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Santa Maria Novella - If you know, you know

I stumbled upon one of the world's best kept secrets. The Officina Profumo - Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella has only five stores in the US and I found one of them in Miami's Brickell City Centre.

The elegant storefront decor and an irresistible scent lured me inside the luxury retail shop. The spellbinding fragrance was unlike anything else I've ever known.

"It smells delicious in here!" I greeted the Italian sales lady when I walked in. Sandra gracefully walked over to where I stood. From the table display, she picked up what looked like a round clay pot and let me take a whiff of the home fragrance. It exuded a well-balanced note, lingering but not overwhelming. The Melograno (Italian for pomegranate) scent quickly became my personal favorite.

Sandra introduced me to a variety of scented handmade soaps, explaining that they last a very long time. "All you need is just a small amount," she demonstrated with an imaginary face cloth, pretending to lightly dab a soap bar in a circular motion.

I was enthralled especially when Sandra applied a delicate amount of the best-selling lotion onto the back of my hand. It felt silky, gave off a delightful bouquet, and was quickly absorbed by my skin.

The scented inventory included bath oils and bath salts, facial and body creams, shampoo, cologne, after-shave, talcum powder, and candles. I didn't want to leave, luxuriating in the pleasantly-perfumed shop.

As I examined the merchandise, Sandra gave me information about the company's beginnings. I learned that the original Italian pharmacy, considered one of the oldest in the world, is located in Via della Scala in Firenze (Florence, Italy). It's not far from the Santa Maria Novella Church, Florence's first great basilica. I definitely intend to visit when I make my return trip to Italy.

Sandra slipped a scroll, tastefully secured by a gold and burgundy ribbon, into my bag of modest purchases. Printed on the scroll was Santa Maria Novella's history. It dates back to the 1200s when Dominican friars and apothecaries developed remedies and treatment formulas originally meant for the monastery's infirmary. In 1612, the monks opened the pharmacy to the public, selling their age-old preparations including essences that gained widespread acclaim.

An excerpt from a Forbes article about Santa Maria Novella reads: "Today the soaps are still handmade, one by one, wrapped and then aged for 30 days on ventilated clapboards." Santa Maria Novella continues to be globally esteemed for its finest Italian-made skincare and body care products, perfumes, artisanal soaps and so much more. So why is it that I have never heard of this brand before? I discovered that they do not advertise. Their loyal patrons keep it discreet. If you know, you know.

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