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.
My list of favorite fragrances that I’ve tried this year is quite different from yesterday’s list of the best new releases of 2014. The latter centered largely on scents that I thought were good, very elegant or interesting representations of their genre, regardless of whether they were my personal cup of tea, and they were only things that debuted in 2014. Today’s list is purely about what I really enjoyed and does not consider the date in release at all. So, this time around, there are very few qualifications and caveats, and the vast majority of these fragrances are things that I bought for myself, am thinking about buying, or would love to buy were their price not a consideration.
You will notice that a good number of the fragrances are not complex masterpieces at all, but quite simple in nature. One reason for that is that I love cozy, comfort scents, and they are generally not very nuanced or multifaceted to begin with. Plus, mindlessly simple but really well-done fragrances that combine richness with soothing warmth are, in all honesty, a huge relief to me after a long day where I do nothing but analyse every nuance and change in a scent for hours (upon hours) on end.
A few other points. As always, I have to repeat my mantra regarding the subjective, personal nature of reviewing in general, and how a list like this is even doubly so. With regard to the rankings, it’s always an utter nightmare, but the Top Ten chosen here are generally quite firm in order. There is a bit more leeway with the next 10 names, as a tiny handful could go up or down one to two places of where they are at the present time. I’m most undecided about the placement of the last 10 which are the most subject to fluctuations in order. One reason why is because perfumistas are a fickle bunch who can change their mind from one month to the next, and I’m no exception. The other reason is that I’ve gone back and forth on a few scents, switching their places repeatedly until I just gave up in the end. So, for now, this is where things are, for the most part. Finally, you will notice that some of my summary descriptions are verbatim from my list of best, new releases of 2014 or from my mid-2014 best or favorites list. My apologies in advance. Covering almost 60 fragrances in two days is rather an exhausting process, so I hope you will forgive me.
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.
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.