Blog post by Gwen
The last few years have seen a growth in interest in perfumes made from natural ingredients, and perfumers have been responding. But long before Douglas Little, Liz Moores or Hiram Green (all favourites here at the niche, by the way) there was Officina Profumo – Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella (Perfume and Pharmaceutical Workshop of Holy Mary Novella) or just ‘Santa Maria Novella’.
It was founded in 1221 by Dominican Friars, who built a monastery just outside the gates of Florence after they arrived there. The friars began making herbal balms, salves, ointments and creams from the herbs grown in their gardens for the monastery’s infirmary. Word of these herbal remedies spread and in 1612, the pharmacy was open to the public and is still producing small-batch hand creams, body lotions and fragrances, based on original formulas using natural oils, essences and herbs grown on the hills around Florence and, yes, their own garden.
The Dominican Friars also made powders. This is Florence after all, and tradition of working leather there dates back into antiquity. The tanning process is arduous, dirty and, back in the day, it was really, really stinky, so fine leather goods, like gloves, were scented with perfume or powder. As it happens, one of my favourite scents from Santa Maria Novella, Marescialla, started as a powder created by Countess D’Aumont, the wife of a French Marshall, to perfume her gloves. There’s a whole story about the Countess D’Aumont being a witch, influencing Catherine de Medici with magic and getting burned at the stake - but that’s a rabbit hole for another day.
Marescialla eau de cologne was first produced in 1828 and remains one of the most popular fragrances in the Santa Maria Novella catalogue, which is remarkable because it isn’t a romantic scent or a classic scent but a unique, evocative and enticing fragrance.
It opens, with a burst of citrus: nose-tingling bergamot and waxy lemon backed with a blast of earthy, spicy mace. It’s a pungent wake-up call. The citruses and mace soon settle on a note of cedarwood that’s piney, woody and austere. There’s a moment after the mace recedes, where I smell lemon-polished wood – not fresh wood, but antique wood. It puts me in mind of the polished pews in an old Gothic church, and it makes me smile to myself every time I experience it. There’s a note of Rosa centifolia, that floral, rosy and honey-faceted rose from Grasse. It mellows out next to the cedarwood creating a lovely floral, slightly sweet camphorous accord. The woodiness is extended to the base with rich, creamy sandalwood, bitter, inky oakmoss and earthy woody patchouli. The woods are softened and warmed by musk.
I think there must be some magic in Marescialla as it transforms from a dark spicy start into a smooth, sexy, earthy drydown that casts its spell for hours and hours.
Check out Marescialla in our Shop.