Interviews Ombú ALTAIA: Argentinian Hospitality

Ombú ALTAIA: Argentinian Hospitality

10/11/16 09:36:45 (3 comments)

by: Sergey Borisov

Sebastian Alvarez Murena and Marina Sersale of Eau d'Italie and ALTAIA.

My interview with Sebastian Alvarez Murena of Eau d’Italie and ALTAIA about the new perfume Ombú started with a silly mistake on my side. Twenty minutes into our conversation I realized that I forgot to press the record button! But Sebastian would not be himself, if he had not suggested to start our conversation all over again, feeling for my disaster, and I am very grateful to him for his time and care.

SEBASTIAN ALVAREZ MURENA: Forget this! Did you ever see our promotional Eau d’Italie video? After a day of shooting, they found that the man of the audio had forgotten to turn the sound recording on. So we had another day of shooting! So take it easy, let’s start again, no worries!

SERGEY: OK, let’s make it shorter, though. How do you like your gift Ombú from your dear wife Marina?

SEBASTIAN: I like it very-very much, and I think it represents me in a way that is very flattering if my wife sees me like that. It’s difficult to talk about oneself, let’s say that I’m happy to know that she thinks of me as of giant protective tree – but the truth is, it’s very flattering. If she would have imagined me as a mushroom, I would have been…. oh, equally happy, of course! I love my wife! But my personality would be questioned.

SERGEY: But there are a lot of different trees in Argentina, like a Pine tree, Ceibo, Quebracho, etc… why did you choose Ombu?

SEBASTIAN: I am not a botanist, but as far as I know there’re not many endemic Argentinian trees (I hope my family from Argentina would not hear that). But Ombu is an original tree that grows in Argentina – although it’s technically not a real tree, it’s a phytolacca, it’s a very big grass. Then again, a couple of months ago a botanist told me that that's old style now – if it has a wooden trunk, it’s a tree, otherwise it’s a shrub. I believe Ombu is the right choice for the fragrance image and name. Marina created this really good name and concept, and we have done the development of Ombu together.

SERGEY: Who was the evaluator and who was the living blotter?

SEBASTIAN: Well, you could imagine that the living blotter was me, and we both worked as evaluators. Not straight away; at the first stage we tested the perfume on paper, and then on our skin – together as always. Actually, Marina wears unisex romantic fragrances, she does not like very feminine fragrances. But it’s an interesting point to know the projection she wants me to have. The subtleties of psychology are beyond my reach.

SERGEY: Should we say that Ombú is your olfactory portrait of today, or of you in your younger years?

SEBASTIAN: The portrait is as young as I am today. I never have a cult of youth, I`ve always thought that aging is actually a blessing if you manage to age gracefully. And for trees it is the very same, the elder the better.

SERGEY: Last year you showed me some perfumes (one of them was done by Olivier Cresp), and they were different from this one.

Argentinian bbq, asado

SEBASTIAN: We usually work on many different fragrances at the same time. We realized over the years that working on many projects is the only way not to be pressed by deadlines; we have to work on various things simultaneously.

I can compare this method to the Argentinian way of cooking real beef on the grill – asado. The good grill man knows which part of the meat should be in the hot center, which part should have a rest aside, and which piece of meat is perfectly done – so he moves the pieces of meat around and puts new pieces on the grill… We always have stuff on the grill – some of them on hot spot, some parts on less hot coals, and that’s very useful, because it’s allows us to find the right fragrances to be launched in any season.

So, having some sort of limit for new perfume launches, we launch Ombú this Autumn, and the next Eau d’Italie fragrance is planned for next year. Right now we are at the starting point for next year.

SERGEY: Could you tell Fragrantica readers something about the new Eau d’Italie fragrance?

SEBASTIAN: It’s at the stage in the process where me and Marina are in disagreement, as always, at the beginning. I would want to do a floral, because I think there are new ways of making florals and that would be interesting to launch. Marina is less of a floral person than me, so I’m in the process of convincing her. It’s good, as the process will make the field narrower – I’d love to make some contemporary floral.

It’s very strange: sometimes I win, sometimes Marina wins, and there’re fragrances that we are agreeing on from Day One. There is no explanation, it’s just the way it is. ALTAIA is sort of a different project as we made it in great harmony of thinking.

SERGEY: I bet your work on the brand makes your family more united.

SEBASTIAN: Absolutely! It does have this effect!

SERGEY: Let me ask Marina about Ombú, and hear her explanation why she chose it.

An Ombu tree: El Ombu by Carlos Morel

MARINA: Ombú is a symbol of Argentina, it’s a gigantic tree you can see everywhere in the Pampas, and it’s literally the traditional image of the Argentinian countryside. There are some other trees, like the Eucalyptus tree, but it’s not a native Argentinian tree. Ombu is the protection for travelers, it’s hospitable, it’s welcoming and strong, it’s unique. It greets people and shelters them – and that’s the idea.

SERGEY: Are you now talking about your husband?

MARINA: Of course! Beautiful, intelligent, clever – but we are talking about him as a person! Well, basically it was an idea of Argentina. And there was also another reason for choosing this tree – while the Ombu grows in Argentina only, I found one Ombu tree in Rome, near our house. And I found that fact really significant, that there’s only one Ombu in all of Rome.

SERGEY: Yes, and there’s only one Sebastian as well…

MARINA: The one and only in the whole world! But he’s also the great representative of his country. Argentina is a welcoming country, it is generous and welcoming, I’ve literally never met people like Argentines! Argentine people are so nice and so friendly, and they are so proud of who they are, from the lowest to the highest levels of society, they welcome foreigners and make them feel at home. And I think this feature is greatly reflected in Sebastian's character.



The scent of Ombu reminds me of Sycomores, but larger and more radiant, with an active fougere attitude and a transparent, but bright start of pink pepper and sage, as if we were looking at the sun through its leafy branches.

Its dry woody drydown is pepper-gray, but of surprisingly soft texture. I even thought it was a shame that the name Grey Flannel had been already taken.

Of all scents I know, I would compare Ombú with the smell of beads or spoons carved from the juniper wood. They share the same quiet woody aroma with a hint of sweet tar.

In perfumery, I find similarities with Sycomore Chanel, Ombre Fumée Evody Parfums and Encre Noir Lalique, woody musky scents with vetiver. In the trail I sense the smell of books, very similar to the antimatter of L`Antimatière LesNez.

Ombú doesn't have the ambition to compete, it is not loud and forceful, it does not impose itself on you, you will seek its company yourself when you need it. Ombú has a character of a consoler, just like a big tree spreading out its power without trying.

Below is the Eau d'Italie promotional movie that was mentioned in the beginning of our conversation. Enjoy!



Sergey Borisov has been involved in perfumery since the early 90`s when he had his own perfume-devoted program “Close to Body” on Krasnoyarsk radio (1993). As a perfume enthusiast (known as moon_fish), he became famous in Russia for his translation of  Luca Turin's Perfume: Le Guide. He collaborated with GQ, Vogue, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Interview, Forbes, Allure, Robb Report, Flacon, Departure, RBC-Style, TSUM-Magazine (2008-2016). His own online columns for,, and (2006-2015) have earned him international recognition and an invitation to be an editor for the Russian edition of “The Little Book of Perfumes” by Luca Turin & Tania Sanchez.  In 2013, Sergey joined the Fragrantica team


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I love this interview.
As always, fantastic job!


What a great interview and what a great couple. I absolutely love the promotional video!


Wow I thank for the compliments to my country and people and look forward to being able to try this very soon, I love ombu trees although I have never smelled them.


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