Eugenio Alphandery, director of Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella is not a shortsighted person, and as a true engineer he gets to the heart of the matter, whether it’s about mechanical equipment or perfumed essences. His faun-like features perfectly match his deep-rooted Tuscan origins in spite of his surname, which is native to Savoy. He embodies the Florentine character of a man with a quick eye and a sharp tongue.
Margreta Moss: ‘Laudare, benedicere, praedicare’ is the motto of the Dominican monastic order, and Officina Profumo Santa Maria Novella was born under the shadow of the Dominican basilica. What’s your motto as owner and current president of this age-old enterprise?
Eugenio Alphandery: Tradition, innovation and research. A historical firm is destined to become a museum if it can’t renew itself with products that keep up with modern times and requirements. Having a prestigious heritage is a good thing, but it can be a barrier to progress: tradition should be a stepping stone for successfully leaping into the future with the help of advanced technology and scientific research. That’s my policy.
MM: The SMN brand was slowly but surely fading away: without your intervention it would probably have stuck to producing pastilles and elixirs. How is it that you came to the rescue?
EA: By chance. I had a textile factory and a design company for textile machinery. In my capacity as an engineer, my neighbours in Florence asked me to help fix some old laboratory machines for their products. They happened to be the heirs of the last monastic director of the Santa Maria Novella apothecary, and not too keen to invest in the enterprise. On the contrary, I saw a world of opportunities. I thought, ‘Why not?”, and I took over. The venture started in 1989: after three years I was working at it full time and now we employ 400 people.
MM: And 60 shops around the world, all highly established, with no need of publicity. Which are the latest entries?
EA: Melbourne and Moscow, and as from July 30, 2015, all the franchised shops in the United States will return directly under the direction of the headquarters in Florence. The concession was over after 15 years of solid work, but practically speaking, if the productive thread is shorter, one shouldn’t duplicate production just to achieve the same final result. The US market is quite promising and I will look after it personally, also to encourage a greater return for Florence, like we’ve done with the Japanese and Korean branches. Visitors from these countries constantly flock here; they simply love Santa Maria Novella perfumes. As it happens, I am also ambassador for Kyoto, which is twinned with Florence.
MM: An encouraging prospect. What’s your secret?
EA: You must look at your firm like a calf to be reared, not like a cow to be milked. It’s just good sense.
MM: You now have hundreds of products on sale, but let’s focus on perfumes. You personally invent a new one every year: do you tend to produce more male or female fragrances?
EA: The more male I aim for, the more the women wear it! Anyway, I always say: present your lover with your perfume and nobody will suspect anything.
MM: Any special perfume for someone special?
EA: The House of Windsor have been clients for a long time. To celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s 50th jubilee I created ‘Coronation’, exclusively made for her.
MM: Any unusual perfume created for an unusual occasion?
EA: At the reception party for the opening of a shop in Los Angeles, as is customary in Italy, I brought a box of Antico Toscano cigars to share. Americans loathe smoking and they started a campaign against tobacco: then and there I decided to create a perfume called ‘Toscano’: the fragrance of the cigar before being lit. It proved a huge success. “Calarossa” was inspired by the natural fragrance I smelt around me while I was waiting there for the arrival of the sail boats in the Regatta Livorno–Capraia, which I organize every June. Plus, as I’m fond of motors, cars and bikes, for Millemiglia 2002 I created a perfume of leather, rubber and gasoline, which also did very well.
MM: With you at the helm, Officina Profumo Farmaceutica Santa Maria Novella is now very much a Tuscan excellence, but you also find the time to be president of Italian Historical Enterprises, a member of the steering committee of the Florentines in the World Association, to write books, organize regattas and cultural events and plenty other things. What next in this pot-pourri of roles and initiatives?
EA: Last year, I was on my boat in Corsica, drinking a bottle of San Carlo mineral water: from another boat somebody asked if I liked it, because he was the owner of the spring in the Apuan Alps and was willing to sell 50 percent of the firm. I accepted as a new challenge, and this September we’ll be organizing something in the beautiful amphitheatre inside the splendid park surrounding the spring.