Saving Face

Santa Maria Novella shares its centuries-old Italian grooming secrets, so you can start giving your face the treatment it deserves.

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An employee prepares boxes of products at the laboratory of the Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella in Florence.
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Whenever my father would catch me sulking my way through a chore, or simply not committing to the task at hand, he'd share one particular pearl of wisdom that I'd go on to hear countless times over the years. "Son," he'd say, in a slow, certain tone, "there are things you're going to need to do every day—and you're going to think they're boring. But the key to enjoying life is this: you must do the ordinary things in extraordinary ways."

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Cooking, commuting, and getting ready for work in the morning numbered among these things. As I grew older, I found he hadn't been lying; there truly is a transcendent pleasure in the ability to transform life's mundane tasks into sources of small, personal joys. Nowhere is this more evident than in the act of shaving which, for a lot of guys, can be even worse than tiresome. It can be a bloody, painful affair—a physical manifestation of the oft-repeated adage: failing to plan is planning to fail. And it was for these reasons that, of late, I find myself turning to the monks of the Dominican Order.

These Dominican monks obviously loved to shave.
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In the 13th Century, the Dominican monks arrived in Florence, Italy, setting up shop just outside the city gates. They began cultivating herbs in their gardens, using them to create various balms, medications, and ointments for their tiny infirmary. Word spread of the work being done in the monastery, and, in the year 1612, the monks decided to share their wares with the public. It was then that the Officina Profumo–Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella was born, just off the city's piazza Santa Maria Novella.

Santa Maria Novella, as the company is more commonly known today, now has outposts all across Europe, England, the U.S., and Asia, continuing to base all items on traditional herbal preparations, and never testing its products on animals. One of the fields in which it shines: men's shaving goods. Here, a look at how a well-considered shaving routine can lift any sense of drudgery from the practice, and the products you'll need to do so. 

Crema Pre-Dopo Barba, $58

This is a great, multi-purpose item. It can be applied a couple of minutes prior to shaving to prep the skin—and, as a bonus, apparently aids in the prevention of wrinkles. Once you've shaved, you can use it as a post-shave moisturizer. You can even shave with it if you want—but this regimen isn't about minimizing movements; it's about happily inhabiting a moment. Let's have a look at the shaving cream options.

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Schiuma di Barba, $28

Both of Santa Maria Novella's shaving lubricants are old-school in nature. This shaving foam is fluffy and voluminous, and feels instantly luxurious in your hand, especially as compared to the many gels on the market.

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Crema da Barba, $71

As the costlier of the two options, this shaving cream does require greater investment of both currency and time, as it's best applied not with one's hands, but with the aid of a badger-hair brush. But some of you may find a commensurate increase in pleasure from the hair-softening properties, as well as the old-world style that this method of shaving entails.

Lozione Dopo Barba, $65

This aftershave may just be the piece de resistance of the Santa Maria Novella regimen. Once again, the signature Tabacco Toscano scent is used beautifully here; a few shakes into the palm, a couple of slaps to the face and neck, and you instantly smell of the old country. It also serves as an instant reminder that scent isn't just used to impress the people you encounter—rather, it's about the way in which it can affect the wearer.

Sapone Tabacco Toscano, $40

While we're at it, showering with this bar of soap is a nice coda to your ode to the ancient ways of the Italian monastery. And, really, isn't thoroughness what this is all really about?

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