Santa Maria Novella Moves Up in the Perfume World

When it comes to luxury brand storytelling, Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella would be hard to beat.

Founded in 1221 by Dominican friars in Florence, Italy, Santa Maria Novella (as it is commonly known) is a niche high-end beauty brand that has survived the plague known as Black Death, the Italian wars throughout the Renaissance, two world wars and countless political upheavals to produce soaps, skin care items and other personal products that figure on many gift lists.

And few consider a visit to Florence complete without going to Santa Maria Novella’s store-cum-museum, which includes a former chapel, sacristy and garden.

“But we are not a museum,” Gian Luca Perris, the chief executive officer, said in a video call. “We want to respect the real tradition of Santa Maria Novella, which lies in research and innovation.”

In 2020 he was appointed to the post by the Italian investment company Italmobiliare, Santa Maria Novella’s then-new owner.

Mr. Perris, a trained “nose” in perfume making, did not waste time. This year, he introduced the maison’s first eau de parfum, named L’Iris, a homage to the city of Florence because the iris is its heraldic symbol.

Although Santa Maria Novella has been renowned for its fragrances — its first was a distilled rose water used for its cleansing properties still sold today — those were scented waters and eau de colognes, which are constructed differently than an eau de parfum, Mr. Perris said. (Also, an eau de cologne generally contains 4 to 6 percent of the essential oil that imparts fragrance while, in contrast, an eau de parfum contains 10 to 20 percent.)

For the eau de parfum, the Florentine concreta d’iris was blended with leafy green scents and flowers, such as magnolia and jasmine. “It was very important to start with the iris flower, not only because it symbolizes Florence,” Mr. Perris said, “but also because the iris’s quality from Tuscany is the best and rarest in the world.” It is available in 50 milliliters, or 1.6 fluid ounces ($164) and 100 milliliters ($245).

Mr. Perris intends to continue expanding the brand’s fragrance range, a sector that has been doing well globally.

Niche high-end perfume businesses such as Santa Maria Novella have been growing nearly six times faster than the total luxury beauty market during the past five years, Claudia D’Arpizio, a senior partner and the global head of fashion and luxury at Bain & Company, wrote in an email.

Mr. Perris said Santa Maria Novella posted 2021 sales of 30 million euros ($29.6 million), 50 percent more than its 2019 total.

But in addition to perfumes, he said, “skin care is very important to us, as well as home perfumes, a category in which we have some of our best sellers such as the potpourri and the terra cotta pomegranate,” a reproduction of the fruit in terra cotta that then is soaked in the brand’s Melograno fragrance to create a room freshener, priced at $70. (The jewelry designer Carolina Bucci, who was born in Florence, wrote in an email that she uses the terra cotta pomegranate to perfume her London home.)

While the product list will continue to grow, Mr. Perris said, “our priority is not to have a calendar of new launches to meet, but to do things well. Therefore, we will keep introducing new products when we believe we have achieved the right quality.”