Mona was born in 1969 in France to parents of Spanish descent on her mother's side Italian on her father's. She grew up in Annecy and took a degree in Fine Arts & Literature. Her career took a different path when she met Master perfumer, Edmond Roudnitska in 1987.
The ladies in the shop had tried to discourage her, thinking it wasn't a young girl's perfume, but to her at the time, she said it epitomised all that was great about perfume. Mona described how she couldn't even wait till she got home to open the bottle - she told how she sat in a doorway and carefully extracted the treasure from its box. Later she wrote to Edmond Roudnitska, by then a legend perfumer living in Grasse with his own laboratory and specimen garden. She told him that it was difficult to find his books and he very generously send her some in the post. The following year she went to meet him, but as she said her herself, the odds were against her - not only was she was a girl, she had no family connections to help her gain entry into the closed world of perfume. Roudnitska told her that he would consider taking her on as an apprentice, but first she must gain an education. The pair kept in touch, and once she got her degree, she received further training, this time in science, that would form a basic groundwork before she was ready to begin.
Roudnitska, was, she says, a truly inspirational teacher. At her talk, Mona told how he took her through all the different types of smells a perfumer needs to know. When he first introduced tuberose, he told her that it was a queen of flowers, but how it only released it's smell at night. He gave her a pot of the growing flowers to take home and instructed her to put them in her bedroom, advising her that she must keep the pot by her bed. In the night she said she woke up to a potent, overpowering smell, she looked around in panic - was there someone else in her room? Eventually she realised who the culprit was. Now she was experiencing the flower the way that Edmond Roudnitska had intended.
In 2004, she founded her eponymous fragrance house, with designer Jeroen Oude Sogtoen. Her business partner is Frank de Ruig. Her initial fragrance range, and the later Les Nombres d'Or collection found many fans.
Mona di Orio's body is due to arrive in Amsterdam on Wednesday to be buried on Friday at 11am. Her business partner Jeroen announced on Facebook that:
Mona's family has decided to fullfill Mona's wish to come to Amsterdam. Mona will find her last resting place at Zorgvlied cemetery. As soon as I have final dates I will inform you. If you want to send flowers please respect the family's wish to use WHITE Lilies, Orchids or Tulips.
Flowers can be send to the following address : uitvaart centrum Bouwens Startbaan 7. 1185 XP Amstelveen +31 (0) 20 6471212. For all other correspondence please use following address: Mona di Orio Parfums, Cruquiusweg 111K / 1019 AG Amsterdam The Netherlands.
* * *
Grant Osborne, Basenotes founder on Mona:
On that first meeting, Mona told me of her time working with Roudnitska, and explained to me the inspiration behind Lux, Nuit Noire and Carnation - her first three fragrances. The passion she had for fragrance was obvious - it was something she cared deeply about. But Mona not only cared about fragrance she cared about people. She almost spend as much time asking about my baby boy, as she did telling me about her new creations. A few months later she sent me a handwritten note, thanking me for taking the time off from being a father to come and see her fragrances.
I last met Mona, just a few months ago at the Pitti Immagine Fragranze exhibition in Florence. She asked me, as she always did, how the children were - and we spoke about the way the industry was going. She took the time to explain the inspirations behind her new Les Nombres additions, in the same way she did the first time we met. She was extremely enthusiastic about some new fragrances she had worked on for the collection, and was interested to hear my views.
It was a complete shock to find out on Friday of the sad news. Mona's passion for the industry and people were clear. She will be sorely missed by her family, loved ones, and the thousands of us who were touched by her artistry."
* * *
Basenotes would like to thank perfumer Andy Tauer, who took the time to also give us his memories of Mona.
"I am very sad.
Mona and me share the same importer in Italy. I knew her before, but through our Italian ventures we go to know each other. It was always like family there at fairs such as Pitti Immagine in Florence: Guido Wetter from Profumimport, my Italian partner, Olivier Durbano, Mona and me. We talked about the industry. We made fun of perfume brands including ours, sometimes. We were a little bit like children there. Having fun in an industry and a business world that is not always funny. We talked to the same clients and we were in this little family like brothers and sister. We showed us our perfumes and shared our passion for fragrances. We discussed raw materials and dreamed new scents.
We had drinks together, and thanks to Mona always the best wine imaginable.
I miss Mona. Going to Pitti Immagine will not be the same anymore. A wonderful woman left this world. A friend. A gifted perfumer.
Mona was one of the very few perfumers who do not work for corporations, who are free to create, who can express themselves. She did so in her fragrances. You can discover her colorful personality through her scents, you can follow her development as perfumer in her line, and you can admire her passion and warmth through her creations.
Life is magic. Life is fragile. Mona needed to go to early. But she leaves a heritage that is wonderful. I hope that future generations of perfume lovers will be able to enjoy her fragrant heritage."
James Craven, Perfume Archivist at Les Senteurs adds this:
Mona di Orio was a privilege to know and an inspiration to meet. She was one of those remarkable people who have reached mid-life apparently untouched by world weariness or cynicism: Mona brimmed with a wonderfully child-like and all-consuming love of perfume. Her enthusiasm and knowledge were without limits; perfume was her first love and her passion. When you spoke to her, as Dietrich said of Orson Welles, you felt like a plant that had been watered.
She worked on her scents as she advised her clients to choose them : instinctively. Mona taught us to decide on a perfume with the heart, not via cold analysis and rationality. Therefore, when she spoke of her own creations, Mona was very emotional - not in a self-consciously "artistic" or self-admiring way, but from a perpetually fresh perception of the wonder and emotive power of perfume, its connection with past and future, and the sheer beauty of its component parts.
Always she would recall her childhood obsession with L'HEURE BLEU; her purchase of the first bottle and how, unable to wait until she came home, opening it in the street and being spiritually and emotionally overwhelmed by the realisation of a dream. But Mona was not shut away in an ivory tower of beautiful memories: she was sharp, practical, vivacious,witty, earthy and canny. Her greatness as a perfumer lay in her willingness to take great risks and always remain entirely true to herself. She took inspiration from the past - from the heritage of Guerlain and from her beloved Maitre, Roudnitska - but at the same time she was always pushing forward the boundaries of scent. Mona had no interest whatsoever in pleasing most of the people,most of the time: she was continually growing and evolving as an artist, entirely true to herself and her inspiration.
In the years I knew her, Mona was always advancing the limits of her perfumes: her hallmarks remained constant - unsparing, uncompromising perfection; the exhaustive exploration of her palette; her love of jasmine; her sense of drama and daring. Again and again she returned as all great creative artists do, to the working out of her themes and obsessions but always with a new eye and fresh perceptions - from the huge golden sunburst of Lux to the translucent sea-green subtleties of Tubereuse, one of her last masterpieces. One of her greatest gifts was her lucidity and brilliance at discussing her scents, in great detail and with much love - but always lightly. Her confidence in her perfumes was total - but disarmingly, not always her confidence in herself. She gave these amazing creations life and took pride in them as one would in a child, modest in her own part in the making of them. If you praised them she was charmed; if one missed the point, she was disappointed but felt that the loss was your own.
The world of perfumery will miss Mona terribly and for many years to come; but we have lost a dear and wonderful friend and that is irrevocable + forever.
* * *
Update January 2012. Basenotes member, Descartes, kindly took some pictures of the flowers people had left, and shared the following.
I brought a bouquet of white tulips and hyacinths and lit a big white candle to honor her spirit. The grave was luxuriously covered with all sorts of whiter flowers; scented almost like a "grave perfume" I could smell the whites roses, the hyacinths, dandelions and eucalyptus.
* * *
You can read Mona's last interview with Basenotes here: "I want to make people dream"; and watch a video of Mona on Les Nombres d'Or here