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.
Photo by spinning pieces