Gino Percontino is the craftsman behind Añoranza, inspired by the Havana that exists only in a dream. And indeed, that’s how it exists for Gino—he has never been to the Cuban capital, though he has spent plenty of time in the Caribbean, experience that helped inspire his execution of that ethereal concept. The end result is stunning: floral and fresh, somehow reminiscent of mojitos and the salt of the sea and sensual nights spent dancing on cobblestone streets…

We wanted to hear how he did it. Gino was kind enough to give us a little of his time. Keep reading to see what he told us, including how his research for Añoranza included a little trespassing, and why it was like bottling paradise.

Let’s start with the inspiration, as described in the scent brief: “Wanderlust for the Havana that exists only in a dream.” How did you translate that into scent?

First off, every time Eric [Korman, PHLUR co-founder] comes around and gives us a brief, it always becomes my new favorite fragrance. 

Ha. That happens at the office, too.

And this one is just something that’s so close to me—one of my favorite things to do is go to the Caribbean. I unfortunately haven’t been to Cuba yet. But I just looked at those pictures in the brief, and thought about how passionate the people are. It automatically made me think about: If we were there, what would my inspiration be? 

Ok. So where did that take you?

Whenever I go on vacation, obviously I want to relax. I want a room with a balcony that overlooks the ocean. It’s just one of the things.

For sure.

So I closed my eyes and thought about what I love to do when I’m there. 

Ok.

So what’s my day? I’d go out, sit on the balcony and have an espresso. Smell the salt in the air. The humidity is rising. You can smell that in the air, too. You get some of the hints from the fresher florals from the greenery, if you’re in an area with plants or flowers. That’s how I wanted to start the fragrance. I wanted to start it as my day.

Añoranza: Fresh and floral.

That sounds amazing.

And as I transition from the morning into an afternoon walk or something, I thought what would be there? You could smell some of the guys making handrolled cigars. Maybe stop and have a refreshing mojito. Just take the day in, think about being in paradise. I wanted to bottle that. 

Bottling paradise is always a good way to go.

And then, what do I do at night? You go for a walk. Have dinner. Hear music. See the local people and how passionate they are. They’re enjoying themselves, they’re dancing. I can almost see myself getting into that, almost being as cultured and passionate as they are about their music. So some night-blooming flowers, specifically jasmine. 

Ooh.

Sometimes I would take notes on my night walks in the Caribbean. One time in St. Barts I was walking past a church, and it just completely took me over: this intoxicating, absolutely gorgeous floral scent. I had to hop over this little fence to go to the tree. It was jasmine–it was so gorgeous. I don’t know if the humidity captures it and holds it. For me that’s where a lot of my inspiration came from.

Beautiful. And we won’t tell anyone you trespassed.

I also wanted to do something a little different. We want this to be unisex, and there aren’t too many floral fragrances for men. But I thought about it and said, if I were to do that, what’s the best way to do that and think about Cuba?

Añoranza, in its element.

Right.

The best way to do that, thinking about the pictures beyond what we had in the brief, the dancing… That really resonated with me, having a man and a woman close together. They each have their own scent, but it merges into one. I love that idea of creating that—that’s the passion, that’s the love. That’s what I really was driven by, and so I decorated a floral with very strong passionate woody notes. And tobacco leaves. And a hint of coffee. There’s hints of mint from the mojito. And it took my whole day from morning to night.

Well, that’s beautiful. The story of a perfect day, captured in a fragrance. Well done.

This is one of the ones I really connected with.

What about the colors in the brief—pastels of yellow, pink and blue. How did you conjure those?

For the most part, it’s with some of the top notes and some of the florals. We wanted to have vibrancy and vibrant colors. Working with some of the mint notes—it’s not the easiest thing to work with because it’s not often used with such a warm fragrances. It’s usually something super fresh or citrusy. It was used as more of a hint of color than being its own standout facet.

And the song on the brief—“Cuba Linda”?

Just to be honest: I listened to the song the first week of working on the fragrance. And this time around, I think I was so entrenched—I was a little beyond that because I connected with this concept of doing my day in paradise. The first day, it gave me a platform and helped me get in the mood. And it’s related—the song connects to the passion of the people.

Absolutely. And like you said earlier, you don’t have to have been to Cuba to appreciate the scent. 

I think that’s right. It’s very transportive. 

What’s your favorite thing about it?

My favorite part of the fragrance has to do with that little description of thinking about a man and a woman dancing, and having their scents come together. Having the salty element of the fragrance is my favorite part. It embodies dancing and sweating, and being close together. The salty air element that’s weaved through the fragrance eases up any of the notes, almost neutralizes the fragrance in a way that lends it to being more unisex. This cool, mineral feeling is not masculine, it’s not feminine. You have the jasmine, it’s a flower, and then the tobacco leaves and the mint. Everything marries together with the salt. 

How long did it take?

It took a few months, I would say it was at least seven months. We took our time, and that’s what I love about PHLUR. We took our time to do what needs to be done and to make it an awesome fragrance. We don’t rush it, so we don’t need to do a crazy amount of modifications, but we do take the time to make sure it’s right. 

Was there an aha moment while making it?

The fragrance was actually a lot saltier. I’m pretty sure it was Anne [Serrano-McClain, our scent advisor]’s suggestion to see what would happen if we reduced it a touch. And at that moment, the fragrance came to life. The salt marries the fragrance and kind of neutralizes it. But earlier, we covered up some of the interesting facets of the fragrance. When we pulled that back, all the star ingredients highlighted themselves.

What were those star ingredients, notes and accords?

The mint leaves, inspired by a mojito, and we put together a mojito accord. The salt was an accord. The coffee was one of our captive ingredients for men. That’s a nice note because it works in the back of the fragrance and on the top of the fragrance, which is nice because you smell it at first, and then at the dry down, you get a bit of it again. There was rum, part of the mojito again. Coconut, but not sweet—it’s woodier, almost like the coconut husk, the shell. We also had tobacco. The floralcy was highlighted by the mariposa flower, which was inspiration from their national flower. And then the night-blooming jasmine, inspired by my jumping over the fence. There were a lot of key notes, but I would say… if I had to do it, the top top ones would be the salt, the night-blooming jasmine/mariposa flower, and then the coffee / wood element in the background, were my keynotes.

Anything else we should know?

This is one of those special projects. I love fragrance, I love to create. Some projects are always gonna be more interesting to work on than others. This is perfect for me. I wouldn’t say it was easy, because nothing is easy. But it was fun.