Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Heaven scent

I wish  you could sniff my wrist right now... a subtle melange of jasmine, lilac, rose, gardenia, peach, melon, and distinct notes of citrus and vanilla, are all combined in a soft and romantic fragrance... Delicious. The scent of it is bringing me back to Italy where I bought this heavenly fragrance.

One destination that I absolutely had to visit while in Italy this visit was the famed 800+-year-old Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella in Florence. Yup, a perfume shop—but it's so much more than that. Believed to be among the oldest pharmacy-perfumeries in the world, it was started by the Dominican friars soon after they arrived in Florence in the year 1221. They began a herb garden to grow the medicinal plants they needed to make preparations to treat patients at their infirmary. Word got out how fantastico their products were, so in 1612 Duke Fernado l de' Medici gave them permission to open their doors to the public. Their fame quickly spread all over the world, and the potions, perfumes and formulas that followed are still much the same as the ancient ones. One of the 33 scents (still being sold today!) was developed for Catherine de' Medici. The "Acqua della Regina" (Water of the Queen) was created for CDM when she went off to France to marry Henry II. Today, the Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella still sells traditional elixirs, along with more contemporary skin-care products, candles, perfumes, even toothpaste.

This noble store has a humble entranceway—there's no big sign, perpendicular to the street, and no shop windows in which any products are displayed. The first thing you'll see are beautiful tall wooden and glass doors that have the SMN name subtly etched on them. But look a little closer, above the doors—the name is also carved in marble under a spectacular marble mezzaluna shaped archway with a bouquet of round florettes. Aha!... a hint perhaps, at what treasures lay inside? And look under your feet—a marble mosaic spelling out the name for the third time... Santa Maria Novella. I was there!

I felt like I was visiting a secret, clandestine club during prohibition, or an exclusive restaurant—you know, the kind that doesn't need to have a sign out front. Upon entering the grand foyer, a checkered marble floor beneath my feet, I was immediately greeted by a lovely jumble of fragrances, which was pleasantly soothing after being in the crazy hustle and grind of the Florentine city. This was to be an experience for all of the senses. Inside the shop, the vibe was wonderfully decadent. I meandered through several warmly lit rooms filled with paintings, frescoes, sculptures, ancient implements of the pharmacy trade, and the lux goods were either perched on top of old world wooden counters or beautifully stacked in cabinets with glass doors. Looking up, I saw splendid vaulted ceilings with arches, stained glass rosette windows and gold leaf—lots and lots of gold leaf. Each room in this gorgeous old building is full of SMN's essences, pomades, spirits, balms, candles, waters, soaps and of course, their perfumes—which is why I was there! It all felt really special to me and much like a museum. It even felt as special as when I snuck into the Hotel Danieli in Venice to have a peek. I went to the perfume counter and sampled a few citrusy scented spritzes (my favorite aroma) and finally bought a bottle of Angels of Florence cologne. The fragrance was developed to honor the 40th anniversary of the 1966 flood that destroyed a million books in Florence’s Biblioteca Nazionale and to offer the proceeds to the Angels of Florence, a non-profit organization seeking to restore these lost cultural treasures. Every time I sniff the perfume it brings me right back to Florence. If you aren't going to Florence any time soon, shop here. Oh, the best part: The first time I wore this perfume out and about here in the USA a woman said to me "You smell really nice." That made my visit to the SMN shop and my purchase there seem so perfect.

Click to enlarge!

Below is the Santa Maria Novella Product list.

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