There’s an old world charm to Santa Maria Novella, and how it operates with such low-key confidence. It has, after all, stood the test of time (over 400 years!) as possibly the world’s oldest pharmacy-slash-apothecary. It might have been making potions and the like for the Black Plague, but these days the brand is a cult favourite of beauty lovers looking for discreet and traditional sophistication.
The love for Santa Maria Novella is not new, neither is it wide. Look, however, and you’ll find very evangelical fans of the brand. Into The Gloss’ Top Shelf features, for example, often throw up mentions of Santa Maria Novella products. The real kicker that gives me zero pause, however, is finding out that Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen deigned to sell the products in their terrifyingly curated The Row stores. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.
But with such a wide range of products – baby cleansers, water flavourings, a whole suite of skincare, perfumes, perfume-lites named aromatic waters, herbal teas, diet supplements, dog and cat grooming products, etc. – where to begin? Slowly, from the top down, here are some good places to start.
Let’s start with fragrance. You can work your way up in intensity and intent of use. You could start with a bottle of Anidroto which is faintly lavender-scented and prevents odours and excessive perspiration. A tropical necessity. A little further up the chain and you could try one of the Aromatic Waters. You splash it on the body post-shower and revel in the soft haze of scent. I like the Herb Water variant, which uses costmary and peppermint extracts – a fresh start for the mornings.
And then there’s the whole range of eau de colognes. It’s a very wide selection, so this one’s really a matter of personal taste. As a general guide, these are created to be light scent products – hence cologne. You won’t find anything too heavy or cloying here, even in the vetiver and sandalo scents which use these traditionally strong ingredients and tempers it so it’s not overly present.
For continual scenting beyond these dedicated products, the obvious choice is to simply bathe in a Santa Maria Novella product. Subtlety is key, so I suggest going with either a hair or body product. The Iris shampoo is great for oily scalps and, naturally, smells amazing. Else, lather up with one of their many bar soaps. These are monstrously chic, (I like the Tobacco Toscano for its woods and orient fragrance) and look even better placed upon a soap dish handcrafted by Florentine artisans. Or if you prefer to languor in olfactory heaven post-shower, rub the Dermo-Protective Oil liberally all over. It’s softening, hydrating, and scented with the Melograno notes of pomegranate and rich, elegant amber and opoponax and cedar. Just ignore the uninspiring name and let the chic bottle do the talking. Or, for a subtler experience, the Chincona Water is a lotion that can be rubbed into the scalp to strengthen and liven up dull and stressed hair.
Honestly, though, gifting is where Santa Maria Novella comes into its own league. These products are (mostly) entirely practical, beautiful, and nigh impossible to complain about. Men, for instance, can be tough to shop for. Problem solved. There’s a whole selection of body soaps, of which I suggest the Colonia Russa for its elegant and masculine smell. Doesn’t hurt that it’s made with a traditional plant-based formula enriched with milk and friendly to sensitive skins. From the same Colonia Russa family, there’s a brilliant after-shave lotion, and to complete the ritual a gorgeous razor that looks like fancy designer homeware. It’s got a handle made out of untreated brass, painted over to prevent rust; and a Gillette Mach 3-compatible head.
And, if you’re too stricken by all this chic choice, maybe just get a handcrafted and hand-painted nativity scene made out of wax. Sweet baby Jesus.
Santa Maria Novella is available in Colony Clothing at UE Square (#01-37, 83 Clemenceau Avenue).