One way I hope these Perfume 101 posts get used by the readers is when they find a line they’ve never heard of before. Hopefully they will find these articles on their smartphone and they’ll dive in. One brand which is somewhat difficult to find just anywhere is Santa Maria Novella. When you do find it you are faced with a collection which numbers almost fifty bottles staring back at you. This is one of the most underrated collections out there. There are incredibly beautiful compositions covering nearly every style of fragrance. In the end you have to start somewhere; here are the five I think are good choices.
Santa Maria Novella was founded in the 13th century by Dominican friars starting with soaps. In those days it took a few hundred years for word to spread. Eventually people started to travel to Florence for the friars’ products. At some point the evolution to producing perfume occurred. Many of the perfumes on sale today purport to be made with the same recipe and care as they were a few hundred years ago. There is a definitive classic, some might call it old-fashioned, style to the ones which are traced back to the beginning. One of the best examples of this is Iris. The Florentine Iris is to this day one of the most sought after and precious raw materials in perfumery. The friars perfected the formation of an iris concrete which is the star of Iris. It is a very straightforward presentation moving from citrus, some lighter florals before the iris comes out. This is the perfume that taught me the best iris does not just smell of powder it smells of earth, too. Hay, oakmoss, and amber provide the base accord for the iris to shine like a precious jewel upon.
Patchouli is also a formula from the friars. This was equally eye-opening to me. Whenever someone visiting speaks about patchouli smelling like a head shop this is one of the perfumes I present to them to change that thought. Patchouli like the Iris above really enhances the earthy nature of the material. It also uses a gentle application of rose and jasmine to add sophistication. Rosewood and sandalwood provide the woody base.
The entire collection is full of perfumes with the name of a specific note on the bottle. All of them are well done studies. Ginestra is one which is probably unfamiliar to most. Ginestra is also known as broom. Broom in the wild has a honey-like floralcy. Ginestra captures that with a cross of hay and neroli. It forms a sweetgrass kind of accord. From the lightness Ginestra heads into the depths as oakmoss and birch form a biting base accord.
In 2006 Santa Maria Novella began working with perfumer Fabrizio Morgenni. The final two choices come from those he has added to the friars’ work.
Citta di Kyoto was the first Santa Maria Novella perfume I tried. Expecting some spare Japanese aesthetic I was faced with a lush iris and lotus. Sig. Morgenni opens with a bit of orange before allowing the iris and lotus to float serenely on a sandalwood base. This is Kyoto as seen by Florence.
Tabacco Toscano is the best of these modern releases. Sig. Morgenni opens with the animalic sweetness of refined leather which he pairs with a green tinted tobacco. This isn’t the dried narcotic leaf. This is the fresh picked version still carrying earthiness and sharp green facets as well as the nicotinic depth.
If you come across Santa Maria Novella I hope you have the chance to let these five introduce you to this brand.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.