Santa Maria Novella Acqua di Cuba

...oscillates between flowers and between-the-sheets intimacy.

Santa Maria Novella is an Italian line launched in the 16th century by monks who threw their alchemy know-how into floral preparations. These fumehead friars were the first to create an alcohol-based cologne, a little something for Queen Catherine de Medici. They also devised the evocatively named Anti-Hysteria Water, which is still offered, though now known rather less kickily as Acqua di Santa Maria Novella.

The Santa Maria Novella range, packaged in days-of-yore chunky bottles with gold metallic labels, is fetchingly old-world European. The scents are mostly single note affairs, each celebrating a vivid slice of nature, like Opoponax, Magnolia, or Patchouli. The fragrances are generally very hearty. They proclaim “Musk!” or “Vetiver!", and then just sock it to ya, no guesswork required.

After flings with Honeysuckle and Carnation, the one SMN that really socked it to me - and made it past the velvet rope into my personal collection, was Acqua di Cuba.

The start is a tart, brisk citrus, but it’s been and gone before you’ve finished reading this sentence. And then you’re immediately into the business of Acqua di Cuba, which is the tobacco, honey and leather business.

There’s a resonant twang to these notes that leads some on the perfume forums to liken the sour-sweet effect to the smell of semen. But those spunk-sniffers’ sperm-shakes must come from a different soda fountain than mine, because I’m not getting “back room at Cheetah’s” out of Acqua di Cuba. At all.

The tobacco in this eau de cologne has a decidedly vegetal harshness at first. Rather than sugary pipe tobacco, it’s almost like a cigar - one that’s been lit, stubbed out, then dampened.

The leather aspect seems conjured by the intersection between the tobacco and the honey, which is earthy, not dessert-y. This is not the puffball honey-tobacco of By Kilian Back to Black. This is a masculine affair: no vanilla, no raspberry, no Little Bo Peep.

Acqua di Cuba is incredibly tenacious, and smells better the longer it’s on the skin. It does that wonderful shape-shifting thing honey does, where it oscillates between flowers and between-the-sheets intimacy.

I love it, and that’s official: Acqua di Cuba is my favorite tobacco fragrance.

Acqua di Cuba is available from at $110 for 100ml

Photo by spinning pieces


  1. Wow, your single favorite tobacco fragrance? For which you would forsake all others? Let me dig out my decant and revisit this one. I definitely don't recall anything remotely semen-like, thank goodness. The bergamot and dry spices opening made me think it was veering masculine, but I remember really liking the drydown.

  2. This one made me laugh. What do you think of Le Labo Musc 25? I definitely get the semen note when I wear it in hot weather, something I no longer do.

  3. ahsu - yes, Acqui di Cuba is my single favorite tobacco fragrance. And yes, it does veer masculine. But not in a sneezy, dense, "lemme cover my pits with bergamot freshness" way. Just in a "vanilla and sugar is for dessert, not for cologne, ladies" way.

    It's that drydown that gets me.

    occhineri - Le Labo Musc 25 isn't for me, just because blinding, "White Light White Heat" musk fragrances do my head in. And perhaps I "suffer" from semen anosmia, because I can't pick it out of Musc 25. I must work on my semen awareness!

  4. A little Musc 25 goes a long way! My favorite musk is AG Musc Nomade--no headaches or, um, bodily fluids with that one.

  5. I almost REALLY like AG Musc Nomade, but I go in and out of being able to smell it. So weird! But I agree, there's no headaches with that one.

    The musk that I'm crazy about right now is Bruno Acampora Musc oil. It last on the skin sort of...forever - like it permeates your pores or something. And the part some people complain about - the earthy beginning - is a facet I enjoy. In fact, it reminds me a bit of AG Myrrh Ardente's mushroomy-ness.

  6. So reading these two last posts I realized that I LIKE to smell like sex and I do NOT like to smell like food. In my lab, we use a chemical that smells like semen a lot (both it smells a lot like semen and we use it a lot), so the fragrance-style "jism accord" as you put it, is a delight comapared to the carbon-copy smell I get at work. And I like it.

    Is this kinky?

    I'm okay with that.

  7. Hahaha, teresa! I think it would be kinkier if you preferred the carbon-copy "man-juice" to the various perfume interpretations.

    One of the questions I asked Avery Gilbert (but that didn't end up in the final cut) was why gourmand perfumes were so popular at the moment. His answer was that they're comforting and familiar, and ultimately, not very challenging.

    I have a half-baked (with lashings of butter and sugar) theory that it has something to do with the increase of eating disorders - both of ana/bulimic varieties, and of the burgeoning obestity in our western culture.

  8. I know what you mean. The brand philosophy touts their food-heavy fragrances as a guilt free indulgence.

    OH! I heard the philosophy lady going on about this on QVC one time about how after her shower, she can skip breakfast because of the delicious scent-for-breakfast she has had. Well, I looked up some of the "scent-for-breakfast" advertising (for those consumers with shit-for-brains) stuff on their site and it says: "you need this product if... you want to indulge in belgian waffles without the want a calorie free way to indulge in a caramel apple."

    I'm annoyed with this advertising scheme--but kind of delighted that this means I am "smoke-and-a-romp-for-breakfast" gal instead--some days, anyway.

  9. Lol - "romp for breakfast"! That's one way to get your protein.

    Re Philosophy's marketing ploy: there's so much neurotic behavior surrounding food in America, and I guess Philosphy's just making the nuttiness work for them. But my stars, if you want a Belgian waffle, just have it, and enjoy every bite! Eat lovely, wholesome foods - just don't go overboard on them. It's not complicated.

    Or, stuff your face with unsatisfying, low-cal, low-fat "diet food", and then get your sugar ya-yas from junk-food perfume. Doesn't sound so enticing.

  10. I stand by my sperm claims. On paper - honey'n'tobacco'n'lovely. On me - bukkake.

    Lee from the posse.

  11. Hi Lee! So fun to hear from you - I enjoy your posts on Perfume Posse, and always feel homesick for London when I read them (I lived there for 16 years).

    I just skeedaddled over to the Posse to read your and March's Acqua di Cuba impressions, and yeah, it would appear that Cuba violates you both like a raincoated perv on the subway. I must have a different flavor of perv in my life, because I do NOT smell what you're smelling. Thankfully.

  12. Ta, my love.

    I know you lived there/here Katie... I remember you from those days - not personally of course, as I wouldn't "do anything to be on tv" (I'm not imputing you would, of course - I'm sure you'll get the reference!). Though I'm sure I walked past you at Glastonbury once. Do you meet up with Amanda de Cadenet for old time's sake every once in a while for lunch at Yamashiro or Ketchup or somesuch...?

  13. Ha-ha, Lee! I had the best time at Glastonbury - I met Johnny Cash! And no, there's no meeting up with Amanda, though apparently we go to the same hair salon, coincidentally!

  14. I am not an expert "nose" but I absolutely love Aqua de Cuba. It has replaced my long standing favorite Hammam Bouquet from Penhaligon's. I find it so addicting - I can't get enough!

    1. It's so satisfying to have a relationship like that with your fragrance.