One of the world’s oldest, working pharmacies lies just off the bustling streets of Santa Maria Novella plaza in Florence and the quieter Santa Maria Novella church square. It is one of the world’s oldest perfume brands, and arguably the real creator of what we know today as a “cologne.” It’s called Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella (“Santa Maria Novella” or “SMN” for short), and it was at the top of my list of places to visit on my recent trip to Florence.
One of the best patchouli fragrances I’ve ever tried comes from Santa Maria Novella, an old Italian company with an 800-year history. They make simple, unpretentious, refined colognes that often highlight one key ingredient. In the case of Patchouli, the result is a rich, beautifully elegant fragrance that every die-hard patch head should try. As one commentator admiringly stated, “SMN weren’t f*$%ing around when they made this one.” No, they most certainly weren’t.
Many of us tend to think of patchouli as a 1970s thing, something worn by dirty hippies at Woodstock, but the plant has a history that goes back to the 1800s. Ship captains would use fresh patchouli leaves to cover their valuable cargo (usually silk), because the camphorous aroma would protect it from infestation during the long journey to Europe from the East. It seems that Santa Maria Novella‘s Patchouli was made at precisely such a time, well over a hundred years ago, judging by the cologne’s description on the company’s American website:
This perfume met a great success in the late 1800s and early 1900s and has now become a classic. The plant from which the fragrance is made grows in India and Malaysia and creates a warm exotic, oriental and musky scent. Perfect for men and women.