Sun” is like breathing a familiar ingredient for the very first time.

 

Growing up, what is your first memory of Italy?

My home town Torino, where I was born and spent my childhood. The fascinating and sumptuous city of Italy, with its wide perpendicular avenues and shady arcades, is surrounded by beautiful rolling green hills with snowy Alpine peaks in the background.

 

 

Where in Italy do you like to travel to?

There are so many beautiful and truly different places to visit, it’s very hard to choose one, especially in this quarantine period. I dream about strolling through the ageless Tuscan countryside, enjoying its beautiful blend of colours and magical landscapes of vineyards, rolling hills and woodland. Or sitting on a veranda looking out at the fields.

 

Can you share with us any Italian traditions that you to this day continue with your family and friends?

I could share many, but the one I love the most is the Christmas Eve “tombola”. The night before Christmas, we gather with all of our family and friends and we have a long sumptuous dinner all together and afterwards, we play Tombola, a kind of Bingo game. When midnight strikes every home is filled with the words “Buon Natale”!

 

How would you describe Italy in one word?

Home.

 

 

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