Formosa: A beautiful escape

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Beauty industry packaging veteran, Marc Rosen, marries the past with the present in the design of the Formosa perfume bottle: “We all know that Taiwan is the leading country in the world for computer chips, but I also discovered that they’re a leading exporter of jade. In fact, when [revolutionary leader] Chiang Kai-shek left China [in 1949], he brought with him many of the treasures of the museum in Beijing. Among them were many beautiful pieces of carved jade. So, here you have a country that has the most modern, cutting-edge computer chips in the world and yet, it’s steeped in history with its jade and beautiful art. That was my inspiration — to combine the old and the new with the bottle design. The contrast of the carved faux jade ball cap cradled in this very modern, sleek glass bottle I think really works and people are kind of taken aback when they see it.”

Ilha Formosa (“beautiful island”) is the name 16th century Portuguese explorers bestowed on Taiwan when they first sailed past its shores and saw its verdant beauty. And Formosa is how the island came to be known until the mid-twentieth century. Today, Formosa is the name of a new perfume redolent of the isle’s fragrant flowers, fruits and spices.

The fragrance will debut at Bergdorf Goodman on Valentine’s Day.  But this is not just another perfume launch.  There’s much more to this story.  “I don’t think there has ever been a fragrance where the ingredients are indigenous to a country and the fragrance is dedicated to a country.  It’s something unique,” says award-winning beauty industry designer, Marc Rosen, who designed the distinctive bottle.  “There have been fragrances named after cities like Paris and I did a fragrance years ago called Shanghai, but the concept has never centered on a country.  That’s original.”

Marc Rosen, winner of 7 FiFi awards (the Oscars of the perfume industry): “Taiwan is a very special place and the fragrance takes you there. It’s a place of harmony, a place of beauty that we all need in this crazy world we live in. You spray the bottle and the first whiff transports you. It makes you feel better. It makes you feel relaxed, ready for the day, sexy, whatever you need! But that’s what fragrance does.” In short, “It’s authentic and it smells so good!” says Shining Sung who commissioned the perfume.

Another point of distinction is the woman behind the scent — Taiwanese native, Shining Sung.

Shining Sun: “I was born in Taiwan and I grew up there. I was 18 when my family moved to Japan. Even with just 18 years there, less time than I have spent in the United States, it’s always, on my mind and I’m always very concerned about Taiwan, especially now with the situation with China.” A portion of the profits will benefit the Taiwanese American Arts Council which aims to provide arts education and awareness programs with a focus on Taiwanese culture and heritage.

“The inspiration came to me out of the blue,” says the philanthropist.  “I’ll take any opportunity to put Taiwan on the map.  Without knowing Marc, this would not have happened.  Marc is 99% behind this whole project, so I’m very grateful to him.  Our collaboration made this happen.”

“Shining comes from this incredible cultural background — her family owns an extraordinary museum — and has this love for her country,” explains Marc.  “She reached out to me and I was so happy to do it for her because she’s such a special person.  So, it’s emotional for me also.  It’s not just another project.”

“I want to let people know about Taiwan,” continues Shining.  “Often, when you say Taiwan, people think about Thailand.  It’s about time that people really recognize and appreciate Taiwan for what it is.”

What it is is a country with an incredible bio-diversity.  Roughly the size of Switzerland, the tropical island nation boasts steep, densely-forested mountains, lakes, rivers, and coastal plains.  It is surrounded by 3 seas, rimmed by coral reefs teeming with life. Consequently, the country is home to abundant animal and plant life.  There are over 400 endemic species of orchids alone.  One of them, the tiger orchid — the only breed of orchid that has a scent — is a notable ingredient in the perfume.

Tiger orchid is one of the exotic scents in the perfume. “I brought Shining to Firmenich [the world’s largest privately-owned fragrance company] and they were so impressed with our concept and the bottle that they gave us their master perfumer — there are only 20 master perfumers in the world,” reveals Marc.

It’s not a single note fragrance, according to Marc.  It’s a mix of notes that are indigenous to Taiwan and depict different parts of the island.  Other ingredients include white peony, jasmine sambac, sweet mandarin, candied lemons and sheer amber.  The scent is the creation of Master Perfumer, Honorine Blanc.

“It’s very sensuous.  It’s a fragrance you can wear from day into night.  It’s not a heavy fragrance and yet it’s not a light, sporty fragrance,” says Marc.  “The scent is very gentle, like the people of Taiwan,” concludes Shining, echoing the old saying, “The most beautiful scenery of Taiwan is its people.”

The territory of Taiwan comprises a main island and several smaller islands boasting approximately 1,000 miles of coastline.

Snow Mountain is Taiwan’s second highest and one of its most iconic peaks. Taiwan boasts the highest density of high mountains in the world.

Azalea flowers abloom on Hehuanshan, Central Mountain Range. Photo: Theerasak Saksritawee
The Matsu Islands are famous for the luminescent sea algae romantically known as “blue tears” along their coastline. The islands are also home to a bird sanctuary which gained global conservation importance when a species of bird (the Chinese Crested tern) thought to be extinct, was discovered nesting there.

Xiaoliqiu (or Lamay Island), Taiwan’s “Little Okinawa,” is a coral island off Taiwan’s southern coast. It tempts travelers with its fine beaches, coral caves and abundance of giant sea turtles, making it a popular snorkeling destination.
Taiwan’s most spectacular coral reef is in Lanyu, also known as Orchid Island, so-named on account of the large number of these beautiful flowers on the island.  Lanyu is surrounded by extensive coral reefs, providing some of the best scuba diving in the world.

The Chi Mei Museum in the southern province of Tainan, was founded in 1992 by Shining’s uncle, Shi Wen-long, one of the richest self-made businessmen in Taiwan.  The goal for Shi, whose only escape during an impoverished war-torn childhood was a small local museum, was to make art accessible to everyone.  Today, the museum holds an eclectic treasure trove of awe-inspiring Western fine and decorative arts, natural history, armaments, antiquities and a must-see musical instruments collection. Admission for residents and children is free.

With nearly 1,400 string instruments by more than 1,000 violin makers, the Chi Mei Museum is home to the world’s biggest and most comprehensive violin collection. Photo: Maggie Wong/CNN
Some of the museum’s most valuable string instruments include the world’s oldest cello (from 1566) and violins by the Stradivari and Guarneri families. Photo: Chi Mei Museum Foundation
The museum offers a Chi Mei Cultural Foundation Scholarship to promising talent and it also lends violins to students and musicians who may need one for studying or performing. Photo: Chi Mei Museum Foundation
The Taiwan National Symphony Orchestra, aka the Taiwan Philharmonic, will be borrowing some of the musical instruments from the Chi Mei collection when they will be performing at David Geffen Hall in New York in April. “It is the first foreign orchestra to be invited to the venue after its re-opening,” says Shining. “It means a lot.”

About 4,000 items are on display at the Chi Mei Museum, representing around a third of its entire collection.
But perhaps the island’s best attraction is its people: “Everyone who has visited Taiwan knows how wonderful the people are,” says Shining. AP photo Chiang Ying-ying

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