Fans of James Bond films may remember the poignant scene in 2007’s Casino Royale when Bond, sailing through Venice’s sunlit Grand Canal, empties the contents of Vesper Lynd’s handbag onto the deck of a boat to search for clues.
Sharp-eyed perfume enthusiasts may also have noted at the time that Vesper is clearly a lady of discerning tastes, as among the contents of Vesper’s purse, I spotted an unmistakable opaque glass bottle with green writing; Melograno, by Santa Maria Novella.
The church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence was founded by Benedictines in the 13th century who, in the monastery adjacent to the church, created cures and potions from local herbs and flowers. By the 16th century this enterprise had become a retail outlet, a pharmacy and perfumer that gained renown for fine perfumery when Catherine de Medici became one of its earliest patrons.
The classic chypre-based perfume, Melograno couldn’t be more appropriate for Vesper, the femme fatale who captured Bond’s heart. The noble chypre perfume accord refers to the island of Cyprus (birthplace of the mythical Aphrodite) where the perfume material labdanum was collected from sheep wool in ancient times. Labdanum is a sticky concoction produced by the rock rose; animalic, sultry, woody and sweet, it made an excellent component of perfumes and incenses and was adapted into European perfumery in the mid 19th century.
Melograno enhances the classic chypre accord with the bitter/dry scent of pomegranate (Melograno being Italian for pomegranate) and powdery iris, to create a perfume that just oozes understated, old-school charisma and class.
It was my first introduction to Santa Maria Novella perfumery (henceforth I’ll term it SMN for short) and it was instant love, so when I heard of their new release Acqua di Rosa Novella, I was intrigued.
Acqua di Rosa Novella (launched in July 2020) is an update on the original Acqua di Rosa, itself derived from the original rose water created by Benedictine monks in the 14th century. SMN describe this in their marketing message as “the fragrance that greets us at the Santa Maria Novella garden in the month of May. Citrus top notes join with the sweetness of rose and white flowers. Its freshness is revealed in the harmony of green herbal notes of oregano and pepper that soften to moss and wood. An olfactory portrait of a spring awakening: seductive, floral and warm”.
Its top notes instantly define it as a classic eau de cologne in style; Mediterranean, refreshing and light, with sparkly citrus and a sprinkling of bitter herbs. As the floral notes appear, I detect jasmine buds – milky, sweet and delicate. Rose appears as a subtle note, dewy and fresh, more akin to rose water than the deeper, more pungent absolute of rose.
As it settles into dry-down, the perfume as a whole is light, refreshing – becoming more feminine with a subtly sweet, white floral prettiness that never veers into animalic or heady.
Truly a breath of spring, it’s ideal for summer days since it won’t overwhelm the senses. When I wore it to my sister’s birthday garden party recently (matched with an Italian green linen dress – look out Vesper!) several appreciative female noses enjoyed the scent throughout the day.
Discreet, authentic, uplifting elegance sums it up for me. Santa Maria Novella may be the oldest pharmacy in the world, but Rosa Novella isn’t old-school. As the director of SMN observes: “My customer, foreign or international, is more cultured than rich. It isn’t a product that is fashionable today and will not be any more tomorrow.” The scent of a garden in May is, after all, timeless.
To order perfumes or products by Santa Maria Novella, you can visit their website, and from there you can contact their sales department with enquiries. Alternately, visit the exquisite shop, museum, sacristy and tea room in Florence if you get the chance.