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Sales Hall, Farmacia di SMN in Florence by Sailko, 09/22/2009

The last few years have seen a growth in interest in perfumes made from natural ingredients, and perfumers have been responding. But long before Douglas Little, Liz Moores or Hiram Green (all favourites here at the niche, by the way) there was Officina Profumo – Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella (Perfume and Pharmaceutical Workshop of Holy Mary Novella) or just ‘Santa Maria Novella’.

It was founded in 1221 by Dominican Friars, who built a monastery just outside the gates of Florence after they arrived there. The friars began making herbal balms, salves, ointments and creams from the herbs grown in their gardens for the monastery’s infirmary. Word of these herbal remedies spread and in 1612, the pharmacy was open to the public and is still producing small-batch hand creams, body lotions and fragrances, based on original formulas using natural oils, essences and herbs grown on the hills around Florence.

The Dominican Friars also made powders. This is Florence after all, and tradition of working leather there dates back into antiquity. The tanning process is arduous, dirty and, back in the day, it was really, really stinky, so fine leather goods, like gloves, were scented with perfume or powder. As it happens, one of my favourite scents from Santa Maria Novella, Marescialla, started as a powder created by Countess D’Aumont, the wife of a French Marshall, to perfume her gloves. There’s a whole story about the Countess D’Aumont being a witch, influencing Catherine de Medici with magic and getting burned at the stake - but that’s a rabbit hole for another day.

Marescialla eau de cologne was first produced in 1828 and remains one of the most popular fragrances in the Santa Maria Novella catalogue, which is remarkable because it isn’t a romantic scent or a classic scent but a unique, evocative and enticing fragrance.

It opens, with a burst of citrus: nose-tingling bergamot and waxy lemon backed with a blast of earthy, spicy mace. It’s a pungent wake-up call. The citruses and mace soon settle on a note of cedarwood that’s piney, woody and austere. There’s a moment after the mace recedes, where I smell lemon-polished wood – not fresh wood, but antique wood. It puts me in mind of the polished pews in an old Gothic church, and it makes me smile to myself every time I experience it. There’s a note of Rosa centifolia, that floral, rosy and honey-faceted rose from Grasse. It mellows out next to the cedarwood creating a lovely floral, slightly sweet camphorous accord. The woodiness is extended to the base with rich, creamy sandalwood, bitter, inky oakmoss and earthy woody patchouli. The woods are softened and warmed by musk.

I think there must be some magic in Marescialla, as it transforms from a dark spicy start into a smooth, sexy, earthy drydown that casts its spell for hours and hours.

The people at Santa Maria Novella tell me that Marescialla is unisex, but the opening does skew more towards men; still, Italian women have no trouble wearing it and neither do I.

Marescialla is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $5.00 for 1 ml.

Image-Wikipedia-Sales Hall, Farmacia di SMN by Sailko, Sept. 22, 2009


A few years ago I wrote about Fan di Fendi Leather Essence, how my daughter and I had tried it, loved it, then each bought a bottle, although for different reasons. For her, it had the “Italian chic factor” which added to her enjoyment of a much-loved and used Fendi bucket-bag I’d gifted her. For me, the sensuous leathery waft of the scent stirred memories of that summer in Italy when I’d bought the Fendi bag and fallen in love with Rome and all things Italian.   

I mused that one day I might write about the very first Fendi fragrance, which was named simply Fendi, a fragrance I deeply love and wore a lot in the late ‘80’s and ‘90’s, when power-house scents were part of the workplace dress-code for women. Fendi has since been discontinued, of course, along with the fabulous Fendi Theorema– only the best die young in Perfumeland it seems - but I own a vintage bottle and I thought that at some time in the future I would share some of my precious Fendi EdT with our readers. Well, that day is now. 

Fendi is one of the “big hair and shoulder pads” designer fragrances of the 1980’s. Giorgio by Giorgio of Hollywood, Diva by Ungaro, Chanel’s Coco preceded Fendi’s 1985 launch, others like Boucheron and Balenciaga’s Rumba followed soon after. Unlike the others, Fendi has an earthy refined kind of chic glamour, a darkness that conveys luxury and feminine power without being overwhelming, which makes it the best of the bunch, in my opinion.

The design house, FENDI, started in Rome in 1918 and became known for its fur and leather designs for women. The floral chypre fragrance opens with sparkling aldehydes and notes of green citrusy bergamot which immediately morph into a dry mossy accord with notes of rosewood and smoke and a funky feral warmth, leather and fur, purring.  Is this chypre a pussycat or a wildcat...

The mossy sueded leather accord sweetens as Fendi moves into the floral heart, which is honeyed and warm, sweet with indolic wafts of white florals jasmine and tuberose, luxurious and rich with exotic spiciness from deep-scented rose and carnation. Orris and geranium add damp bitter green complexity, balancing the honeyed sweetness and opening the floral heart to release hints of leather and wisps of smoke. The heart is floral perfection, rich and enigmatic…the purring continues.

Fendi base notes weave into a deep dark silky smooth blanket. Resinous cedarwood and creamy sandalwood and earthy patchouli, skin-soft musk, caramelized amber, dark vanilla and benzoin, cradle the floral heart in baroque luxury. Mossy, spicy, floral, honey-sweet, woody, leathery, Fendi "floral chypre" has become Fendi "classic Oriental", warm, deep and complex, mysterious and exotic, decadent, elegant, intense, feminine, powerful and beautiful, and purring like a wildcat.

Fendi is a big powerful scent so a little goes a long way. I’ve always worn a single spritz on wrists and neck, which lasts for hours, and I don’t wear it often, so my late 80’s bottle is still two-thirds full. Some things just get better with age, like cheese, wine, whiskey, Fendi handbags. I'm not certain that perfumes smell better as they age, maybe it’s the fact that the person smelling them has aged, but more years of living has made me love and admire Fendi even more. 

Long out of production and extremely hard to find anywhere, here is the original Fendi for you to try. 

Fendi is listed in our Decant Store. Decants are $10.00 for 1 ml.

Image - - Fendi 100ml EdT bottle, vintage. 

Welcome to

"She smelled the way the Taj Mahal looks by moonlight."

                                                                       Raymond Chandler

We are Gwen and Kay, two perfumistas making our scent journey in the cool, clear North.  We are also BFFs - we hang out together a lot, travel together - so we try, buy and share fragrances.

What started out as a shared interest grew into a hobby, and has now become our obsession.

We’ve spent many evenings with a glass of prosecco, a little cool jazz playing in the background, spritzing, sniffing - “How does this smell on you?” and, sadly, sometimes scrubbing.

We’ve tested and tried hundreds of samples over the years, and when we deemed a fragrance ”full bottle worthy” (FBW), one of us has tracked it down and bought it. We now own a lot of really great perfumes, and we continue to buy bottles of what we think is the best of "niche" as new scents are launched.

Also, we include many perfume "classics" that are the foundations of modern perfumery - like Shalimar, Chanel No.5, Eau Sauvage - plus other perfume "gems" that have been discontinued, or were ahead of their time when launched but now fit perfectly in the Niche category. 

With so many exciting discoveries, we can’t help but talk about our passion with other friends. Wherever we go, people ask “What is that perfume you’re wearing? Where can I get that?” So we end up sharing a bit of our “juice” with friends. But the circle has grown, so we've started this website to let others buy and try samples from our collections and experience the fragrant beauty we write about.


We blog

We blog once a week and post a story about a scent from our collections, and add it to our Decant Store. We're not scent critics, so these aren't negative reviews. We love all our fragrances  - that’s why we bought them! But we describe how we think they smell, and share our stories about why we love them - maybe you’ll rediscover an old flame, or fall in love with a new scent.

Or we post conversations about whatever has grabbed our attention recently. Or we write about a specific perfume note,  and offer a Decant Pack, which allows you to explore new territory by trying 3 or 4 fragrances in a special pack at a special discount price.

We sell

We sell 1 ml. decants - .7 ml volume once you allow for the stopper in the vial - filled from our own bottles in our collection because the only way to experience a fragrance is to try it on your own skin. We take the fragrance from its original bottle and decant it into a smaller brand-new, 1 ml sterilized glass vials so that you can try it on your skin to see if you like it.

Through our Decant Store you'll have access to some of the world’s greatest niche scents, hard-to-find fragrances, and classic favourites. 

When you click on the Decant Store tab you’ll find our personal descriptions of each of the fragrances we currently offer from our collection, then you can add them to your Shopping Cart.

Let's be clear (this is a disclaimer!!)

  • We don’t sell full bottles of any fragrance - just .7ml decants. We only sell decants  from the perfumes we've bought.... because we love them.
  • We don't re-sell manufacturers samples.
  • We don’t represent any perfumers or distributors, so we don’t have every scent from a whole line of perfume.
  • We aren’t being paid to promote any product or scent.

If, after sampling a fragrance, you decide that you must have it, i.e. it is FBW (full bottle worthy), and you can’t find it, e-mail us and we will direct you to the best source we know – retail store or online source.

We provide

A place for you to learn about scent, and to share your fragrance experience with others. Click on the section called Resources, under My Perfume Notes (see top right), where  you'll find a Glossary, and fragrance FAQs. You'll also find two great tools we've created - Handmaps and My Sample Perfume Notes - so you can keep track of, and record your own scent experiences.
We hope you enjoy, and visit us often. Leave your preconceptions behind, look around, see what’s on offer, read the Blog, share your experiences and discoveries, and join the circle.

It’s just us.