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Scents and Sensibility: How This Historic Perfumery Is Innovating A 400-year-old company blends perfumes -- and business practices -- old and new

By Carren Jao

This story appears in the May 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Aaron Graubart

A whiff of something sweet hangs in the air at Via della Scala in Florence, Italy. It could be the cabbage rose, a flower that grows on the hills of Tuscany; orange blossoms from the trees of Sicily; or perhaps it is the heady smell of success for a company that traces its roots back several centuries.

Just a few steps from the city's main train station sits Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella (SMN), a 400-year-old perfume and beauty-product company that grew from the methods Dominican friars once used to cultivate medicinal herbs for a convent infirmary. Though SMN's operations have expanded past these halls (there's now a factory just three miles away), the company preserved its original premises, including its vaulted ceilings and frescoes. Still, says commercial director Gianluca Foà, SMN is not "just a museum. We're an innovative company competing in an international market."

Now a purely secular undertaking, SMN sells traditional essences with recipes that date back hundreds of years, along with contemporary beauty products, oils and perfumes. The company boasts more than 60 stores—including openings last year in Paris, Moscow and Naples, Italy. SMN also wholesales its products to retailers around the world, including Australia's Franque and London-based Net-A-Porter. North American distribution is handled through LAFCO New York. SMN had revenue of $22.5 million in 2014 and says it is on target to reach $27 million this year.

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