Monday, January 9, 2012

still-sound 31. Santa Maria Novella

Santa Maria Novella potpourri in a bowl I made with crackled glaze.

Many years ago in London a woman with very good taste introduced me to Santa Maria Novella.  A Florentine Farmacia, SMN has been making soaps, liqueurs, fragrances and potions since the 1600s.  The packaging of all the products have a very classical Italian appearance (typescript adorned wtih intricate curlicue patterns, like the label on a bottle of Campari, crests bursting with symbolic imagery, etc).  I visited the woman with very good taste at her home in the East End.  She had gregorian chants playing in the background and a large bowl of the Santa Maria Novella potpourri on a sideboard in the living room.  The scent filled the room.  I would describe it as somewhat camphorous, laced with rosemary, lavender and other herbs and botanicals.  Apparently all of the materials in the mixture come from the hills of Florence and ferment in large terracotta pots.  When you first get the potpourri and pour it into a bowl, the leaves and buds are still damp with pungency.  The scent is slightly sticky.  It reminds me of running my fingers along rosemary branches and allowing the needles to coat my skin with fragrance.

I've been purchasing the potpourri regularly since this visit to the tasteful woman's house.  It repels moths so I keep some in my closets and when I move into a new place I allow the scent of the damp leaves and buds to penetrate the room until the space smells familiar and homelike.  Remarkably even after airing out for a year, the potpourri still projects a scent.  As it dries, earthy notes of patchouli start to become more prominent.

Last year I received a bottle of Santa Maria Novella's Potpourri Cologne for Christmas.  It does and doesn't smell like its eponymous reference.  When initially sprayed the menthol notes are considerably more dominant.  The sticky rosemary notes play a more minor role. It's certainly as pungent as the actual potpourri.  Overall I find the cologne beautifully made and impressively tenacious (especially for an eau de cologne) although I seem to only want to wear it in winter.  My friend Desmond, a very serious fragrance collector bought a bottle of it last year.  He wore it once and his wife remarked, "Des, you don't need to be wearing that again."


  1. I actually keep a pinch of this in the ashtray in my car.

    1. Excellent! I like your choice of word, 'pinch'. Like a pinch of snuff. I think my car would benefit from a similar pinch as it has lost all traces of its 'new car smell'. Quite a while ago.