Michelle Knapp
Michelle Knapp
Image: Chrsitof Van Der Walt @ One League

Founded in 1612, heritage Florentine brand Santa Maria Novella is the oldest surviving perfumery and pharmacy in the world. What started out as an organic pharmacy by Dominican monks, who produced natural remedies out of herbs, later broadening to oils and scents, is still one of the most illustrious luxury brands today. Santa Maria Novella, which is still in the hands of the original family, is very selective when it comes to who it allows to stock its coveted concoctions – so much so that only a small selection of stores, commonly
referred to as tesoros, meaning hidden gem, exist outside of Florence.

One such boutique can be found in the quaint Waterkant Street on the side of Piazza di Cape Quarter in little ol’ Cape Town. Owned by self-professed Italophile Michelle Knapp, the Cape Town store – opened in 2012 – is a destination unto itself. Before you begin sampling the sumptuous lotions and potions one is struck by the stunning décor of what can only be described as a lavish apothecaryesque shrine. The olfactory joyride begins as guests are transported to cobble-stoned Firenze in an instant, engulfed in subtle yet invitingly clean unisex aromas that send you into a heady trance.

Image: Christof Van Der Walt @ One League

It ends on an even higher note as you listen to captivating stories of Santa Maria Novella’s 600-year heritage told by the exuberant Knapp, who clearly has an ardent passion for her products. In the early 15th century Santa Maria Novella designed a scent known as Acqua della Regina, or Water of the Queen, for Catherine de Medici’s wedding to Henry II of France. The resulting citrus-based cologne water with Calabrian bergamot is the earliest recorded nod towards celebrity fragrances.  

The ancient scent remains relevant today, even lending inspiration to avant-garde new designers such as Katherine-Mary Pichulik of Pichulik – last year’s African Fashion International Accessory Designer of the Year. Earlier this year Pichulik released a new collection of her inimitable accessories called Pietra Terra, inspired wholly by Santa Maria Novella’s range.

“The perfumery has been making artisanal perfumes in Florence for centuries, and the workmanship and luxury represented by each Santa Maria Novella product reflects the  Pichulik ethos,” she says. If anything, Santa Maria Novella has shown that quality never goes out of style by remaining in vogue for five centuries based on a simple philosophy of unrelenting quality richly steeped in Italian heritage. 

Cape Quarter Lifestyle Village, 72 Waterkant St, Cape Town. 
021 425 8181.

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