An all-Italian record that dates back to the Middle Ages. It is an ancient story of aromatic herbs, mixtures of berries, leaves and flower petals typical of the Tuscan hills, distillates and ointments, colognes for centuries adored by queens and actresses who have them delivered in stunning packages from the museum-store in Via della Scala 16, Florence all over the world.
The Officina del Profumo di Santa Maria Novella has been creating, producing and distributing high-end perfumes and cosmetics since 1221, originally founded as an apothecary by Dominican friars. In 2020, the engineer Eugenio Alphandery, an entrepreneur who in 1989 relaunched
In 2020, the engineer Eugenio Alphandery, an entrepreneur who in 1989 relaunched the ancient preparations, handed this Italian treasure over to Milan-based Italmobiliare (investing holding of Made in Italy brands) led by the Pesenti family. The long and intricate history of the store unfolds in Florence, a city founded by a small community of Dominican friars who arrived from Bologna in November 1221, in what would become the capital of the Renaissance.
Bishop Giovanni da Velletri gave them a piece of land abandoned during the early Middle Ages, in the area where the Church of Santa Maria delle Vigne stood, which was revived thanks to their care and their crops. They later renovated and restored the church and gave it the name Santa Maria Novella.
Caterina dei Medici married Enrico di Valois and commissioned them to produce the fragrance that is still today the best seller of the Officina del Profumo: Acqua della Regina (Queen’s Water)
The Dominicans, who still feature strongly in this long history, though only in the logo of the brand–a shield with black and white mantling depicting a sun and a star–were able to transform the “simples”, that is medicinal herbs and medicinal, into products for the small infirmary at the convent. They created creams, ointments and elixirs to be used for healing in their community.
This was the beginning of a 800-year journey that, following the Middle Ages, was firmly established in the Renaissance, when Caterina dei Medici married Enrico di Valois and commissioned them to produce the fragrance that is still today the best seller of the Officina del Profumo: Acqua della Regina (Queen’s Water). Its citrus fragrance, which encapsulated the elegance and grace of Florence, conquered the courts of France, while elevating the role of the Medici court.
In 1542, the ancient pharmacy was then opened to the public, managed by a lay pharmacist, and it was only in 1612 that it took the name of Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, as we know it today. Over the course of a complex history, the pharmacy remained an important piece of the city of Florence and the history of Italy, from the Medici to the Lorraine Grand Duchy, up to the Kingdom of Italy.
In the nineteenth century, the Officina twice passed from the Dominican friars to public ownership. The first was by way of Napoleonic decree that suppressed all religious orders, while the second and final transfer occurred in 1866 with the unification of Italy. The nineteenth century is also the period in which the workshop was transformed in terms of layout and furnishings, while its products obtained international recognition. In this era, cosmetics and personal care products become very popular, and these same products can still be admired today in the beautiful store at number 16 Via della Scala, a veritable museum that is a must-see for visitors to Florence, with an atmosphere that seems suspended in time.
Frescoed ceilings, marble floors, vases from the 1600s and antique furnishings and the sacristy of the chapel of San Niccolò used from the seventeenth century and renamed the “water room,” decorated with frescoes by Mariotto di Nardo between 1394 and 1424, depicting the ‘Passon of Christ’. In the sales room, there are still iconic products such as the famous potpourri in precious silk bags in burgundy blue and green, embroidered by hand and the packs of Polvere per bianchire le carni (Powder for whitening the flesh) made with iris powder, which has an almond fragrance and gently exfoliates the skin.
The new property blew out the candles on its 800th anniversary, celebrating its status as “the oldest heritage brand in the world
There is rose water from 1381, highly valued for its astringent, refreshing and toning properties, or lavender salts, an ancient medicine of the old pharmacopoeias, known for its stimulating properties due to the pungent odor of ammonia combined with the fresh fragrance of lavender used as a remedy for fainting.
And we mustn’t forget alkermes, the Medici liqueur. But the story of the Officina also looks eagerly to the future. Last fall, the new property blew out the candles on its 800th anniversary, celebrating its status as “the oldest heritage brand in the world.” A new store has been opened in Florence in Via dei Tornabuoni and just a few weeks ago it launched L'Iris, the maison’s first Eau de Parfum.
“We wanted to go back to our own roots and those of the pharmacopoeia: the symbolic flower of Florence is, not surprisingly, an extremely complex raw material,” says Gian Luca Perris, CEO of Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella and creative nose behind L'Iris Eau de Parfum. An undoubtedly ambitious perfume, which revolves around a very precious ingredient: it takes 6 years of growth and maturation before you can extract the precious orris oil from irises.
L’Iris–yes, The Iris, the name chosen for the perfume includes the definite article– is a sensory journey of exceptional elegance, which can be intense and penetrating for those who already know the mysteries of the art of perfumery, and equally bewitching for those who are only just starting out on this adventure. It evokes spring meadows but also velvety summer nights, and invites us to set sail towards a horizon that is both unreachable and restricted by our consciousness.”
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