Santa Maria Novella

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.

  • Dina C. says:

    I have Florence on my bucket list of places I want to visit, and SMN’s shop is definitely on the itinerary. I’m not sure which of their scents would be a good match for me — I want to sniff and try it all. It’s true that certain scents get so strongly associated with certain lovers and relationships that once they’re over, there is no wearing that scent ever again. More proof that the sense of smell is the most evocative.

    • cinnamon says:

      I would love to return to Florence. However, it’s the only place I’ve been in Italy and I also really want to visit Venice.

  • March says:

    RIP Takashimaya, I’m still mourning that loss … I loved the entire experience of that store. I think I meant to visit SMN in Florence, but either couldn’t find it or couldn’t figure out how to get to it … instead I spent hours and hours in i Profumi di Firenze which was near my hotel. There was a small, elegant SMN boutique near where I lived in suburban DC which I never spent much time in, a decision I regret. When I get back there I’ll have to pop in if it’s still there.

    • cinnamon says:

      Oh, how I loved Takashimaya. It was just so wonderful. Was planning on visiting the Kyoto one on the Japan trip that didn’t happen. The Florence SMN shop is really hard to find. The London shop was (is?) in a theoretically central location but it too is hard to find. I wonder if the company makes a point of selecting tucked away locations.

  • Portia says:

    Hey there Cinnamon,
    Funnily my first experience of a Santa Maria Novella store was their fabulous (now long gone) church recreation in Seoul, South Korea across the road from the huge Hermès store. One of my BFFs TinaG bought the Muscio and wore the shit out of it for years, multiple bottles.
    Going to their Florence store with another perfumista girlfriend, Anna Maria, was heavenly. We had poor Jin in tow and while he likes perfume and the people who create it well enough the ridiculous lengths of time, conversation and eternal sniffing grinds him down. I left with their triple distilled Jasmine parfum. I’ve put some on in honour of this post. SWOON!
    Lastly, I was given a set of their wax wardrobe fragrance bars and they maintained their scent for a couple of years before becoming merely ornamental.
    We now have our very own Sydney store. I’ve only been once for the opening but thanks for the reminder.
    Portia xx

    • cinnamon says:

      oooh, that sounds very interesting. I hope Jin was able to get lots of wonderful ice cream (can’t recall what it’s called) to make up for being so patient. Wow, triple distilled jasmine … sounds worth seeking out.

  • Kathleen says:

    I would love to visit the Florence store. I have Melograno perfume and dusting powder, I love that scent so much.
    Strange coincidence; I wore Melograno just this morning! I hadn’t worn it in quite some time and somehow it occurred to me. And here is you post on same perfume!

  • ElizaC says:

    I have the Santa Maria Novella orange blossom perfume and it is so beautiful! I was fascinated by the idea that they also make liqueurs which you can’t get here in the US. A few years ago, my husband came back from Italy with a beautiful candle and a bottle of their liqueur! He said the Florence store is amazingly beautiful!