On Fornasetti incense and preserving the ancient art of Kodo

You may know Fornasetti for its distinctive ceramics and homewares. I certainly have an unhealthy preoccupation with the ashtrays and cabinets – especially those depicting the classical features of Lina Cavalieri, the 19th century opera singer and muse of Piero Fornasetti. But a more recent departure for the brand is its entry-point home smellies – the Fornasetti Profumi scented candles in their lidded jars (that are regarded not merely as candles but as decorative objects) and the delightful illustrated incense boxes.

Just like the boxes, the incense inside is an artisanal product. Created in Japan, it’s produced by Nippon Kodo, who have been making incense to exacting standards since 1575. At a workshop hosted by The Conran Shop to celebrate the Art of Kodo and the ritual of incense appreciation, I discovered that like calligraphy and tea ceremonies, ancient Japanese traditions are gradually going out of fashion. Globalisation favours teaching primary school kids English, not calligraphy, we were told by our Japanese Kodo master. And yet, as he demonstrated, the precise and meditative ritual of Kodo is something to be savoured, perhaps more so than ever in the information-overloaded 21st century. In a strange twist, it’s the western cultures that are learning to appreciate the age-old traditions and crafts of the East – as I’ve noticed with the recent flurry of ‘save our artisans’ retail workshops. So maybe all’s not quite lost… yet.

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