MELOGRANO di SANTA MARIA NOVELLA (1965)

During the first coronavirus official state of emergency in Japan last March, my comforting go-to perfume of the time was Santa Maria Novella’s delicious pomegranate powdery aldehyde classic, Melograno. As fresh, crystalline aldehydic as it could possibly be, this is the most famous and enduring of all the SMN fragrances, used in bath salts and room fragrances and all manner of products from the venerable Florentine apothecary, purportedly aimed at men (and thus quite iconoclastic in many ways ; with a crisp, tart top note of fruity pomegranate with cyclamen, ylang ylang and rose, it is has nothing in common whatsoever with the typical, hairy masculine, although Japanese taxi drivers in Japan do often wear powdery woody floral aldehydes that put me in mind of Melograno; the scent of hair creams, and pomades; shaving foams and skin tonics).

While always quite superficially enjoying this perfume, the times I have smelled it from the bottle or all around me in Santa Maria Novella’s boutiques (the original shop in Florence an oasis of beauty in all regards) it wasn’t until acquiring a cut-price full bottle of Melograno last year and wearing it on skin that I realized just how damn sexy this perfume actually is. On me, the hawthorn/ fern / iris / oakmoss heart of the perfume soon dries down to a powdery labdanum amber opoponax vanilla that you would never have even known was there if you were concentrating solely on the snowy ice crystals of the opening facets of the scent. I soon found that D was reacting very positively to Melograno : one of those perfumes I was seemingly born to wear, and since that time it has become a reassuring, dependable staple.

On January 2nd this year, having remained nested at home all day on the first, we walked down the hill in the evening to celebrate the arrival of 2021 by having dinner at a French/ Japanese restaurant. Yukari, near Meigetsuin Temple, while a tad austere and respectable-than-thou, is a nice place to have a quiet, high quality meal (locally farmed vegetables; beef in red wine). While conscious – very conscious, now, as things get worse in most countries – things seem particularly horrendous right now back in England – that we perhaps shouldn’t be doing this any more, the restaurant was spacious, well ventilated, and all the upright-backed patrons were taking small bites and sitting at correctly spaced out tables wearing face masks for the entirety of their equally cautious visits except for the moments they were actually eating; conversing quietly, and sipping.

In the cold crisp air of the night as we went back home, Melograno smelled lovely; a glow of warm powder and possibility. When shower-fresh, the brace of the top notes is delightfully clean (“you smell so soapy !’). A day later, on the body, warmed up on skin it comes across more naughty, a little Marquis De Sade, which shows you that there is definitely more to the deceptively simple perfumes of the seemingly traditionalist Santa Maria Novella collection than perhaps initially meets the eye.

On the topic of Italy and Italian perfumery, I received the Italian edition of my book in the post yesterday morning (” Profumo: Alla Ricerca Della Tua Fragranza”), and I have to say that I couldn’t be more delighted with the translation. Despite the pain of physically holding up the book all day as I embarked on the curious but wonderful experience of finding my own words translated into another language, I was ecstatic to discover that the person responsible for transforming my fragrant tome into Italian really knows what she is doing. Claudia Valeria Letizia has captured precisely what I was hoping to express (a great joy and passion for scent and its connection to experience) in a delectable Italian vocabulary and a perfect sense of cadence and syllabic rhythm that even stretches to all my made-up language and vocabulary – ‘almondisms’ becomes ‘mandorlismi’, for instance: she goes with the flow and sometimes changes things for the better while keeping the original intact: I was overjoyed, all of yesterday; this being an entirely new experience for me, the grey, miserable January day fading into the background as I indulged in the familiar yet obviously different sphere of my own prose. Later, upon looking up what works this translator has done before, I saw that my instincts certainly hadn’t been wrong; the Italian version of Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, as well as books by Joyce Carol Oates, Muriel Spark, Djuna Barnes and Vita Sackville West,among many others, were all translated into Italian by Claudia Valeria Letizia – so I want to say thanks very much to my Italian publisher, Ippocampo, for selecting someone so naturally gifted and talented.

Just to write a little bit more on the subject of Perfume. A couple of weeks ago or so I was asked – amusingly; semi-ironically, perhaps caustically – why I had decided to write a ‘book of dodos’. This was a fair point, and was obviously referring to the fact that so many of the selections in Perfume are difficult to find, discontinued, obscure or at least not on the shelves of airport duty free sections or of niche perfumeries. No one is more conscious than me of the fact that the book, intense and dense and incredibly self-indulgent as it is, should have had more, that it could have been four times as long, that there are glaring omissions in my selections (depending on how you look at it), and that so many new fragrances have been released since its publication – tens of thousands; more even, such is the rate at which new perfumes come and go nowadays : the fact that it is anything but comprehensive. A perfume guide written by another person would probably contain an entirely different and unrelated set of fragrances: mine is certainly idiosyncratic and eccentric (but based on my own personal discoveries and memories – hence their inclusion: in some ways this book was like an autobiography). It was both a mortification and a wonder for me having the opportunity to have a book of perfumes published, one that is now sold in Harrods, Selfridges as well as in book shops all over the world – my friends have bought it at Kinokuniya in Tokyo – both the English and Italian versions are now sold at the Lush Perfume Library in Florence – it is sold at Waterstones in my hometown …….. but having to choose what to include and what to reject, to sew it all into a inclusive whole was an excruciating labour of love I will never forget (also; in discussing perfumes that are gone or semi-extinct, I know that deep down I was influenced, to some degree, by the experience of reading the original French edition of Luca Turin’s ‘Le Guide’ from 1992, many years after it was originally published. So many of the entries in that ground-breaking and poetically beautiful book were not available to me personally, yet I think I masochistically enjoyed the tantalising descriptions of the perfumes that I couldn’t smell even more than the ones that I actually could…….. The words, themselves, captured my sensory, olfactive imagination).

Being so intrinsically bound up in the creation of the book when I was writing and editing it, with all the frantic tos and fros between the editorial staff and myself at the time, strangely, I feel as if I hadn’t really read it before plunging into its Italian translation over these last two days. It has been as though I were reading a book by somebody else and yet by myself for the first time: really quite an intriguing – if possibly narcissistic – sensation. (I love it.) It’s like doing a homework assignment on your own book. Bizarre and slightly mind-bending. There are so many words I don’t know in this Italian language version that I will have to refer to my own original to know the precise meaning of every sentence, reminding me of all those years ago when we had to read Italian novels at university despite having only just started learning the language, constantly referring to the massive Italian-English dictionary on my desk (Emma, you will remember those fraught scholastic times). Now, with this slight linguistic distancing effect, I have the feeling of being able to read it as an outsider in one go, as it was intended to be read – at very least dipped into – in doses – as I see now just how pungent the writing is as a whole – indigestibly concentrated; reeking. It has been quite eye-opening. In retrospect, seeing it all anew, I am pleased that I described so many classic and timeless perfumes from so many eras rather than just trying to do a guide to the local department store, as it works, for the author at least, as a ‘fragmented history’, a voyage into my own exposure to many of the masterworks of perfumery through the lens of my own life. I still feel, also, that the overall structure makes basic sense: a good starter, perhaps, for someone who is trying to make inroads into the world of perfumery (the key to the book being in its title: In Search Of………..); the division into chapters featuring descriptions of individual perfume notes followed by some examples of scents that are dominated by that particular olfactory theme hopefully prising open a little a mysterious world that to many people unfamiliar with perfumery remains hermetically closed.

Naturally, I would love to do an updated version if given the opportunity. To expand it all, add contemporary independent perfumes that have come out in the meantime that I have enjoyed, that I find interesting in some way and would recommend. But if that were to happen, I would also definitely include new old discoveries – such as Melograno, which I am really enjoying wearing again at the moment. It is a simultaneously grounding and scintillatingly uplifting scent ; the only problem, from the writerly point of view, being which themed section to put this perfume in ?……………The Classic Aldehydes; Fruit; Amber, or – the most likely – my most over-the-top and obliviously epicurean, hedonistic chapter ——- The Boudoir ?

25 Comments

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25 responses to “MELOGRANO di SANTA MARIA NOVELLA (1965)

  1. OnWingsofSaffron

    Fantastic! So pleased to read that you are falling in love—it sounds a bit like that!—with the Italian version of your book. I’ve done my fair share of translations and I always marvel at the fact that the translated text is of course the same, yet also quite different. (I know that sounds like a complete cliché!) It’s like meeting a person you know very well who has a different hair-do, perhaps with make-up you aren’t accustomed to, perhaps with a new pair of glasses. After a moment, it that person you know, but somehow…
    Have a great new year 2021!

  2. What a great post! I will have to read it again after I come home from work. Two short remarks: I love SMN Melograno, the Santa Maria Novello store, and your book. I need to find it in the Italian version and brush up on the beautiful and musical language of my heritage.

    • Yes. The entire reason I decided to start studying it was because of how beautiful it looked on the page: and when combined with the subject of perfume this new Italian version is a real treat (it also makes me realise how much I need to brush up my own skills… mama mia – I can’t fully understand what I myself wrote!).

      This translator though is obviously very skilful, and totally on the ball: I am so pleased. Sometimes I read translations that are just ‘off’ somehow, where the person translating doesn’t have an aesthetic sense of their own and then the essence is lost. Here, I actually recognise myself in the text completely but with a new, refreshing twist. I love it.

      Glad you like Melograno too. I had always just assumed it was almost like a more twinkly Chanel No 5, but wearing it has been a complete revelation. No boring musk base, but a cornucopia of horn.

  3. How thrilling to read your book in Italian. You must feel so wonderful knowing it keeps reaching a wider audience, and encouraging more people to try different scents.
    I know I have smelled Melograno before, but can not quite properly recall it. Would you believe with my extensive collection I do not own a single Santa Maria Novella fragrance? I am quite fond of a couple I have smelt in the past, but don’t own a single one. I recall enjoying Peau d’Espagne, and Marescialla, oh, and of course Pot-Pourri. I really need to add a couple to the collection. Which do you think I would enjoy?

  4. emmawoolf

    Ah. The idea of you sitting down (thunderous Italian dictionary by your side? I had the Collins/Sassoni, I seem to recall) on the sofa with the Italian version of your book fills me with glee. How joyful. Perhaps you were somehow meant to study Italian so that you could enjoy the translation of your book in later life? I’d love to see it one day. (I would definitely need a dictionary.) And sample Melograno. How delicious it sounds. I have never sampled a single SMN perfume to my great sadness (indeed I lived a year in Florence without setting foot in the store..), but I did treat myself to a huge pomegranate-scented candle this Christmas, which has been burning most delightfully in the fireplace, as distraction to 2021, which currently is quite dreadful here. Hoping for better times soon xx

  5. Robin

    I’m fascinated by the idea that you could read your book anew, from that fresh perspective, written by you yet not by you, your ideas but in someone else’s words, interpreted through another language. BLISS.

    And as emmawoolf says, as if your Italian studies were meant to allow you this now. Absolutely happy for you.

    I don’t think I’ve ever experienced any from the SMN line. A pity. Melograno sounds utterly divine, something Ric would wear and have me delirious. Egads. A lemming is born. Damn you, dear N.

    For me, your book is more of an education than a strict reference guide to perfumes in the marketplace. Putting fragrance in that kind of modern historical context, creating the backstory, the flavour of it all, is crucial to understanding and appreciating the whole subject as well as individual scents, including the ones that didn’t make the cut, were never sampled by you (understandable: I doubt anyone has sniffed them all, even Dr. Turn. Not humanly possible) or that have been released since. It’s bloody brilliant.

    • This is real musica to my orecchi ; that is exactly how I hope it comes across : I was essentially hoping to get the reader – particular someone new to the subject – to mentally salivate and then go explore.

      And yes, the experience of ‘reading it for the first time’ is truly thrilling ; total cerebral adrenaline.

      Re SMN – I am SHOCKED. They are affordable and gorgeous – the smell in my bed at the moment after wearing Melograno for a few days is like the embers of Vol De Nuit – that kind of ambered powder, but with a barbershop aldehyde top note sharpened with that slight fruit note. You must try it !

  6. Marzia

    Hello, I’m a long time reader of your blog, and I’m happy that I can read your beautiful book in my native language, Italian. I really love it! The way you organized the chapters, the selection of perfumes, some “celebrity”, some niche, some unknown ( at least for me).. but I especially love the way you describe them, not only by the note list, but also by the emotions, the memories, the suggestion they give you. It’s a book of a perfume lover for perfume lovers.
    Let me say that I also love the object itself: the cover, the gold finish.. yes, we need more and more beauty in this world!
    It was also my Christmas gift for my sister-in-law, great perfume lover, she gave me a 90’ full bottle of Mitsouko and a 90’ full bottle of Rive Gauche, and for a friend that has no particularly passion or knowledge about perfume, but for this reason, she absolutely needed it!
    I will try Melograno: The Classic Aldehydes, the Boudoir.. two of my favourites chapters.
    Grazie e Felice Anno Nuovo!
    Marzia

  7. Jools

    It’s an intensely personal book Neil with your spirit and your voice (literally) running through it like a stick of rock – that is what makes it such an incredibly enjoyable, emotional read (especially for someone who has known you since you were a young teenager). If you had sacrificed any of the personal just to include more fragrances (or lose the ones that are no longer available) it would not have had the same magic. Not for me anyway. X

  8. Wonderful post @theblacknarcissus! . What is the title of your book? And actually what is your name. I only have you as ginzaintherain and The Black Naricssus. Can’t wait to get my hands on your book. I just love your blog. Many thanks, Maureen Gardner, Bowral, NSW, Australia

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