Photo rights: Parfumarija, all rights reserved
I am pretty excited right now, because 16 fragrances from the Santa Maria Novella range will be carried at Parfumarija, Ireland’s only niche perfume store. What’s the big deal about that? Well, Santa Maria Novella doesn’t allow perfume stores to carry their range until staff go to Florence to participate in training, and even after that, the stores are not allowed to sell the products online. You either have to go to Parfumarija to buy these perfumes in store, or you phone in with an order.
This might seem rather old-fashioned in this day and age, where you can order everything bar live Panda bears from China online. But Santa Maria Novella is not ashamed to be old-fashioned. In fact, it’s a selling point of their whole line – a collection of hand-made perfumes, soaps, and toothpastes made using the same production methods it has always used since it was founded in 1221.
Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. Dominican friars established the pharmacy in 1221, about a year after their order had arrived in Florence, and used the herbs and flowers grown in the monastic gardens to make balms, soaps, medicinal ointments, pomades, and colognes for the order’s infirmary. Word spread about the delicacy and purity of the monks’ preparations and public demand for the products grew. In 1612, the pharmacy started selling their products to the public, and they continue to do so today. Their perfumes all have a certain rustic, ye-olde-pharmacy character to them, and I find this very charming and refreshing.
Parfumarija will have a post up on their site soon with a pictorial of their training and the production processes at Santa Maria Novella, but in the meantime, I wanted to give you a brief rundown of 12 of the 16 eaux de cologne that are going to be carried at Parfumarija. If any of these pique your interest, I have included details on how to order from Parfumarija at the bottom of the post.
Acqua di Colonia, also informally called the Queen’s Cologne, is a very nice, natural eau de cologne that features a bright, sour bergamot note that gives you the feeling of being drenched in ice-cold water on a hot summer’s day. The bergamot smells like a greener, more bitter lemon, with some of the intense scent of the dark green leaves and rind thrown in for good measure.
Like any good cologne (Acqua di Parma Colonia, Cologne Sologne, Neroli Portofino, 4711, etc.), the purpose is to refresh, not to last or to perform as a proper perfume. And indeed, if you’re in the market for a summer cologne, this is an excellent option – natural-smelling, one of the purest bergamot notes in the business, and not badly priced per ml. Once the brief, volatile citrus notes have died away, what’s left is a creamy, slightly soapy neroli note, green but with a touch of orange blossom dancing around the edges. It is far from complex, but as with all eaux de cologne, sometimes simple is best.
Fieno/Hay opens on a very fresh, green note that combines the smell of unripe hay with sweet clover and meadow grasses. It is refreshing, but not tart or stridently-green – rather, more honeyed and floral in character.
As it develops, Fieno takes on a boozy almond-like note, leading me to believe that coumarin is the main material used here. Coumarin is the fragrantly sweet compound extracted from the tonka bean that plays an especially important role in fougeres, where its sweet, hay-like tones are required to offset the bitterness of moss and soften the aromatic sharpness of lavender.
But Fieno leans on the more honeyed, powdery aspects of hay than its dry, sun-baked aromatic side. Its boozy almond undertone and sweet hay notes make me think of Chergui, a powdery, sweet-hay oriental, more than aromatic fougeres such as Azzaro Pour Homme or Jicky. There is also something about the powdered marron glace dry down here that puts Fieno clearly in the oriental category, although given its green start, it would be fair to call it a fresh oriental.
A silky white musk, with perhaps a trace of heliotrope, finishes Fieno off on a wisp of powder and lends the fragrance a nostalgic feel. Simple, but elegant, I find myself haunted by my sample of this long after it’s gone – and it’s one I’m considering adding to my collection.
Melograno (Pomegranate) is by far and away the bestselling fragrance in the Santa Maria Novella line-up, a fact that surprises me every time I smell it. It’s not so much that it’s an odd fragrance (although it is) but that it’s extremely hard to pin down.
If you read the reviews for Melograno, you will see that it seems to be a different fragrance from one wearer to the next – to some, it is a green chypre along the lines of Givenchy III, to others it is the edgier twin of the grandest aldehydic monster ever created, Chanel No. 22, and to yet others, it is nothing more than detergent soap made into a fragrance. The one thing that everybody agrees upon is that it doesn’t smell like pomegranates.
Perhaps Melograno is successful because it is so dependent on the individual skin chemistry and scent memories of each wearer, and is therefore the olfactory equivalent of a mood ring. Mood rings were popular for a reason – we all like to feel that the end result is reflective of our individual personalities and chemistry. In that case, Melograno is the ultimate bespoke fragrance – it smells like a mixture of scent, your skin, and a complex bundle of memories and mind associations that are purely your own.
For what it’s worth, to me it smells like a mixture of aldehydes, green flowers, luxury soap, and church incense, with a faint but stirring note of urinal puck running through the base. Why this odd mish mash of elements should work is beyond me, but without doubt, the end result is resolutely appealing. What it will smell on you, and whether you’ll like it, is anyone’s guess.
Fresia, which is Italian for freesia, does not truly smell of freesia at all but of a creamy bar of Camay soap. There is definitely an appeal in clean, warm, soapy floral perfumes, as evidenced by the popularity of the reformulated Ivoire de Balmain (French white soap) and Infusion d’Iris Homme (Irish Spring soap) – people just love the idea of smelling like they’ve just emerged, Venus-on-a-shell-like, from a bath. There is a faint idea here of nostalgia for childhood bathing rituals, perhaps, folded piles of laundry, or the idealized vision of cuddling up with a loved one in front of the fire and having him nuzzle into your clean, freshly-scrubbed skin. Fresia is highly recommended, therefore, to girls (or indeed boys) who believe that cleanliness really is close to Godliness.
Patchouli is a Holy Grail for patchouli lovers everywhere. Raw and direct, it smells at first like fresh, loamy soil and rising damp. Later, it dries out a bit and takes on the gold-brown richness of an autumnal landscape, as if a tincture of crisp fallen maple leaves has been drip-fed into the brew. But whereas it gains in richness, it does not end up mired in an oriental base of sweet amber or vanilla, as so many patchouli fragrances do – this one is raw-edged, honest, pure, and totally to the point. It makes no apologies for being patchouli.
Patchouli also has a green, leafy bitterness to it and a slightly antiseptic undercurrent, but far from being off-putting, these elements cut through the brown gloom and pushes air into the room. The aroma is a thick one, but it wears surprisingly sheerly on the skin. I think it’s an incredibly sexy, earthy fragrance, because it makes a feature out of its own severity. Think of every stern schoolmistress you ever feared and ended up crushing on, and that’s Santa Maria Novella Patchouli.
Lavanda Imperiale is a very high-quality, true-to-life lavender cologne, smelling very much like when you rub or crush fresh lavender between your finger and thumb to release their aromatic oils. Whether you’ll like Lavanda Imperiale depends on how much you like lavender, of course, but also on how pure you like the note to be presented in perfumes.
Lavanda Imperiale is a fresh, unadorned lavender, with nothing but a hit of green citrus to keep things clean. It is properly pungent, classic, and simple. Personally, I prefer my lavender to be plush and orientalized, as in Fourreau Noir, but for those who like it straight, this is a great option.
Muschio Oro translates roughly to Gold Musk, which sounds rather Italian Gigolo-ish (or at least it does to me). It is an extremely soapy white musk with a bright, sharp edge to it, like a sheer wash of sulfates. I suspect the presence of aldehydes, although they are not listed. It is not unpleasant, but there are far better white musks out there (including SMN’s own Muschio, the original) unless you are deliberately seeking to replicate a fond memory involving anti-bacterial soap. For people who want to smell aggressively clean and shower-fresh at all times, I suspect this fragrance (and Fresia) would be their idea of heaven.
Angeli di Firenze (Angels of Florence) is a sweet, soapy floral mélange of jasmine and rose that creates a golden aura around the wearer. Angeli di Firenze spikes the buttery, floral heart with a juicy apple shampoo note, giving it a fun, youthful vibe that I quite like.
My positive reaction to Angeli, in fairness, is probably due to a nice memory it conjures up for me than the actual smell itself. Specifically, Angeli reminds me strongly of J’Adore by Dior, immediately taking me back to my days of living in Belgrade, when I exclusively wore that scent.
My job at the time was to travel around the Balkans – Kosovo, Macedonia, Southern Serbia, and so on, often on local buses – trying to sweet talk donors into giving us more money, a job I was really terrible at. I was only really at the office in Belgrade once or twice a week before heading off on my lonely travails, but I remember that I never felt welcome there, or part of the team. However, the receptionist at the front desk, a beautiful Serb girl with the highest heels I have ever seen on anyone, would always take the time to stop me and say, “You smell sooooo beautiful”.
The day I handed in my notice, I walked up to the receptionist, handed her the rest of my big bottle of J’Adore, kissed her and told her that she had made my life in Belgrade bearable. I remember that her eyes filled up with tears, which embarrassed me because I suddenly understood I could have made her this happy earlier. Why hadn’t I just handed over the bottle to her the first time she complimented me on it? I never wore J’Adore again.
Peau d’Espagne (Spanish Leather) is a brash, dark leather fragrance that drills home its point without losing the plot somewhere over amberland or vanillaville. Unlike cuirs de Russie (Russian leathers), leather fragrances classified as peau d’espagne (Spanish leather) types do not rely primarily on birch tar for their smoky, leathery effect, but instead recreate it through the use of a complex locking system of various dry herbs, flowers (carnation), and dusty woods. The Peau d’Espagne type of leather came about from the process of curing the leather for fine ladies’ gloves with a sweet-smelling mixture of flowers and botanical essences, which of course masked the terrible stench of uncured leather.
Peau d’Espagne is the oldest, and finest, surviving representative of this type of leather, and although it does contain a small amount of rectified birch tar, its total effect owes more to its complex floral construction than to birch tar. Although it plainly skews masculine, I think this could be phenomenally sexy on the right woman – a badass perhaps, or if playing against type, a quiet, feminine girl who wants her aura to read as unexpectedly kinky.
The leather note is strong and dry, a piece of raw cowhide waiting to be tanned in a vat of dyes. But though it is dark, it is also fresh with an underbelly of green herbs, camphor, and even a touch of mint flooding the gloom with slivers of light. The florals lend their effect rather than a distinct aroma of their own – the carnation note gives a flourish of clove-scented powder to the leather, and the violet leaf a sharp, green, almost metallic edge. There is a touch of birch tar here, too, and although I wouldn’t really call this a phenolic fragrance, there is a distinct whiff of tar pits. But think sweet tar, like that in Patchouli 24 or the sweet, rubbery florals behind the tough saddle leather in Lonestar Memories.
As with a few other Santa Maria Novella fragrances, there is a distinctly antiseptic note floating through the heart here, almost like TCP or germolene. This adds a pleasantly medicinal touch, and replicates somewhat the balance achieved in something like Tubereuse Criminelle between the floral, creamy side and the harsh, wintergreen aspect. It is this antiseptic mouthwash note that brings together all the other elements – the leather, the herbs, the carnation, the tar. A striking, if rather rough leather fragrance in a tradition of Peau d’Espagne that is no longer in fashion.
Calicantus is Italian for calycanthus, a little-known shrub whose aroma I’ve only ever encountered once before, in Maria Candida Gentile’s wonderful Hanbury, where it interacted with the orange blossom to produce a strawberry or blackberry wine backdrop to the scent – most unusual and pleasing.
I can’t say to what degree calycanthus has been used in Calicantus, but to my nose it reads as an abstract, spicy floral chypre, with a woody, soapy, antiseptic base borrowed from Melograno and a blended floral heart consisting of rose, jasmine, and ylang. At the start, there is a burst of something green and almost animalic, narcissus perhaps, which gives way to soapy orange blossom and sweet fruity notes. The clearest leading characteristic of Calicantus, however, is its powdery, bitter, spicy carnation note which gives the fragrance a very Caron-like complexity and old-world glamour that is largely missing from the simpler perfumes in the Santa Maria Novella line-up.
I like this one a lot, and would recommend it to lovers of both Melograno and the older, powdery green and yellow florals in the Santa Maria Novella line-up such as Gaggia and Ginestra. Fans of the clove-like carnation notes in the current Tabac Blond by Caron, and powdery, old-school floral chypres should also check this out. It risks being over-shadowed by its more attention-grabbing siblings, but it would be a shame to overlook this quietly complex little beauty.
Nostalgia is supposed to smell like an Italian racing car on the track, complete with gasoline fumes, rubber seating, and all. During the fleeting topnotes, Nostalgia pulls this off in spectacular fashion with a pure petrol note that would put the current version of Fahrenheit to shame, followed quickly by a shot of sweet car-seat rubber and leather.
The smoke and fuel dissipate rather quickly, however, leaving behind a sweet, rubbery, vanillic tailbone that smells rather too close to Bvlgari Black to justify the price. The scent is nicely woody and quietly masculine. Beyond the arresting opening, I don’t think Nostalgia is particularly challenging, so I see this as a great option for men (or indeed women) who might be looking to dip their toes into niche but not go too far into weird/ugly/difficult territory. This is just different enough to provide good fun and shock value, but sweet, woody, and generically aftershave-like in the drydown to reassure novices and big ole scaredy cats.
Gelsomino is a marvelous jasmine fragrance with, from what I can tell, real jasmine absolutes used (both Grandiflora and Sambac). Real jasmine essential oil is so expensive to produce (it costs over €4,000 a pound) that it is very rarely used in commercial perfumery, and more often, a variety of synthetic jasmine is used. These jasmine replacers cost just over €3 a pound, depending on the sort used, and some of them are really good, so you can see why they are used in commercial perfumery.
But I believe that Gelsomino has a good deal of the real stuff. The cologne version is fresher and greener; the triple extract is darker and jammier – but both dry down to a sourish, animalic base that may surprise you if you’re not expecting it. It’s one of my favorites, as you can see from my review here.
Tobacco Toscano is a sexy, sheer tobacco-honey fragrance with a rubber twang that recalls Bvlgari Black stripped of its green edges. It also strongly recalls the sweet, bready musk and vanillic paper/cardboard notes of Dzing! but features none of that scent’s elephant dung. But most of all, Tobacco Tuscano has a distinctly Tobacco Vanille vibe. The advantage of Tobacco Toscano is that it has none of the dried-fruit heft of Tobacco Vanille, and as such can be worn with gay abandon during the hot summer months. For devotees of sweet tobacco orientals, surely this is reason enough to rush out the door, your credit card at the ready.
The main building block for the fragrance is loose leaf tobacco leaves that have been soaked in pure vanilla extract and then dusted in honey powder. There is a faint aromatic, leafy undertone in the opening notes that conjures up a rustic stroll through the countryside, but the dry down is more urban and stream-lined; a honeyed, tobacco and vanilla combination that smells so good you might want to lick yourself. It’s really nothing new under the sun, but it’s a really nice, summer-ready version of old favorites, so I’m all over this one like butter on hot bread.
If any of these fragrances appeal, call in to see Marija, Freddie, or Sigita at Parfumarija, located at 25 Westbury Mall
Dublin 2, Ireland, or phone in an order by calling +353 1 671 0255. Alternatively, you can drop them an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.