Our history begins, or rather, begins again, with the fortuitous discovery of the recipes of the historic "acqua di felsina", an event that has sparked our desire to return to Bologna its olfactory memory.

AUTENTICA DI FELSINA sinks its roots deep into the original formulas for the historic perfumes “acqua di felsina bianca” and “acqua di felsina rossa”, uncovered by the heirs of Livio Grandi. He was the last creator of these scents which have been made since 1827 in the city of Bologna, once known as Félsina. “Autentica di Felsina” expresses the sincere intent of the brand’s advocates to return these creations to their original position of prestige.

It was May 21, 1827, when Pietro Bortolotti presented his historical invention, called “acqua di felsina” to the Board of Health. He was awarded a permit to sell it in his perfume shop under the Portico del Pavaglione. In addition to being a “very pleasant perfume”, the fragrance offered many beneficial properties. Its success allowed Pietro Bortolotti to set up a thriving business. The scent, available in Rossa (Red) or Bianca (White) varieties, received many awards at exhibitions across Europe, even conquering America. It earned a highly respectable position in the history of Italian perfume. It was loved by celebrities like Guglielmo Marconi, and proof of its widespread use was even left by authors such as Alfredo Testoni, Mario Praz, and Italo Calvino, who wrote about it in their works. But the history of the fragrance called “acqua di felsina” is most of all that of being the perfume of Bologna.

Each year, as is still done today, the day the Madonna della Pioggia was moved in a procession across the very long Portico di San Luca, the people of Bologna sprinkled their beloved perfume on the handkerchiefs they waved to salute their protector.

The Portico del Pavaglione, near the Archiginnasio (which had been the location of the oldest western university), was suffused with the fragrance of the historic perfume as this is where it was produced and sold. The Italian royals knew and appreciated it, so much so that they conferred upon the company a jewel and the privilege of calling the business the “Imperial and Royal Perfume Shop”. The fragrance was so popular that it began to be imitated by other local perfume makers, and even the women from Bologna attempted to make it using citrus, spices and Benzoin. But the authentic formula and method for production remained a secret.

The Bortolotti company was family owned, with the craft handed down from father to son for four generations, over a period that encompassed the restructuring of Italy, its unification, and two World Wars. It was only in following the Second World War, with the death of Pietro Bortolotti, the last perfumer in the company, who bore the name of its founder, that was there a hole in the succession. His wife, who had managed the company for years, suggested that a grandson learn the craft. That man was Livio Grandi.

At the time, the future creator of the fragrance known as “acqua di felsina” was thirty years old and a war veteran. His gruesome experience on the front and the agony of the long return by foot from Russia could only be redeemed through contact with the vitality and beauty that is perfume. He accepted the challenge and learned, as it was done back then, to handcraft the two variations of the scent, the red and the white, becoming heir and custodian of the secret of the two fragrances.

One day, Livio Grandi called his granddaughter Barbara, who was then 12, and asked her to write down the formulas on a sheet of wide-ruled paper, creating a copy of the only original document that existed. Times were changing, and shortly thereafter the historic scent from Bologna was undermined by more fashionable perfumes. In fact, production stopped in the 1980s, to the regret of all of those from Bologna who cherished it as part of their memories.

As it fell of the spotlighted pedestal it had conquered during the Belle Époque, the perfume succumbed into oblivion. It would have remained there were it not for a completely random event. In the basement of Livio’s granddaughter’s home, who was by then quite grown-up, a few documents were discovered that had belonged to her grandfather. These included the two formulas called “acqua di felsina bianca” and “acqua di felsina rossa”: both the one written by Livio Grandi in person and the one, identical, that she herself had copied when she was a young girl. Moved by this, Barbara spoke to her brother, Pierpaolo, and together they shared the dream to “return the perfume to the City of Bologna”.

The deciding drive to begin the project occurred when the siblings met Francesca Faruolo, the creator and director of Smell – Festival dell’Olfatto, well-known in the perfume industry and familiar with the history of the antique fragrances known as “acqua di felsina”, on which she had performed in-depth research in the archivesio.

This was the starting point of the path that has lead to the birth of AUTENTICA DI FELSINA.


Autentica di Felsina Bianca was launched in May 2017, during Bologna’s Nonocentennial and 190 years, exactly to the day, to when Pietro Bortolotti first presented “the invention that will perfume the world”.