Santa Maria Novella’s Marescialla is one of only three fragrances in the ‘interesting and ugly-beautiful but almost too brutal to love’ category that I keep around and wear on a regular basis – the others being the original Parfum by Comme des Garcons and M/Mink by Byredo. In my non-reviewing, day-to-day life, I don’t always wear perfume and when I do, it is invariably something easy and attractive in the ambery category. (If you’re thinking of calling me basic, don’t worry – that’s a badge I wear with pride).
Still, there is something about the filthy pungency of raw spices that pulls me in every time. I can wear the heck out of a sweaty clove-on-steroids (Eau Lente), armpitty cumin (Rubj), and the arid ‘sweddy ballz’ element of whatever poisonous stew of spices thickens a favorite woody scent (Caravelle Epicée). This is just to explain that, when I say I love the ever-loving shit out of Marescialla, I mean that I really love the ever-loving shit out of it and am not just saying that as your typical fragrance reviewer who exalts the artistic merits of a challenging fragrance only to never again touch it outside of that one review. Which, to be fair, I have also done.
That said, Marescialla is a scent that probably 95% of people who smell it will think is repulsive. The opening is a grotesque cacophony of paint thinner, medicinal notes, herbal salve, floor wax, and creeping mold, all underscored by a screechy citric note as harsh as it is unlovely.
It’s a bit like walking into an ancient church that’s just been scrubbed down with peppery, neon-yellow antiseptic fluids that cost 0.57 cents from a hardware store. This harsh, clean scent – the aroma of mace, really – mingles with the damp old wood and stone, creating an atmosphere that’s both a little terrifying and enthralling. If you told me someone had used a bucket of Marescialla to cover up a ritualistic killing or exorcism gone wrong in an old church, I’d believe you. The mace adds a clove-like twist, emphasizing the swing between the purifying and the unholy.
I find the scent oddly comforting, though. I bought Marescialla the day after a particularly gruesome medical procedure I’d undergone in a podiatrist’s office one dark, rainy night in Rome, an office that I realize now must have been repurposed from an ancient crypt or cellar, soaring architraves and all. Marescialla smells like my experience that night – there was a needle of anesthetic (teasing me with the sweet promise of deliverance), there was blood, there was medical gauze soaked in a brackish, clovey antiseptic, a herb-scented tissue to bring me round after I fainted, and most of all, there was the smell of ancient wood, creeping rot, and damp stone. It should be no surprise then that fear and loathing and relief (at it all being over) are mixed up in the aroma of Marescialla. It is already an intensely evocative fragrance – for me, it is memory incarnate.
As it settles, Marescialla reveals a bracing and surprisingly clean blend of clove, rose, wood, and patchouli, reminiscent of skin that’s been thoroughly washed with Pears soap or coal tar. Though not a conventionally attractive fragrance by any stretch of the imagination, when I wear it, it is one hell of an aide-memoire, and at my age, any aide to the old memoire is deeply appreciated.
Source of Sample: I bought my bottle of Marescialla from the smaller Santa Maria Novella shop (near Piazza Navona) in Rome in late November 2019.