Cult: Santa Maria Novella
What do you think when you see that classic old chemist-shop branding? Is it a long sigh of weariness that there’s another generic smelling, ultimately forgettable hostess gift waiting to happen? Well please sit down because this is the OG apothecary brand: Santa Maria Novella.
Established by Dominican monks in Florence in the 13th century, entwined with the machinations of the powerful Medici family, and finally here in Australia in its entirety, Santa Maria Novella is not a brand to be underestimated. From powerful smelling salts and tonics used at court during the tumultuous Italian renaissance, to a rose deodorant for your dog-baby, Santa Maria Novella is staggering in its range of products. But I guess you have time to develop a bit of a portfolio when you’ve been mixing potions since before forks were a thing. (Catherine de Medici, one of the brand’s original ambassadors and an old-school influencer, actually introduced forks to France. To the collective relief to anyone trying to eat escargot I assume.)
Anyway, the formulas developed by those clever friars – and their wiley ways with herbs and flowers – live on in a brand so steeped in history, it’s almost overwhelming. And it has totally transformed my idea of what an apothecary brand can bring to the table (yes that was me with the sighing earlier but I’ve been schooled).
So here are my must-haves from Santa Maria Novella’s Australian launch. It’s just a toe-dip but I think there are some options that will have any hostess arching her eyebrow and plotting world domination, Catherine de Medici style.
I confess I was so excited to try these at home I didn’t read up on the correct procedure. But here’s the basics: these are small papers infused with natural resins including the cozy, balmy benzoin, which, when folded in a concertina fashion so they stand up all by themselves (that’s the bit I missed, not sure it’s crucial), burn to release a purifying smoky incense. I’m looking at them as portable smudge sticks. They have a short-ish burn time, an instant calming effect, and an intriguingly vague little scarlet box to travel in. These are being added to the scented emergency stash in my handbag (they’d be good for hiding any unwanted odours, I’ll leave that with you).
Acqua Di Rose
This is one of the most addictively-perfumed rosewater products I’ve ever experienced. The centuries-old formula boosts a combination of rose extracts with citrus and spice elements to lift the fragrance of the product, making it invigorating, sophisticated, and apparently handy for curing the plague. I’m thinking more of a hangover cure myself. This would revive the droopiest of faces and when splashed around, would certainly work as a stand-alone scent.
I was completely unprepared for this experience. Composed only of herbs and flowers native to the hills around Florence, the intensity of Santa Maria Novella’s signature Pot-Pourri is not even slightly related to the crunchy, dry lavender in your Nanna’s knickers drawer. This stuff is mind blowing. Once those plants are collected, they’re soaked in secret essences and then macerated in terracotta jars. The result is a rich, moist concoction that smells almost medicinal, definitely not sweet or cloying in any way, and currently keeping all my clothes smelling like I just pulled them from my washing line under the Tuscan sun. This is the first home product I’ve ever considered allowing in my bedroom, or on my clothes. But because of its savoury herbaceousness, I know it’s not going to interfere with my personal scent, and I can’t see myself ever growing tired of it. It would be like growing tired of trees.
Sali da Bagno Melograno
Baths salts. I know. But now that I’m getting the hang of this SMN thing, I’m not expecting just any bath salts. Opening the box releases an intense and unexpected scent of pomegranate coating the biggest damn salt crystals I’ve ever seen. The fragrant oils coating the crystals make them glisten in a most luxurious fashion. It’s a sensual experience and I’m not sure how I can go back to my home-brand box of Epsom salts after this. It’s pure indulgence but like all the products I’ve enjoyed from the brand, there is a sense of reinvigoration and cleansing that feels fresh, even after all these centuries.