From a pharmacy to a luxury business, success story from Florence with 400 years of tradition.
When entering the flagship store of Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella in Florence, customers are first and foremost overwhelmed. Without any doubt one knows that this must be a historical place.
The noble entrance hall and ornately decorated portal with its elaborate ornamentation was built in the 19th century. The more guests move inside, the further they travel back to the beginnings of the business in the 13th century – from the first second they are surrounded by the scent of floral essences including rose, magnolia and gardenia.
Shortly after their arrival in Florence in 1221, monks of the Dominican Order began cultivating medicinal herbs in the neighbouring gardens of their prayer room Santa Maria Novella delle Vigne to produce tinctures, balms and pastilles for the small medical station in their cloister.
A short time later the construction of the famous Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, which is today one of the most famous churches in Florence, had begun. The monastery of the Dominicans grew larger and they treated more and more patients with homemade pharmaceutical products. Officially, the year 1612 is considered to be the founding year of the brand of Santa Maria Novella, since back then the monks made the pharmacy accessible for the public and started their business. It gradually became known beyond the European borders in Russia and Asia.
Today’s sales room is the former chapel of the monastery dedicated to the benevolent San Niccolò di Bari. Visitors literally discover the brand’s history step by step. The beautiful marble floors and artistic frescoes tell their own story and form the aesthetic framework for the nostalgically designed flacons, bottles, tubes and soaps.
The collections of luxury beauty products for body, hair and soul are tastefully displayed on antique furniture and set in scene in an delicate dimmed light. Over the last decade, the range has been expanded to include more specials like high end sun protection and anti-aging products, elegant room fragrances and even pet care products. Floral and herbal teas, organic honey, homemade chocolate and sweets are also on offer and are served in the Tisaneria, the tea salon at Via della Scala, on luxurious porcelain of the Florentine brand Richard Ginori founded in 1735.
Eaux de Colognes created for queens and starred on screens
“Until today our products are made mainly on the basis of natural ingredients,” says Cosimo Fabroni, Chief Operating Officer. For example “the soap Sapone a Base di Latte actually contains milk as its name promises,” said Fabroni. Among the first products that are still in the range today are L’Acqua di Rose, a refreshing light perfume for the body and face, and Sapone al Melograno, the company’s famous pomegranate body soap. It is one of 14 soaps in the assortment, which are also all vegetarian and feature tasteful Italian vintage packaging.
Also among the classics and bestsellers is the Eaux de Cologne. The most famous and oldest of the collection is the Acqua di S.M.Novella. It was created for Caterina de’ Medici in 1533 based on bergamot and other citrus fruits grown in Sicily. She had worn it at her wedding to King Henri II of France. Another bestseller from the series of light perfumes is Aqua di Colonia Melograno, starring in the James Bond Movie Casino Royale as a belonging of the Bond Girl Vesper, played by Eva Green. Its base it the fruit of the pomegranate plant which comes originally from the Orient and appears in many art works symbolising wealth and ambition. All 45 Acqua di Colonia have their own story to tell and spread ancient elegance which is never out of fashion.
To produce their perfumes, soaps and creams. Santa Maria Novella operates with its own production plant, only a few kilometers away from the shop, in the Rifredi district where two famous Medici Villas are located. All raw materials and packaging are made in Italy. “The production processes and techniques have evolved over the years, but the classic products are largely based on the same formulas,” explains Fabroni.
The company does not undertake animal testing, which is one reason why the company does not sell in China, since all cosmetic products have to be tested on animals before being imported. The Santa Maria Novella products are 100% made in Italy. The roses cultivated on large fields in Tuscany, citrus fruits are sourced predominantly from Sicily. Customers can also get an overview of all herbs, flowers and fruits by visiting the company’s own flower garden. In Castello, a few hundred meters from the factory, below the Medici Villa Medicea della Petraia, a 15,000 metre squared garden was built a few years ago. It is kind of a window to the variety of cultivated plants that are the basis of the products.
“Our brand is like a beautiful vintage car with a new engine”
Now with 75 stores worldwide, the Italians have created a certain global presence in an excellent environment. Its own stores are located in the chic neighborhoods of major cities such as New York, London and Tokyo, in premium perfumeries and so-called multi-brand stores such as Lodenfrey in Munich. Luxury hotels such as the Four Seasons in Florence use and sell the products in their spas. From the spring of 2019 there will be a Day Spa on Santa Maria Novella on the Tuscan coast.
The development of the traditional brand into an international lifestyle brand has been significantly promoted by President and Co-Owner Eugenio Alphandery. The native Florentine has been working for the company since 1989. His passion for the history and identity of the brand corresponds with his personal passion for classic quality craftsmanship. “For me, the company is like a beautiful vintage car with a handcrafted body, but with a new engine and modern technology. Santa Maria Novella will be opening their first Middle East store in early 2019. They currently have 75 stores around the world including their flagship store in Florence.
By Jessika Maria Rauch