Have you ever heard of the legendary Santa Maria Novella; the pharmacy, that originated in a monastery around 1221 in Florence, Italy? Originally specializing in medicinal herbs to make remedies and treatments for the sick, it now is owned by Lafco, and operates as an apothecary featuring the best-quality natural, botanical ingredients to make fragrant and sumptuous products.
Available in only 60 doors, with their own locations in New York City’s Nolita, Los Angeles, Dallas, Bal Harbour Shops in Florida, and coming soon to Chevy Chase, Maryland, the brand offers a whopping 400 offerings. With the option to buy everything from mammoth natural soaps made of whole milk to natural Iris Toothpaste, organic olive oil, fragrance, and candles, it should be on your radar for the best gifts to give yourself, and if you’re so inclined, others too.
We picked our top four overall amazing, gift-giving selections (see slideshow), but also had the pleasure of speaking with Jon Bresler, owner and founder of Lafco, to learn a bit more about the SMN (Santa Maria Novella) brand philosophy and the differentiating factor of the products.
How do you balance keeping the history and authenticity of the Santa Maria Novella legacy in tact, while catering to an ever-evolving, modern consumer?
The SMN history and authenticity is what it is – historical and authentic. We carry on the legacy by making the products available in the US at our stores and online, and SMN continues the legacy by producing effective and time tested botanical remedies. We cater to the ever-evolving modern consumer using two simple tools: 1. informing them of the potent botanicals SMN uses and how these botanicals are genuine and authentic, how they are used at effective levels in the products, and how these botanicals can improve their skin, and 2) explain how botanicals are in most cases more effective than synthetic products. We then simply allow customers to sample the products.
In all but rare occasions the customer returns telling us that the product (to their surprise) worked better than anything they have used before.
Do you see the movement to be more eco-friendly and use more natural products and ingredients as part of SMN’s success in the USA?
Definitely yes. A few years ago SMN skincare was more difficult to sell as the market was fixated on dermaceutical products and synthetic plastic surgery products. As the market has turned more green the population has come to desire botanical products, and SMN’s expertise in botanicals has helped them rise in popularity among those looking for botanical products.
Since SMN history is rooted in Italy, how do American women think about and view, or value beauty products differently than the Italians?
My experience shows me that the major difference is that American women have been promised immediate fixes from their skincare products. SMN does not offer this in most cases (except for some of the dry skin products). Europeans understand the process of slow change through balance and understand more the nature of botanicals making small daily changes in skin.
SMN’s products have a higher price tier across many of the products; what is the consumer paying for when they buy an SMN item?
First, I am not sure I agree with the assumption that SMN costs more than their competitors. For example, the Idrasol body cream retails for $88. There are many similar body creams that are priced above $100 or even $200.
In any event to answer the question, they are paying for the quality of the manufacturing process, the quality of the raw materials, and the level of active ingredients in the products. For example the SMN soaps. These are made with Whole Milk (like none other in the world – Fresh Milk soap is made from dehydrated milk solids not farm fresh milk), and are then aged which reduces the water levels in the product making them more rich and dense and longer lasting, and are perfumed with SMN essential oil not synthetic perfumes. All of these ingredients and processes take more time and cost more money but result in a superior product.
Can you tell me a bit about the new products — the limited edition fragrances and the skin treatments?
The Limited Edition fragrances are 2 which were launched in celebration of the 400th year that SMN has been open to the public and aptly named 1612 (the date of the opening). SMN has made 2012 bottles of each (truly limited!), each bottle is hand numbered in gold, and each purchaser is entitled to have their name listed in a memorial book kept in the SMN museum.
Whether or not this fragrance is of interest, one thing to me is clear: this is truly an authentic limited edition product where the consumer can feel genuinely that they have purchased a real limited edition product.
The New Skin Care line consists of 4 products developed by SMN for post-cosmetic surgery skin regeneration but are now marketed to the general public as skin restoration products. I love the Serum because it shows a lot about SMN and the way they do things. They have done their research and have found what is the most effective Stem Cell technology available on the market today. To this active product which is used at very high levels in the product, SMN has developed a cocktail of botanicals to host the active which 1. prevent oxidation of the active once on the skin, 2, and to supercharge the active and make it more effective than it would be in the absence of the botanicals, and 3. included other botanicals to work in conjunction with the active to aid in skin regeneration.
In short, SMN, through its centuries old experience with botanicals has become the world leader in botanical cocktails which act on their own or in some cases supercharge other actives contained in a formula.
If you had to choose only one product to epitomize the philosophy of SMN, which would it be? And/Or what are your best-selling products?
If I had to choose only one product it would be the Carta d’ Armenia. These are strips of paper infused with ancient spices and resins and has been made by SMN since the 14th C. The papers can be used to scent clothing in drawers, suitcases and closets, or can be burned to remove odors from the room.
What is remarkable is that these papers are made in the EXACT same way they were made in the 14thC. The same resins and spices are used, and instead of finding a way to dry them quickly and cheaply, SMN has stayed to the tradition of drying them on the interior wall of the dome of the Church of Santa
Maria Novella in Florence (which takes weeks). This tradition continues today because it is tradition and because the papers dry best (slowly over the course of weeks) and saturate the paper better when done in this way.
We can also use the example of the Milk Soaps above – clearly SMN can use milk solids or some other substitute for the tradition of using dairy milk in the soap. They have chosen not to because the soap is better using the dairy milk.