Santa Maria Novella Citta di Kyoto

Santa Maria Novella Citta di Kyoto.

There´s a certain type of fragrance for January. It´s contemplative; it goes with the smell of wet leaves on the ground, lingering snow, and wood smoke from chimneys at night, when the wind rattles the branches of the ancient black walnut tree in our back yard and a dog barks, faintly, in the distance.

Last night when I stepped outside and gazed up at the moon, the first verse of that incomparably lovely poem by Christina Rossetti popped into my head:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Ice, Rock, Leaves
Mark Hudon Photography

Today I found myself turning to a perfume that, to be honest, perplexes me. However, I seem to be wearing it pretty regularly these days, because it is perfect for January and weirdly compelling. It is Santa Maria Novella Citta di Kyoto, released late last year, and apparently limited in distribution to Italy. I googled and could find basically nothing except the excerpt below, which I have cribbed in its entirety from Marlen at (thanks, Marlen!):

“Santa Maria Novella Citta di Kyoto, or ‘City of Kyoto’ is a dead ringer for a traditional Japanese potpourri of sandalwood, clove, cinnamon, patchouli, and camphorwood. Though it may sound a bit like Comme des Garcons, it’s sweeter and smoother and actually not too dissimilar from another scent that I am wracking my brain trying to put my finger on…Citta is all woods and spice, but somewhat sweet, more of a wood resin than a dry wood… ”

Let me say right off that sandalwood, clove, cinnamon, patchouli and camphorwood are not things I’d put at the top of my Favorite Smells List. Actually, I find it difficult to pick this scent apart into its individual notes, other than the camphorwood at the very beginning. Instead, I view the smell as a color: the deep, rich red of a lacquered bowl or screen.

Red Lacquer Screen
Li Gui Jun

I concur with Marlen’s “wood resin” perspective. As it dries down, Santa Maria Novella Citta di Kyoto is a meditative, incense-laden smell, both warm and spare – it seems “Japanese” in its austereness, with a very slight herbal/medicinal note that is quite pleasant. I can honestly say I have never smelled anything like it, and I am grateful to have it. Citta di Kyoto has good lasting power on me – I can still smell it, faintly, the following morning – but I´m one of those people for whom perfume tends to overstay its welcome, rather than the reverse.

Santa Maria Novella was founded in 1612 and is the purveyor of all sorts of interesting herbalist/pharmacy items, including a series of simple eau de colognes (e.g., amber, iris, rose, vanilla) that are pleasant enough, if not especially memorable or long-lasting. Citta di Kyoto seems to me like a fairly remarkable departure from their regular fragrances. Another SMN – Nostalgia – was also being discussed enthusiastically on as a weird amalgam of leather, gasoline, motor oil, rubber, and tobacco. So I guess it´s not all plain Vaniglia at the Antica Farmacia.

  • Katie says:

    Good lord, what gorgeous images. I especially love that photograph so much. Wonderful, beautiful choices to match your wonderful review.

  • marchlion says:

    Hi, actually I posted this (March) — fabulous Patty’s letting me crash her blog. We haven’t met but I’ve seen you around on the other blogs — stay tuned for our review of drugstore perfume!:devil:

  • mreenymo says:

    Gorgeous photos, Patty. Simply gorgeous!


  • marchlion says:

    Oh, P, I wish you a speedy recovery; if perfume can fix the problem, nobody’s better set up than you. Thanks (yet again) for being such a Great Anonymous Perfume Friend. I promise not to blow your cover by writing anything about your incredible kindness, warmth and generosity on the blog, because I Want It All.

  • marchlion says:

    Marina — thanks. I promise not to do a review of Baby Phat or use her name one more time on your blog.:devil:

  • marchlion says:

    Christina — thanks. I am so new at this and get an unseemly amount of pleasure selecting the images.

  • marchlion says:

    Cait — I missed the pharmacy because I got sidetracked at the iPdF farmacia near the Uffizi… guess I’ll have to go back. Laughed at Cipro — thought instantly of the antibiotic, duh. FYI I live in Washington, D.C., famously described by JFK as a city of southern efficiency and northern charm. We’re at roughly the same latitude as Paris, so I’m always pretending the weather’s Paris-like. But it’s probably more Cleveland-like — too hot and humid in summer, too cold and wet in winter.

  • Patty says:

    Eva has got her head under the covers, she’s a great one from SMN, at least for me! I didn’t get what you did out of this one, I think that medicinal note puts me off, and I keep thinking I’m 6 and getting a shot at the doctor’s office. But I love your review and the pictures you chose, they are perfection.

  • Marina says:

    Doesn’t sound like moi either, but a beautiful review and the visuals are stunning!

  • Christina H. says:

    The pictures used for this post were absolutely gorgeous!Perfectly suited for the review!

  • Cait says:

    I think I’m going to use the term “plain vaniglia” from now on. Thanks for the review. It doesn’t sound like moi (i say, channeling miss piggy). Have you visited their cosy little pharmacy? I haven’t, but family friends brought me the Cipro. It is astringent and has a certain something, though that something reminds me in its topnotes of the cleanser used at my nursery school, esp in combination with spaghettios.
    Where is your January with its branches and austerity?