Founded in 1612, Santa Maria Novella is one of the oldest perfumeries in the world and a must-see for perfume fans visiting Italy. I made my first pilgrimage to the apothecary in June of last year. The brand’s beginnings can be traced to the arrival of the Dominican friars in Florence circa 1221. Over the centuries the clergy have supplied their herbal preparations from the apothecary accessed by the public from the side of the church on Via del Escala. Zagara was a calculated purchase on my part and a souvenir from my visit to the Florentine perfumery. There is something about Italy that makes me want to smell of eau de cologne. This trip I was in search of the invigorating scent of Calabrian bergamot, Sicilian limes and Italian orange blossoms. Santa Maria Novella provides an excellent lesson in the subtle variations that exist in classic eau de cologne formulas. When played along side a line up of other fragrances it is all too easy to say, “OK, another cologne, a simple blend of citrus, orange blossom, perhaps some lavender, a herb note such as rosemary: all finished with some musk for tenacity”. Exploring the vast array of Santa Maria Novella perfumes and the eau de colognes they offer, you begin to appreciate the subtleties that exist between them. To find my quintessential Italian cologne I had to ask myself what I was looking for. Some were bitter: more lime than sweet oranges. Others were markedly more floral and yet another was fresh like the Norsca soap I used growing up. In the end it was one of the house’s more recent releases, Zagara (1996) that won me over with its convivial bouquet of Sicilian orange blossoms.
Zagara is everything you expect and everything you want an eau de cologne to be: a refreshing oasis of citrus fruits, bergamot, grapefruit, lime and sweet orange. In its first minute of life you can enjoy mentally picking all the different fruits until they begin to merge down into a singular citrus note. At this time green, slightly woody petit grain takes effect with blooms of orange blossom, carnation and jasmine. The fragrance is fixed with oak moss and I suspect musk. The thing I like most about Santa Maria Novella fragrances is their esoteric quality that transcends both time and perfume consumer trends.
I wouldn’t be surprised to smell this on George Clooney as he zips around Lake Como on his motorbike. Zagara brings back that old world charm missing from so many of today’s men’s fragrances. This is Sinatra instead of Jay Z, Mad Men instead of Jersey Shore. It is simple, to the point and perfect for summer. This is the scent of clean before chemists began loading our laundry powders with macrocyclic musks.
Santa Maria Novella Acqua di Sicilia, Santa Maria Novella Colonia, Santa Maria Novella Colonia Russa, Guerlain Eau Imperiale, Acqua di Parma Colonia.
Release date: 1996
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Floral