Scent Sample Sunday: Farmacia SS Annunziata dal 1561

Scent Sample Sunday: Farmacia SS Annunziata dal 1561

Florence is full of wonderful stores and boutiques in historic locations and buildings, but some of the businesses themselves are also historic. One of them is Farmacia Santissima (“SS”) Annunziata dal 1561, an Italian apothecary and perfumery that dates back to the 16th century. The perfumery creates its own fragrances as well as cosmetics and lotions. It has its own page on Fragrantica, with 33 perfumes listed there. I was able to visit the actual store a few weeks ago, on a long-awaited first trip to Florence, and it was well worth it! I discovered its existence thanks to a wonderful article by The Perfume Society about perfume-shopping in Florence.

The Farmacia is right around the corner from Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, home of Michelangelo’s David, which we were able to see early in the morning, at the first opening of the museum. We were the first visitors into the gallery that day, which was an unforgettable experience — looking down the whole length of the beautiful gallery at that magnificent statue, without anyone else in sight, then slowly approaching it and realizing just how tall David is. It reminded me, in reverse, of how much smaller the painted Mona Lisa looks in real life than how one imagined.

The store itself is charming and beautiful. It is paneled on every wall with floor-to-ceiling cabinets full of bottles and jars, and it has a gorgeous long counter across almost the full length of the back. The staff are friendly, knowledgeable, and fluent in English. Honestly, just visiting the store was a treat in itself. But of course, I couldn’t resist trying several of the fragrances!

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Bottles of products at Farmacia SS Annunziata dal 1561

One I particularly liked is Regina, an eau de toilette with notes of rose, unnamed “floral notes”, ylang-ylang, honey, rice, amber, iris, and chamomile. The most prominent notes are iris, rice, and honey, but ylang-ylang and chamomile are noticeable also. The strongest impression I get from it on my skin is that of a lovely, flowery powder. It is soft and honeyed without being sugary. The iris note is based, of course, on Florentine iris, a traditional and costly source of the prized orris butter that goes into many fragrances; its preeminence in Regina is a beautiful remembrance of lovely Florence.

I don’t really smell rose in isolation from the other notes; in fact, when I first spray Regina, I smell iris right away. But it is an iris supported by other flowers, so I’m sure the rose is there! The ylang-ylang adds a polleny yellow flower aspect to the scent, which enhances the notes of rice and honey, lending Regina a golden tone that is both light and warm.

This is an unusual combination of notes, especially with the chamomile that is so rarely used today in fragrances. One exception is the much commented-on recent release from Gucci, Memoire d’Une Odeur, which I tried the other day and liked very much; there has been a lot of online chatter about Alberto Morillas’ use of chamomile in that fragrance. I love green and herbal notes in fragrance, so chamomile appeals to me (and I like chamomile tea, so I’m predisposed to like it as a scent). Regina feels quite linear to my nose, which I don’t mind at all because it is such a pretty, appealing scent.

When we visited Florence and the Farmacia, Italy was suffering from the same heat wave that affected all of Europe in late July. Upon our return, the weather here at home has been almost as hot, and twice as humid. Regina is an ideal summer fragrance, with its light touch and notes of summery blossoms. It has a base note of amber, but this amber is delicate and does not overwhelm or overpower the rice, powder, and summer flowers. I often turn to one of Hermes’ Jardin fragrances in this kind of heat, or Penhaligon’s Blasted Bloom, as they both have a cooling, refreshing effect, but Regina will join my regular summer rotation.

Blogger Kafkaesque has written about Farmacia SS. Annunziata, noting the quality and reasonable prices of its fragrances. Have you tried any of them? If you were to choose a fragrance for a hot summer day in Florence, what would you choose?

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Fragrance Friday: Terre d’Iris

Fragrance Friday: Terre d’Iris

Another bottle from my Collection Voyage of Miller Harris fragrances is Terre d’Iris.  I like it very much but I don’t feel I fully understand it yet. Fragrantica says it “represents a fragrant journey around the Mediterranean. Calabria bergamot and Sicilian bitter orange open the composition leading to the heart of delicious southern herbs such as rosemary from Dalmatia and clary sage, followed by orange blossom and roses from Tunis and Turkey. The base is composed of patchouli, moss, French fir balsam and Florentine iris.”

I definitely get the opening citrus notes, bergamot and bitter orange. The bitter orange in particular is pleasant and strangely compelling. I generally like green fragrances, with their herbal notes, and although I wouldn’t describe Terre d’Iris as a green fragrance, it is certainly aromatic, with a little bite to its opening. Here is its “scent mosaic”, from the Miller Harris website:

Scent mosaic by Miller Harris perfumes, for Terre d'Iris

Scent mosaic for Terre d’Iris, http://www.millerharris.com

It is important that one of the key notes is not just iris, but “Florentine iris.” Florentine iris is one of the few irises that is considered to be an herb, not just a beautiful flower. Rachel McLeod writes in NaturalLife:  “The most important herbal use for irises to day is the use of the rhizomes from certain species to make orris root for use in perfumery and pot-pourri. Orris root has been one of the most important ingredients in any scent industry from as far back as the 15th century. The scent is rather like sweet violets but its real value is in its ability to fix other scents…. Orris root comes from three closely related irises – Iris germanica, Iris florentina and Iris pallida.”

Iris florentina is now known to be an ancient hybrid of iris germanica, or bearded iris. It has white flowers flushed with mauve. The flower itself is scented although the main value of this iris to perfumery is as a source of orris root and iris butter, which is painstakingly extracted over a period of years from the plant’s rhizomes. Iris florentina is grown mainly in Italy and southern France, but also throughout the Mediterranean, which is truly the “land of iris”, going back to the Egyptians whose use of iris can be documented. Van Gogh often painted iris flowers in Provence, such as the lovely “Field with Irises near Arles”, above, whose vibrant colors were restored in 2015 by stripping off old, yellowed varnish. Isn’t it clever, how the Miller Harris scent mosaic echoes the colors of the Van Gogh painting? You can still see fields of iris, both in Provence and in the Giardino dell’Iris in Florence, the city for which the iris flower has long been a symbol.

Fields of light purple, mauve and white bearded iris flowers in Provence, southern France

Fields of iris in Provence; image from http://www.luxe-provence.com.

As Terre d’Iris dries down, what I smell is the sweetly carroty note that is supposed to be characteristic of orris root. It is not sugary at all; rather, it is the scent of a freshly dug and washed carrot after you bite into it, maybe even with a little dirt still clinging to it (I’m looking at you, oak moss!). I do not smell powder at all in Terre d’Iris, if you think of powdery as the cosmetic. Instead, there are more dry, earthy, woody, herbal tones that contrast with the citrus opening. If I had to describe the iris heart note using non-flowery words, I would say it is smooth and buttery.

Although my bottle came in a Collection Voyage “Pour Elle” set, Terre d’Iris is clearly a unisex scent, as it is described elsewhere. It may even lean a bit more toward masculine than feminine; it would smell marvelous on a man (really, I’m going to have to start experimenting with some of my fragrances on my husband!) while also smelling lovely on a woman.  This is not a girlish fragrance. Very few floral notes, and the ones it has are not strongly present other than the subtle iris. They lend a smoothness and gentleness to the overall experience but I wouldn’t be able to tell that there was any rose in Terre d’Iris if it weren’t listed among the notes. The only fruit notes are in the astringent opening of bergamot and bitter orange.

Will Terre d’Iris become a go-to fragrance for me? Probably not, as I do love my flowers and floral notes. But this is a well-crafted and lovely fragrance that doesn’t smell like anything else out there. It becomes a skin scent pretty soon but I can still smell lingering traces of it on my wrist ten hours after application.  I’m so glad to have this small bottle of it!

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Iris florentina; illustration by Sydenham Edwards.