Was doing my weekend trawl through the Saturday issue of the Financial Times, a very good newspaper that doesn’t only focus on finance, and lo and behold there was an article about Santa Maria Novella, the old style much-more-than-perfume apothecary located in Florence, Italy. It marked the 800th anniversary of the company (take that Chanel and Guerlain).
I have a very soft spot in my being for SMN – all tied up with buying their Melograno (pomegranate) EdT from the now-long-gone NYC Takashimaya on Fifth Avenue in the 50s; then wearing Patchouli during a short, very intense love affair that ended badly; and then finally visiting the shop on a trip to Florence after the end of that very intense love affair.
I can’t recall if SMN was big on the Makeup Alley fragrance board, but I don’t think so.
In any case, there are so many things to love about SMN perfumes. They aren’t loud or showy. Rather, straight-forwardly beautiful.
The bottles are something special – at least I think so. Both timeless and antique looking, rounded and heavy enough to feel substantial without weighing too much. Good caps that stay on. Beautiful to look at and handle – great on a dressing table or dresser.
I didn’t wear Melograno all that long. I recall when I bought it the guy in front of me at the till was buying Patchouli and making a big thing of how great it was, which stuck in my head.
I think Melograno was the last perfume I bought and wore before I left the US in the late 1990s. Once I moved to London to work (I floated around where my then husband was working in Europe for eight months before getting a job in the UK and moving in with a friend while the house we’d bought was being refurbed).
One day on the bus to work I smelled someone wearing patchouli (probably just oil) and was reminded I was curious about SMN Patchouli. Tracked down the London SMN shop (Walton Street in Knightsbridge – ridiculously hard to find), sniffed the Patchouli and was smitten. Like it was meant to be.
I bathed in the stuff. I now feel thoroughly sorry for my workmates because it was everywhere: back of neck, chest, elbows, behind knees, etc, etc. I didn’t so much waft as reek. And it was during this period that my marriage ended and I started up with ‘that guy’. One thing I recall about our time together is early on explaining to him how I wore my fragrance and him getting on his knees to smell the backs of mine. Bit of a swoon moment.
My attachment to Patchouli was hugely strong. I couldn’t imagine wearing anything else. I associated it with the move to London (much happiness in that), with the relationship (hot, hot, hot), with a short period of feeling hugely powerful in my being.
Then, the relationship imploded and I had a very sad period. Somewhere within in that I visited Florence and visited the SMN shop there (which was just as difficult to find as the one in London). I came away with a Melograno candle which I still have (see pics).
In any case, I returned to London after the trip. Life went on. Other things happened, including getting pregnant.
And while I was very happy to be big with child, I discovered during the pregnancy that Patchouli no longer worked on my chemistry. It just went sour. I tried other patchoulis once child had arrived but that was the end of that: the note had just ceased to work. As if marking a precise end to that whole wild period.
In any case if you can access the FT article I recommend it. It’s sort of interesting who wears SMN perfumes. Here’s a short list from the piece: Jade Jagger, Garofano; Penelope Cruz, musk; and Eva Green (Verper Lynd in Bond Casino Royale – apparently as both actor and human), that Melograno which started my SMN journey.