Many of the world’s major fashion houses were founded in Italy and it comes as no surprise that Italians are widely praised for their impeccable sense of style. This also extends to fragrances, with men and women alike favoring lush, luxurious scents that capture the Italian penchant for vitality.
Most historians place Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella in Florence as the birthplace of the fragrance industry. The monastery-convent-pharmacy is forever linked with Catherine de’ Medici, who, at the young age of 14, commissioned the Officina to create her own signature scent. The fragrance instantly became an aromatic sensation that helped lay the foundations for the European perfume industry.
Catherine de’ Medici’s citrus-based cologne water of Calabrian bergamot, “Acqua della Regina” or “Water of the Queen,” could be interpreted as being the world’s first celebrity fragrance. It introduced the concept of perfume to other royal courts in the wake of Catherine’s marriage in 1533 to Henry II of France and interest only increased when the Medici’s personal perfumer, Renato Bianco, opened a perfume boutique. The royal essence soon became the most desired scent across the most fashionable courts of Europe. The trend for luxurious fragrances was then maintained by other Italian perfume lovers, including Cosimo de’ Medici, Isabella and Alfonso d’Este and the notorious Lucrezia Borgia. This new sensation that first began in Florence’s Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella rapidly began taking over the world.
The creation of the history-making perfume is just one chapter in the ongoing story of the Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella. One of the oldest pharmacies in the world, it is now in its fifth century of continuous business. Well before its days of acclaim for creating the most sought after scents, the institution was best known for its medicinal capabilities.
The pharmacy had its origins in the early 13th century, when monks cultivated medicinal herbs in the monastery garden. Their original intent was to provide medications for the adjacent convent’s infirmary. During the ensuing centuries, the reputation of the pharmacy’s curative creations reached far and wide, but it was not until 1612 that the Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella opened its pharmacy doors to the public. It was in that year that the Grand Duke of Tuscany honored the convent with the official title of the Royal Highness’ Foundry.
Today, Santa Maria Novella is an apothecary empire, with stores in major Italian cities and around the world. The original premises on Via della Scala, which include a church, pharmacy and museum, have been restored to their full former splendor. Architectural highlights include a Matteo Nigetti doorway to the Antica Spezieria and fantastic vaulted ceilings depicting 18th century motifs, such as sphinxes and masks, with gilded angels on corner pedestals.
It would be hard to imagine that the monks who tended their small garden could foresee the longevity of their carefully created potions. From the Renaissance era, devotees of Catherine de’ Medici’s Acqua della Regina, to the patronage by royalty and celebrities of today, it is clear that Santa Maria Novella’s heritage, although humble and traditional, was always visionary. Acqua di Santa Maria Novella’s bottle is reminiscent of the glass designs the brand has used over the past two centuries of its history. This historic fragrance retails for $125 for the 3.4 ounce size.
Today, you will find that some of the finest Italian fragrances bear the names of leading fashion brands such as Prada, Bulgari and Gucci, all of which consistently produce best-selling scents. Here, we guide you through some of the best Italian perfumes.
We begin with the iconic Prada Infusion d’Iris fragrance. Established in 1913 as a leather and luxury goods company, Prada is now one of the biggest Italian fashion brands in the world. Prada also offers top beauty products, with Infusion d’Iris one of the cult buys. The perfume offers a citrus, woody composition; notes of mandarin, iris, cedar and vetiver also combine in this powdery, yet fresh fragrance. Although a 3.4 ounce spray (100 ml) will cost $160 from prada.com, you should be able to find the fragrance online for a bit less.
Carthusia Gelsomini di Capri eau de parfum is produced by one of Italy’s most admired fragrance brands, thanks to its selection of the purest natural ingredients from the Isle of Capri. Gelsomini di Capri, one of Carthusia’s most popular fragrances, evokes the sun-drenched island with its notes of sweet jasmine, bright bergamot and Mediterranean citrus. You will find it online priced at about $90 for the 50 ml size.
Women who choose Bottega Veneta Knot eau de parfum can escape to the Italian Riviera every time they wear the fragrance. Using notes of clementine, neroli, orange flower, rose and white musk, the perfume has the sensations of the fabled Italian coast on a summer evening. Uplifting and evocative, it is a wonderful Italian fragrance. The 2.5 ounce bottle retails for $163 at Nordstrom, but you should also check online pricing.
Acqua di Parma Colonia was the Italian brand’s first foray into fragrance in 1916. The century that has passed has shown that this creation has stood the test of time, remaining one of the world’s best-loved scents. The notes of Sicilian citrus, crisp lavender and warm sandalwood ensure Colonia has universal appeal. To this day, the renowned fragrance remains a hallmark of style and sophistication. The 3.4 ounce spray is available for $175 at Bloomingdale’s.
For more than 130 years, Bvlgari has created some of the world’s finest jewelry pieces and the house has continued its style evolution with a series of fragrances. Bvlgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Noir was inspired by the scent of black tea, Damascus rose, leather and tobacco in a beautiful, elegant evening scent. It is also one of the house’s most affordable fragrances, retailing for $78 for a 5 ounce spray.
Finally, let us not forget scents for men. One of the most innovative to reach the market in recent years is Gucci Guilty Absolute. This masculine fragrance epitomizes the Gucci man. It is the result of a special collaboration between Alessandro Michele and perfumer Alberto Morillas. Gucci Guilty is an intoxicating, woody scent, with leather notes playing a major role in the fragrance. A nod to the ultimate Gucci material, patchouli oils, vetiver and GoldenWood, a Gucci trademarked ingredient, completes the line-up. The 5 ounce spray retails for $130.
When you ponder the scent that will let you put your best forward and leave others noting your sweet smell of success, there are many choices available, but you need only look toward Italy and fragrances for the answer.