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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Scent Sample Sunday: Profumo di Pioggia

Scent Sample Sunday: Profumo di Pioggia

Our recent trip to Italy included a few days in Florence, our first visit ever to that beautiful city filled with art. In addition to its essential role in all facets of the Renaissance, Florence also became a center for perfume-making, together with Venice — a craft that notably was imported to France by the Florentine princess who became Queen of France, Catherine de Medici. The world-renowned perfumeries of Grasse, France, have their origin in the fashion she inspired for leather gloves scented with perfumes to mask the odor of the animalic substances used to tan the leather. She brought that fashion with her from Florence.

A small perfumery in Florence, Spezierie Palazzo Vecchio, continues the tradition with what it describes as original formulas from the perfumers who served Catherine de Medici, rediscovered after the catastrophic 1966 flood of the River Arno that wreaked havoc in Florence, in a line called “I Profumi di Firenze.” I can’t speak to the foundations of that claim, but some of the magnificent places we visited, like the church of Santa Maria Novella, suffered extensive damage to the priceless works of art they housed as well as their structures, and their restorations include markers showing how destructively high the floodwaters rose. (A famous series of photographs of the flood can be viewed here).

Although the store in Piazza Signoria (location of the famous scene in the film “A Room With A View” where Lucy Honeychurch faints into the arms of George Emerson, setting in motion the rest of the film’s events) was closed when we first stopped by, I was lucky enough to find it open on our last afternoon in Florence.

Even better — they were having a sale! So of course I came home with several bottles; one scent in particular is quite special, as it won first place in a fragrance competition called “I Profumi di Boboli.” The fragrance is called Profumo di Pioggia, created by Luciana Liberati. The assigned theme for the 2018 contest was “the scent of rain”; the winning fragrance was produced in a limited edition of only 60 bottles, one of which, happily, now belongs to me.

Before anyone gasps at any assumed extravagance, however, I note that the prices of I Profumi di Firenze are much more reasonable in their home boutique than they are in the US, especially during their sale. The most I spent for any single bottle, including a 50 ml bottle of eau de parfum and a 12 ml bottle of extrait, was 25 euros. The others were 20 euros or less. On the other hand, you have to get yourself to Florence to take advantage of that — not exactly the worst option, but not inexpensive either!

Profumo di Pioggia is meant to evoke the smell of a gentle summer rain in the wooded hills above Florence. It includes notes of fig leaf, pomegranate, dew, jasmine, lavender, oud, violet leaf, cedar, and white musk. The perfumer describes it (English translation): “A delicate summer rain enlivens pomegranate flowers. I take refuge under the branches of a fig tree to smell the arrival of summer. The scent of violets and woods from the undergrowth returns to my mind.”

It opens with a gentle green note, which I think is a combination of the fig leaf and violet leaf. Given how much I love green fragrances, this immediately won me over! The floral notes emerge; I definitely smell the jasmine and lavender; I don’t know that I would recognize the smell of pomegranate flowers, so I can’t identify that. The dominant note in the heart phase, though, is rain, or “petrichor.” I love it! So what is petrichor?

The word petrichor was invented by two Australian scientists who introduced it in a 1964 paper on the Nature of Argillaceous Odor (pdf), an investigation into the scent of moistened clay, rock, and sediment. They combined the Greek word for stone, “petra,” and “ichor,” which means “the blood of gods”, to coin a name for the scent of rain.

The mineralogists posited that the scent released by rain isn’t that of water, which itself has no odor, but is actually the aroma of organic compounds accumulated in the atmosphere and on surfaces; these are released when rain falls. The compounds include bacteria called geosmin. These bacteria gives beets their earthy flavor and help make digging up soil in a garden so satisfying and soothing.

Rain also releases aromatic terpenes secreted by plants. Terpenes are hydrocarbons found in the essential oils of plants. They’re what makes a walk in greenery both fragrant and healing.

And when rain falls, geosmin and terpenes fly—or more precisely, they fizz.

One village in India famously has a long tradition of capturing the fragrance of monsoon rains in “mitti attar”, or “the perfume of the earth.” As noted by the author of the New York Times article about it, the scent of rain differs widely from place to place and from climate to climate; the remembered smell of rainfall in the woods of Maine will be very different from that of the rain in India, or the American South, or the hills of Tuscany, but they are equally pleasing. Profumo di Pioggia is a gentle green cross between an aromatic and a floral fragrance, with a softly woody drydown. The wood notes in the base are very subtle; I probably wouldn’t be able to detect oud if it hadn’t been listed among the notes. The cedar and white musk notes are very well blended, so that neither one dominates or “hits” my nose. I do smell something reminiscent of beets, which are rich in the geosmin that is known to be a major component of petrichor scents — a delicate, sweetly earthy smell that fits well with the fig leaf.

I feel very lucky to have visited Spezierie Palazzo Vecchio, where the staff were also delightful, helpful, knowledgeable, and kind. If you get a chance to go to Florence, I recommend a visit! The perfumery is on a side street right off the Piazza Signoria, facing the Palazzo Vecchio, and you won’t want to miss those landmarks or the nearby Uffizi Gallery and its priceless masterpieces.

The non-profit organization that sponsors the contest “I Profumi di Boboli” also offers a multi-month perfume-making course that sounds fascinating if you can return to Florence seven times for its regularly scheduled classes. What a great reason to do that!

Have you tried any Florentine perfumes? Many enthusiasts know and love the fragrances of Santa Maria Novella, which I also visited — to be shared in a future blog post! If you know them, which are your favorites?

Scent Sample Sunday: The Merchant of Venice

Scent Sample Sunday: The Merchant of Venice

I’m ba-a-a-a-ck! I’ve been in and out a lot this summer so haven’t posted as regularly here as I normally do, but summer is officially over in this part of the world. Just the leisure, not the weather! It still hits 90 degrees F daily; the humidity is, if not oppressive, onerous; and the sun is still so strong that lavish applications of sunscreen are still required for palefaces like me. But yes, summer is over. My oldest child has finished her theater apprenticeship and will move into her first independent apartment by the end of this week. My second child moves back into her campus apartment to start her senior year of college. And my “baby”, the young man who is taller than any of us, starts his senior year of high school this week. Orientation for new students at the university where I work begins tomorrow, and we have a new Dean I’ve only met in passing. So it’s the start of a big year for us, and yes — summer is over.

My university job is in administration, so I do work in my office all summer, unlike my faculty colleagues, but I’ve been able to go with my husband on two lovely trips he took for work, one to London in May, and the other, more recently, to Italy. After his work there, we took an extra week of actual holiday for him and visited Florence and Venice, neither of which we had seen before. It will take several posts to describe all the perfume-related activities I did in Florence, so I’ll start off with Venice, where I was a bit more restrained! Venice, however, was also where I was able to visit the perfume exhibit at the Palazzo Mocenigo.

Entrance hall of Palazzo Mocenigo, perfume museum in Venice, Italy

Palazzo Mocenigo entrance hall; image from http://www.veneziaautentica.com

 

This is a relatively new “itinerary” at the museum, and it is well worth visiting. The Palazzo Mocenigo itself is very interesting as an example of a Venice palazzo (short video tour here), and right now it also contains three temporary exhibits, one of which is part of the Venice Biennale: “Brigitte Niedermair: Me and Fashion.”  (For more information about Ms. Niedermair, there is a great article in Wallpaper).

The other two, smaller exhibits are related to perfume: one, “Leonardo: Genius and Beauty,” is described thus:

A little-known aspect of Leonardo da Vinci will come to light in this exhibition organised to mark the fifth centenary of his death: his work as a cosmetologist and perfumer, dedicated to the creation of fragrances and cosmetics. A reconstruction of the lively network of exchanges between the major Renaissance courts enables us to learn of the experiments and recipes for cosmetics that Leonardo shared with the most important female figures of the day. Also on show will be pioneering recipes for depilatory ointments, creams made from snail slime and hair dyes. Leonardo even influenced hairstyles: “Da Vinci knots” are found in many paintings in which hairstyles are embellished with jewels, nets and perfumed fabrics. At the court of Ludovico il Moro in Milan, Leonardo organised parties, designed clothes and costumes, as well as inventing fabrics, jewels and perfumes. The exhibition will highlight the link between Milan and Venice: two cities where the use of perfume was widespread and hairdressers commonly sold cosmetics and perfumes. A specific role in the service of the court was dedicated to a “magister of perfumes”, who procured for the ladies little phials of mixtures for bleaching the hair, a very popular fashion in Venice.

Leonardo: Genius and Beauty.

The other temporary exhibit related to perfume is “Carnet de Voyage: Illustrated Perfume.” It is sponsored by the fragrance line “The Merchant of Venice”, and it is a series of illustrated poems relating back to several of the line’s perfumes, imagining the voyages of an actual Venetian merchant seeking out rare substances to bring back to Venice for the creation of perfumes. Yes, it’s a bit of an infomercial, but a charming one, and I appreciate the support the company is giving to this small museum.

The main, and permanent, perfume exhibition at the palazzo is contained in several rooms upstairs. There is also a perfume laboratory on the ground floor, where one can take a perfume workshop.  The museum’s website includes a detailed description of the perfume exhibit.

I enjoyed all of it, but especially the room devoted to raw ingredients, many of which were beautifully displayed in glass containers on a huge table where one could actually smell them.

Another highlight was a 19th century Venetian perfumer’s organ, a beautiful piece of antique furniture in its own right, apart from its functional interest.

So of course — what does one need as a souvenir of this visit? Why, a fragrance from The Merchant of Venice, of course! On our day trip to the island of Murano, home of the famous glassblowers, we had lunch on a canal directly opposite The Merchant of Venice store. Sadly, it was closed and not due to open until after we planned to return to the city, but it’s a beautiful store with many of its striking Murano glass bottles displayed in its window.

Luckily for me, one of my favorite online fragrance discounters just happened to have some of the same bottles, in tester format, on sale, so when we returned home, I ordered Flower Fusion. It is part of the “Murano Collection” and comes in a really pretty glass bottle swirled with streamers of blue within the clear glass. Top notes are listed on the brand’s website as jasmine, freesia, and ylang-ylang; heart notes are vanilla, patchouli, and labdanum; base notes are damask rose, violet petals, and ginger. Fragrantica lists most of the same notes, but in a different order: top notes are said to be lemon, violet, and ginger; middle notes rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, freesia; base notes labdanum, patchouli, vanilla.

I definitely smell freesia as a strong top note, and since that is a lemony floral smell, I think that’s the source of the lemon note listed on Fragrantica. I do perceive that the jasmine and ylang-ylang follow close on its heels, and then the vanilla makes itself known in the middle stage. I would say that the rose and ginger are part of the middle stage, to my nose, with a hint of violet. The labdanum is also perceptible during the middle stage. This middle phase is very appealing if you like floral scents but don’t want something heavy. I can’t say that it smells quite like anything else I’ve tried recently. As it continues to dry down, the rose, vanilla, labdanum and ginger notes persist, and they combine beautifully. The patchouli emerges, but it does not dominate; it adds a green herbal note to the composition.

I like Flower Fusion very much, and it is perfect to wear on a balmy summer evening. The warmth and humidity suit it, although it might be a bit much at the height of the day, when something like Un Jardin Sur le Nil would probably be my preferred choice. The vanilla lends it a pleasant sweetness without turning it into a gourmand. It lasts well on my skin, perceptible even after several hours, and it would probably last longer if I sprayed more (I tend to spray pretty lightly).

Bottle of Merchant of Venice fragrance Flower Fusion with Murano glass earrings and Massimo Ravinale scarf based on Leonardo da Vinci

Flower Fusion with Murano glass earrings and “Leonardo” scarf by Massimo Ravinale.

Have you visited Venice? The Palazzo Mocenigo? Have you tried any of The Merchant of Venice fragrances? If so, what did you think? Or, have you been able to do any “perfume tourism” of your own this summer?