Honeyed nectar curls like a ribbon around green neroli, sweet orange blossom, and lush jasmine in a fresh, airy cologne. That is one aspect of Caprifoglio, a scent from Santa Maria Novella whose name means honeysuckle. Truth be told, I don’t think the name really fits the scent which, on my skin and that of a number of other people, isn’t really about the namesake flower. The mix of fresh, green neroli, sweet orange blossom, and lush jasmine is pretty, but I’m a little disappointed.
Santa Maria Novella (hereinafter sometimes referred to as “SMN“) is an Italian niche house based in Florence and one of the oldest actual pharmacies in the world. By many accounts, Santa Maria Novella is also the real, true source for the birth of cologne as a type of fragrance. You can read the full details of their fascinating, storied history going back to the 1200s and to Dominican friars in Florence in my earlier piece on the Farmacia (and its Ambra cologne). The house has been connected to everything from Catherine de Medici on her wedding day, to a marchioness burnt at the stake as the last “witch” in France, and marauding thieves who fought off the Black Plague. It’s really fascinating stuff, if you are a history junkie as I am.
Caprifoglio, however, is brand new fragrance, relatively speaking. It is an eau de cologne that was released in 1997, which is a far cry from the 1600s or 1800s date of some of their other creations. It is, theoretically at least, a honeysuckle scent and, in fact, many sites simply call the fragrance “Honeysuckle Cologne” instead of “Caprifoglio.”
Santa Maria Novella’s American website does so as well. There, the company describes “Honeysuckle” as follows:
This sensuous, sweet fragrance is one of Santa Maria Novella’s best sellers. Considered in ancient times the lover’s ties, because of the way that the branches and leaves intertwine around their flowers, honeysuckle’s sweet yet fresh fragrance has always been a very popular scent. Suitable for men and women; extremely sensuous.
According to Fragrantica, Caprifoglio’s perfume pyramid is:
Top notes: bergamot, lemon, orange and jasmine.
Heart: honeysuckle, lotus, magnolia, ylang-ylang and honey.
Base: oak moss and benzoin.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with honeysuckle, the flower has a small overlap with jasmine, but I think there is more of a slightly fruity, honeyed liquidity to the scent. On Fragrantica, Elena Vosnaki describes the aroma as follows:
Honeysuckle is a heady, intoxicating, sweet blend of yellow floral and nectarous, honeyed, almost fruity tonality. The scent intensifies with the fall of the night, aided by its complimenting sweet nuance of jasmine vines which throughout the Mediterranean are planted side by side, inviting strollers of the night into their sensual, narcotic embrace. [¶]
It’s not easy to get a good honeysuckle note into a fragrance; making the scent last is a task for the most experienced. Even though an essence technincally can be rendered, the yield and cost do not justify the effort. Therefore the vast majority of honeysuckle notes in perfumes are lab reconstituted or a mix of other naturals if we’re talking about natural perfumers.
Caprifoglio opens on my skin with green neroli, lemon, and bergamot, all heavily infused with a bug spray aroma. The notes are quickly followed by jasmine that is fresh, green, but also a little indolic, then a hint of orange blossoms. There is also a touch of soapiness, along with a vaguely nectared sweetness, but no honeysuckle, per se.
Within minutes, the bug spray tonality becomes stronger. I’ve encountered it before in some orange blossom fragrances that have quite a synthetic profile, but I’ve never fully understood the cause. Truly indolic flowers can give off a definite moth ball aroma when the indoles aren’t sufficiently diluted, but this is much more like mosquito repellent with a distinctly chemical twinge, and a touch of citronella like those in outdoor candles. Here, there is also a weird touch of staleness deep, deep down in the base.
On one site, Makeup Alley, Caprifoglio reviewers frequently mention a Coppertone aroma in the scent. There is a little of that in the staleness that I’m perceiving, but nothing as rich, buttery, unctuous, or tropical as actual suntan lotion. For the most part, Caprifoglio skew far too green and fresh in its opening moments, filled primarily with neroli and orange blossoms, trailed by jasmine, and then with fluctuating levels of both soapiness and bug spray bringing up the rear.
The whole thing is a very airy mix with moderate sillage at first. Three very large smears equal to 2 small spritzes from an actual bottle gave me a light but strong cloud with about 3 inches of projection in the opening moments. Caprifoglio feels more like an eau de toilette than an eau de cologne.
One thing that was interesting is that quantity impacted a few of the secondary notes. The first time I tried the scent, I applied a smaller amount of Caprifoglio, roughly 2 decent smears instead of 3 huge ones. That brought out the soapiness to a much more significant degree. By the same token, the neroli was even stronger, and lasted for much longer as the dominant note, while the jasmine was substantially weaker, and took more time to emerge as the neroli’s main companion. It’s a question of degree, however, because Caprifoglio continued to be centered on green neroli, bug spray, and soapiness, followed by the jasmine, and only the most minuscule touch of honeyed nectar.
Caprifoglio isn’t a very complicated fragrance on my skin, and generally persists in a linear fashion with its core notes remaining the same for the first five hours. The main thing that happens is that the individual elements change in their strength, prominence, or freshness, while the scent turns smoother, richer, and less green as a whole. The turn towards a deeper, more narcotic, and warmer fragrance begins at the 30-minute mark, when the jasmine’s growing sweetness dissipates the neroli’s heavy greenness in the opening moments. Even better, the bug spray note weakens after 40 minutes, then fades away completely 90 minutes into Caprifoglio’s development. The soapiness lingers, but stays at the edges instead of being more front and center.
As a whole, the perfume turns much sweeter, less green, crisp, and fresh. One reason why is that a distinct creaminess appears in the base after 90 minutes, and the flowers turn more narcotic. Still, Caprifoglio is primarily a scent dominated by various types of orange blossom, both the regular kind and the greener neroli, along with jasmine. I know what honeysuckle smells like, and it simply isn’t here on my skin for most of Caprifoglio’s lifetime. Yes, there is a vaguely nectared fruitiness but that really stems primarily from the orange blossom accords. I have to say, it’s all very sweet on my skin, though just a hair short of feeling like actual syrup.
It isn’t until the end of the 7th hour that Caprifoglio manifests anything close to honeysuckle on my skin. At that point, the fragrance is a mere blur, and mostly an abstract haze of heady, rather narcotic flowers. Yet, finally, there is a touch of real honeysuckle that emerges. Caprifoglio loses all remaining vestiges of greenness, the various orange florals have piped down, and even the jasmine seems more subdued. In its final moments, Caprifoglio is a smooth, sweet, gauzy wisp of narcotic white petals, lightly coated with a thin smear of honeysuckle nectar.
All in all, the fragrance lasted between 8.5 and 9.5 hours on me, depending on amount, with generally soft sillage for most of its lifetime. Caprifoglio hovered half an inch above the skin at the end of the second hour, and it remained there until the start of the 6th hour when it finally turned into a skin scent. I found it all quite strong for what is ostensibly a mere cologne. It certainly fared better on my skin than some eau de toilettes that I’ve tried, but then SMN generally imbues its colognes with quite a concentrated feel.
Caprifoglio is a pretty floral, but I personally wouldn’t call it a honeysuckle scent. It starts off as quite a fresh, green fragrance centered on neroli with some unpleasant bits, then turns into an infinitely better, smoother, more narcotic, multi-faceted white floral bouquet with increased sweetness, before finally, in its last few hours, taking on a mere touch of honeysuckle nectar. I think it is a scent which does better with a larger application in order to counteract the soapiness in the opening stage and to keep it in the base under a stronger layer of jasmine. Unfortunately, I haven’t found anything to counteract the bug spray note which ruins the first 90-minutes for me.
Caprifoglio receives mixed reviews, primarily because of the neroli and soapiness issues, and the fact that the majority of people don’t detect much (or any) honeysuckle. Makeup Alley has the most reviews of any site for the fragrance, and the vast majority find Caprifoglio to be romantic, lushly narcotic, or beautifully feminine. Interestingly, some of the most enthusiastic reviewers love Caprifoglio because they think it’s a fantastic neroli scent or a fresh, clean one. Others, however, talk about the Coppertone or soapiness. A sampling of opinions:
- Fabulous!! I am constantly receiving compliments from both sexes on how amazing this fragrance is. It is clean yet very sexy. I purchased this bottle about 6 months ago and am almost out but you bet I will be buying another one.
- I adore this fragrance. I am a very picky Honeysuckle fragrance lover and this is the best I have found. I was reluctant to try it since I have yet to find a Santa Maria Novella that I liked, but I bought it from a friend and I am so happy that I did. It is truly a gorgeous fragrance that definitely does have a honeysuckle Coppertone combination that I love. I feel that I am at the beach. I do not detect a ‘soapy’ scent to it at all. I will buy this again[.]
- a super green, soapy linden/honeysuckle. the unsweetened powdery quality brings to mind the scent of an old library–it has that almost wince-inducing sting in your nostrils of old, dry paper. initially very aldehydic. i would rename this Antique Honeysuckle if i could since it feels almost…historical, somehow (which is not to say old-fashioned, however). honeysuckle is difficult to capture and i appreciate how un-metallic this provocative interpretation is.
- I agree with the previous reviewer’s comments about the Honeysuckle being soapy. I’m not a fan of this at all and it could be because I prefer my honeysuckle to smell more like the real flower and as a soapy impression.
- Honeysuckle??!! Really??!! Well, on my skin, it smells nothing like honeysuckle. It’s a pretty neroli scent, that after some minutes turns into a Coppertone paradise.
SMN Honeysuckle is beautiful, very feminine and uncomplicated – I can visulalize a pretty girl with a warm and cheerful personality (and great sense of humour) wearing this fragrance.
I don’t like neroli scents in general, but the “Coppertone” drydown deserves 4 lippies. Lovely!
There are only 3 reviews on Fragrantica, and they follows the same split as noted above. One person found Caprifoglio to be “full force orange blossom & honey” scent with sticky sweetness. The second reviewer experienced a strong citric opening but “then a very rich, full honeysuckle comes in. It’s a very true honeysuckle, has that heady almost juicy quality the flower has.” The third person merely wrote: “It doesn’t make me think of honeysuckle, but it is a deliciously refreshing cologne.”
On Basenotes, there are only two comments:
- Oh My Word. THIS is the honeysuckle soliflore I have been searching for ! This is like the honeysuckle of Jo Malone’s Honeysuckle and Jasmine MINUS the annoying jasmine. You *must* love the greenish sweet floral scent of honeysuckle to appreciate this scent. Delicately sweet and green. Beautiful. [Emphasis to name added by me.]
- I’m not entirely sure Caprifoglio smells like honeysuckle. To me, it’s more of a neroli scent. It has the disctint “naturally artificial” odour of neroli. A sweet and heady floral that smells quite “perfumey”.
In terms of blog reviews, I only found a short one at Scent for Thought which reads:
Caprifoglio is a major disappointment, largely due to its very misleading name, as it smells more like a neroli or orange blossom scent for most of its duration. The drydown may possibly indicate a touch of honeysuckle but, for the majority of the time, one had much trouble detecting this accord.
It’s largely linear, slightly green and soapy, with moderate sillage and longevity.
Obviously, skin chemistry is going to impact which version of Caprifoglio appears on your skin. Honeysuckle fragrances are not a dime a dozen, so if you’ve been looking for one, you should try Santa Maria Novella’s interpretation for yourself. If you love fresh, green, neroli scents or very sweet orange blossoms, then you, too, may want to give Caprifoglio a sniff. It’s really quite pretty at times, but it might be better not to have enormous expectations of a true honeysuckle soliflore.