Santa Maria Novella

I have been reading Rita Konig extolling the virtues of Santa Maria Novella pot pourri for ten years now since I first read her book Domestic Bliss. But it took Abigail Ahern shoving it under my nose at the weekend for me to actually go and buy some. This is a sort of interior design hero version of the six degrees of separation as Abigail first smelt this fragrance in Rita’s Manhattan apartment.

When two people you greatly admire tell you to do something, you listen. And so on Monday I took a trip to the Piccadilly Arcade, a beautiful little arcade of specialist shops that sits between Piccadilly and Jermyn Street.

Santa Maria Novella sits on the Piccadilly end of the arcade and it looks as if it’s been there since the arcade opened in 1909. It’s actually only been there for a couple of years (they have a more established flagship shop in Walton Street) and the reason for this is the shop fittings. The space was originally a chemist and is perfectly equipped for life as a posh soap shop as incredibly all the shop fittings are original and are listed. Apparently all Santa Maria Novella had to do when they moved in was give the cabinets a bit of a wipe down and stock the shelves with fragrant soapy goodness.

This tiny shop is stupidly pretty and cute. But not in a granny-ish Yardley kind of way. The wooden cabinets are lined to the ceiling with bars and bars of soap and behind the counter the glass backed shelves are stacked with bottles of rose and orange blossom water, a view that wouldn’t look out of place in the cocktail bar of a swanky London hotel.

And let’s face it, who doesn’t like a shop with a huge chandelier hanging from the ceiling?

The shop has that lovely old fashioned smell of proper soap, a smell that makes me think of floral tea dresses and bicycles with baskets on. When I was there an elegant, elderly gentleman in a pin striped suit came in after some soap and said he’d been wearing their cologne for years. It’s that sort of place.

The packaging is, of course, undeniably lovely.

The Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella was founded in 1221 by Dominican friars in Florence and is one of the oldest pharmacies in the world. The pharmacy has been selling their products since 1612 and so even though this shop has only been there for a couple of years it has an incredible heritage.

Now I know the thought of pot pourri conjures up visions of 1980s bowls of dusty dried out pine cones but Santa Maria Novella’s is different. For a start it’s moist, a bit like a bag of real tea but with twigs and bits of dried fruit in. I definitely wanted to eat it, just a little nibble on one of the semi-dried capers, but I managed to restrain as I didn’t think it’d taste as good as it looks or smells.

The fragrance is slightly masculine; I can smell mostly sandalwood and orange. It’s not cheap at £20 for a small bag but I have distributed four small bowls around our flat and I’ve only used about half of it. By all accounts it last for months and months, requiring just a stir now and again and so compared to a scented candle, which really only emits fragrance when you burn it, I think the pot pourri probably represents pretty good value for money.

The fragrance is strong but subtle and I’ve been getting a lovely hit of it every time I walk into a room. The inexplicable smell of haddock that our kitchen has suffered from lately has finally been eradicated and for me that makes it a winner.

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    • We never even eat fish at home, it was very strange. And unpleasant. Oh no poor Milo that’s not good! I can totally see why he ate it though.

  1. Oh, I’m a total sucker for nice packaging! I’m sold on that alone. I’m picky with soaps though, any of them that are made with glycerine make me feel sticky. I’ll be déclassé and stick to my drugstore-purchased Dove bars. But I always love it when people leave a fancy bar in the packaging on a guest bathroom sink, just for aesthetics!

    • Get you with your posh French words!! Yes me too but I’m never quite sure if you’re supposed to use them or if they’ll be disappointed that you opened it. I would be!

    • Yes I know it’s amazing isn’t it? I’m developing a bit of a thing for all things old and botanical I think.

  2. Ah, this looks blissful. I love shopping in places like this, well thought out and smelling diving. Where it’s as much about the experience as it is about the purchase. I wish I could smell your potpourri! And your haddock comment made my day!
    Lauren recently posted..hydrangea heaven {life}My Profile

  3. How lovely! I went to Florence recently and just had to visit the original SMN pharmacy. I stocked up on a few colognes while I was there… so hard to choose from so many beautiful scents!
    Oh, pretty blog btw! Got here via the BYW Facebook page :)
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  4. Well, I have to admit that I haven’t given potpourri serious thought until now. I’ve always been a crazy candle lady like Erin. If there is one thing I do love it’s a great smelling home; The scent of orange is one of my favorites. So, now I’m wondering if they sell this potpourri Stateside.
    I agree, the packaging is beautiful. Reminds me of the work of graphic designer Louise Fili (
    Theresa / inspirationCOOP recently posted..{mini-view: such small steps…}My Profile

  5. I’ve been to the SMN in Florence many times. To be honest, I never go for the products but for the sheer visual treat and utter nostalgia for these kind of shops. When you live in London in high street chains hell for the past 20 years it is such a treat to visit such gems.

    The shop in the Arcade is a real little treasure trove and complements the area with adjacent Fortnum and Mason and Jermyn Street.

    I’m not a fan of PP but your review makes it enticing so will go and check it out for myself.

    Fascinated by the Haddock smell. Sure it wasn’t Hake or Halibut….. x
    tina recently posted..southbank as inspirationMy Profile

    • Well according to Richard it was haddock. I couldn’t smell it until he walked through the door. Go figure.

  6. the light in the first pic has such a romantic feeling. i am a sucker for pretty packaging, and these packages are something else. so divine! i’ve always associated pot purri with old ladies houses, time to view it through fresh eyes xxx
    leah of sang the bird recently posted..{this moment}My Profile

  7. If you ever get the chance, their shop in Florence is absolutely the most beautiful shop I’ve ever been to. I bought the lilac oil which I used up in a flash, and also the carnation scent which unfortunately proved far too overwhelming and dramatic for me when I got it home … a Borgia princess could have worn it!

    • Carnation scent? I can’t even imagine what that smells like! Sounds like I’m going to have to squeeze in a trip to Florence somehow….

  8. I must’ve walked past this store a dozen of times. I was puzzled because I’ve always relate the name Santa Maria Novella as an order of nun in Italy. I stayed in one of their convents before. I had no idea about their pharmacy being one of the oldest in the world. Guess I should stop and poke around the next time I walk pass the shop.
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