2012: The Anniversary Year
400 years old, but it doesn't look it, also thanks to radical restoration, which a virtually all-female team has been working on for more than seven months now.
Young graduates from the famous Opificio delle Pietre Dure, one of the world's top restoration schools.
We're talking about Officina Profumo - Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, more commonly referred to as Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella. Back in the late fourteenth century, the Dominican friars of the church of the same name sold rose water as a disinfectant, used in particular during epidemics.
The friars grew the medicinal herbs in an adjacent garden.
They distilled herbs and flowers and prepared essences, elixirs, ointments and balms. The present-day perfumery dates back to 1612 when it also functioned as an apothecary's shop. One hundred years after opening, its products were exported as far away as the Indies and China.
Today it is regarded as one of the oldest commercial activities in the whole of Europe. It is located in genuinely monumental surroundings, adorned with decorations from various eras: cross-vault ceilings, rich in frescoes, in places also embellished with stucco-work.
The walls still conserve their seventeenth-century furnishings with old ceramic pots and instruments: stills, moulds for soap, candles and tablets, thermometers, mortars, scales and measuring equipment.
In 1866 it became municipal property and was rented by the family of Fra' Damiano Beni, the friar who managed to make the activity carry on in spite of nineteenth-century suppression.
The business is still managed by his heirs today. But the person who has made a real turnaround to the knowledge of this magical place is the current owner, Eugenio Alphandery. A cultural and refined man, respectful of the past, he is also a modern innovator, especially when it comes to marketing and communication.
In the last twenty years, he has increased the number of employees from 5 to 87, in the pharmacy along Via della Scala, which has also become a museum, and the manufacturing centre along Via Reginaldo Giuliani.
The Officina now produces approximately 700 items, from liqueurs to eaux de cologne, pot-pourri, soap and candles as well as numerous cosmetic specialities. Tradition and innovation with the help of modern technology and cutting-edge machinery.
Whereas women went in search of powder to whiten meat at the beginning of the last century, today's ladies, who love a suntan, can find a range of sun products on the old seventeenth-century counter.
Big international names from noble European families have been unable to resist the loveliness of these products as well as many young people interested in the strictly artisanal formulae. How can we not celebrate the 400 years of success?
In May there'll be a big event held in Piazza Santa Maria Novella and in the Iris Garden in San Polo in Chianti, where the Officina's irises are grown during full flowering. But the programme will be a complete surprise.