MILAN — Italian investment company Italmobiliare has taken full control of Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella, one of the oldest pharmaceutical laboratories in the world that is marking its 800th anniversary this year.
Owned by the Pesenti family, the investment group already controlled 80 percent of the Florence-based beauty company following two separate deals last year and a combined investment of 160 million euros. Finalized on Monday, the purchase of the remaining 20 percent stake was valued at 40 million euros.
The new operation enables Italmobiliare “to operate with greater strategic flexibility in the company’s development path so that it can speed up this iconic brand’s international expansion based on the guidelines drawn up when the project was launched at the beginning of 2020,” the company said in a statement. In particular, the investment group intends to support the further development of the label internationally by enhancing its distribution network and brand awareness.
The beauty brand counts 80 stand-alone stores and shops-in-shop in department stores, with boutiques in Milan, Rome, London, Paris, Cannes, Tokyo, New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and corners at key locations such as Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche and Isetan, among others. It is also available at about 200 wholesale doors globally.
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Yet the Florentine flagship in Via della Scala remains the jewel in the crown, epitomizing a unique customer experience with its historic, frescoed ceilings, bronzed angels and aromas lingering in the air from potpourri made with local herbs. In the pre-pandemic era, this unit alone attracted 520,000 visitors a year — 80 percent of whom were tourists — and accounted for 30 percent of total revenues, which in 2019 were more than 31 million euros.
Even if total sales decreased 30 percent in 2020, last year was pivotal for the company not only because of the acquisition but also for its digital acceleration, with the firm improving its online presence and unveiling a revamped e-commerce site in Europe and the U.S.
The company was founded by Dominican friars after they arrived in Florence in 1221 and settled in the Santa Maria Novella location cultivating herbs to prepare medicines for their monastery’s infirmary.
After manufacturing successful recipes such as aromatic waters and a bergamot-based fragrance for the queen of France Catherine de’ Medici in 1533 — which is still a bestseller — the apothecary opened to the public, officially launching as a commercial activity in 1612.
Before Italmobiliare, in 1989 the company passed under the control of mechanical engineer Eugenio Alphandery, who bought it for 800 million Italian lira, about 413,000 euros.
Today, the brand is still known for the use of medicinal herbs grown in the monastery gardens to make more than 600 different products across body care, fragrances, serums, pomades, candles and liqueurs, all delivered in its signature, old-school packaging that has contributed to its charm and increasing success worldwide, so far based solely on word-of-mouth rather than advertising.
While little has changed in the artisanal approach of the brand — all products are manufactured in-house at the company’s factory in Florence, which counts seven production units dedicated to the different categories — this year, the company started to open up to newness, tweaking packaging, formats and communication strategy to meet the demands of today’s consumers.
Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella marks Italmobiliare’s first investment in the perfume and cosmetics industry. As reported, in 2017 the group also finalized the acquisition of a 40 percent stake in outdoor footwear and ski equipment specialist Tecnica Group for 60 million euros. Founded in 1960 by the Zanatta family, the latter controls a range of specialized labels, including Nordica, Moon Boot, Lowa, Blizzard and Rollerblade.
Since 2017, Italmobiliare has been investing heavily in Made in Italy brands to enrich its portfolio, which represents an aggregate turnover of around 2 billion euros.