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Article: The great bath of Colognes

The Genuine Eau de Cologne. | Patrick Haney via Flickr

The great bath of Colognes

“Every great house should have a Cologne.”

Antigone Schilling

A classic of classics and unisex for centuries, Cologne is characterized by its citrusy freshness. Admirable for a long time, it was born in Italy before adopting, in a generic and popular way, its current Rhenish name. Used therapeutically, it is no longer in purgatory in pharmacies, but is embodied as a pillar of perfumery. An invigorating and joyful freshness to rediscover.

From Italy to Cologne

Land of citrus fruits, the peninsula has developed volatile perfumes, notably at the convent of Santa Maria Novella in Florence where the monks prepared “waters”. A famous Acqua di Regina was named after Catherine de' Medici in 1533. Officina Profumo de Santa Maria Novella was created and opened to the public in 1612. Recipes multiplied and Latin names were declaimed, such as Aqua Mirabilis. Supposed to cure many ailments, these waters had many virtues. "It is a wonderful antidote against all kinds of venom, and an excellent preservative against the bad air and the plague. It opens with equal success the obstructions of the liver, of the spleen, and cures the diseases which are their consequence, such as jaundice, stench of breath, and the like...»

Originally, these compositions could also be drunk, for the good of sick bodies. Apothecary, Giovanni Paolo Feminis is said to have succeeded in obtaining the secret of their manufacture from nuns in Italy, and introduced it to the Rhineland in the 18th century. In Cologne, its water became admirable (aqua mirabilis). The trade was then developed by a Jean Marie Farina, perhaps a nephew of Feminis. Heir to the formula, this family associated the water with the name of the city of Cologne, which saw the fame of its perfume exceed that of its cathedral or its carnival. In 1727 these waters were recognized for their virtues by the Academy of Medicine in Cologne.

The story continues in Germany with the Mühlens bank and a recipe given as a wedding gift. The family began to market it under a number: "4711, the real Eau de Cologne", a name due to the numbering of the dwellings imposed by the French occupants under Napoleon.

Eau de Cologne, bottle from 1811. | Farina Family Archives via Wikimedia

A lover of this water, the Emperor wore it in a long, vertical flask, roll placed straight in his boots. Duck Farina (dipped sugar) was also popular at the time. But when Napoleon imposed by decree in 1810 that the formulas of these "remedies" be disclosed, the manufacturers decided to forget the medicinal aspect and favored external use so as not to reveal their secrets.

In the 19thand th century, there were many shops selling these scented waters in Cologne. In 1865, there were thirty-nine signs in the name of Farina.

The story takes place in parallel in France.A member of the Farina family – the one who created the vertical bottle for Napoleon – opened a boutique on rue Saint-Honoré in 1806 Balzac said of this perfumer: "His fame is such that he can without publicity." He was succeeded by the Collas couple who sold the house to two cousins, who were behind the creation in 1862 of la Maison Roger & Gallet, which has since fallen into the hands of L'Oréal. The new owner continues to manufacture these classic colognes, including the Jean Marie Farina, which has continued to be made since 1806.


At Guerlain, several magnificent waters have stood the test of time, including Eau du coq from 1894. In its remarkable bottle decorated with bees, The Imperial Eau de Cologne (1853) was composed by Pierre François Pascal Guerlain in honor of Empress Eugénie.

Founded in 1916, the Acqua di Parma house reconnects with the Italian character of Colognes and designs a yellow universe in homage to the Italian sun, then blue for the Mediterranean. Always in the spotlight, citrus fruits are being rediscovered. For example, a Chinotto di Liguria, a bitter citrus fruit that is little known, except for people who love Italian sodas.

Despite its qualities and its reputation at Roger & Gallet or Guerlain, eau de cologne is often perceived as an inferior product or as a rubbing potion bought in pharmacies. Offered in larger containers and without an atomizer, its concentration often played in minor key can be used generously in splashes.

Over time, it became a minor genre in perfumery. When Jean Claude Ellena described it in his Que sais-je?, he wrote: “Today this product is linked to a gesture of comfort and hygiene often attached to the practice of sport.”


The eau de cologne is characterized by its fresh head dosed with citrus. These so-called citrus notes are associated with the mythical garden of the same name (Sicily, for the Romans). Hercules had, for one of his twelve labours, to steal apples from that garden. These mythical fruits, a wedding gift to Hera, would rather be oranges. Bergamote, neroli, petitgrain (distillate from the branches, leaves of trees, often bitter orange or orange amère) and fleur d'oranger perfume the Colognes. Over time and the discovery of new citrus fruits, their palette has widened, being able to become oriental with yuzu, kumquat... not to mention that mandarin is Chinese.

In Diderot's Encyclopédie , Cologne is defined as an "alcohol flavored by a large number of plants, and distilled on these aromatics". The ingredients include rosemary, lemon balm water, Bergamote, neroli, cedar and lemon.


The smell of Cologne is characterized by its citrus signature at the top, which dominates a fragrance enriched with the aromatic notes of lavender and rosemary. Their concentration has, in principe, the lowest percentage (between 2 and 5%). This is followed by eau de toilette, then eau de parfum and extracts (more than 20%). But, in the United States, the term cologne is more generic and can simply qualify a perfume or an eau de toilette.


Until the 1980s, cologne was less noble than perfume.Often sold in pharmacies, it is used in friction with a generous gesture

Since a first wave of colognes imagined by and for fashion designers, they (re)became trendy in the early 2000s. In the flower of its success, Helmut Lang came to an original perfumery and chose to reinvent a Cologne in the year 2000 (relaunched in 2014). Maurice Roucel worked with the designer on the project of two fragrances with no gender mentioned, a rather masculine cologne appellation and a feminine eau de parfum; both having 80% of their components in common. Maurice Roucel remembers that the creator wanted for the Cologne the evocation of the smell of a companion after an embrace. Its composition is rather aromatic: lavender, rosemary, floral heart and woody base poudd.

After the success of Angel, Thierry Mugler arrived in 2001 where we did not expect him with his Cologne, playing on the ambiguity of a genderless perfume. An incredible Janusian being served as a medium for communication, while his cologne, of an almost pop acid green, dared to mix with the classic scents of Bergamote, neroli, petitgrain and fleur d'oranger, a new accord baptized "S (for sex?), to create a touch of sensuality against a backdrop of white musks.

“Every great house should have a Cologne.”
François Demachy, perfumer

A very beautiful creation by Alberto Morillas who remembers: “I wanted to make a very fresh cologne with an overdose of musk. The famous “S” molecule was a nod to bring back a note that some immediately recognize but others don't. With this cologne, I wanted to prove that with an overdose it was as powerful as a perfume.”

Cologne regained its prestige and a new aura. Many launches followed. In 2002, Comme des Garçons imagined a Cologne series with Vettiveru, Citrico and Anbar. In 2003, the Cologne bigarade by Jean-Claude Ellena at Frédéric Malle is very orange amère, spicy with pink pepper and cardamom. In 2004 Dior launched a magnificent collection of Colognes (the beginnings of Maison Christian Dior), with three opuses including an incredible Eau Noire with aromas of fern and liquorice composed by Francis Kurkdjian, as well as a White Cologne and a Silver Wood by Annick Ménardo. Appointed in-house perfumer, François Demachy added a very citrusy cologne royale to the collection in 2010 with Bergamote, lemon, neroli and mint. According to the perfumer, "every great house should have a Cologne".

Chez Chanel appears in the collection of exclusives, a Cologne composed in 2007 by Jacques Polge : tangerine, Bergamote, on neroli heart and floral background.

Francis Kurkdjian composed in 2009 for his eponymous house a Cologne to wear in the morning and one to wear in the evening. The morning is very fresh: Bergamote, lemon on a white thyme heart, lavender and a slightly poudd neroli base. Evening wear is more opulent, voluptuous with its notes of rose and honey and incense on benzoin. Thierry Wasser has added a new chapter to historical jewels with the The perfumer's cologne, in 2010. If it pays homage to a Calabrian fleur d'oranger, it surrounds it with green notes without forgetting a zest of lemon and Bergamote. Dominique Ropion for Frédéric Malle has imagined an indelible cologne, the opposite of the evanescent idea of ​​a fresh fragrance that makes three short turns and then goes away For the perfumer, the idea was to last over time around an absolute accord of fleur d'oranger, Bergamote, lemon, rosemary and narcissus, to which he added a lot of musk to play overtime.

Atelier Cologne tells stories on this theme and goes around citrus fruits: Blood orange, Pomelo Paradis, Bergamote sun, intoxicating Citron. The waters flirt with the Cologne concept at Hermès, with the iconic Eau d'orange verte, Jean Claude Ellena has added Colognes around pink grapefruit and gentian white (exquisite). According to the perfumer: “By putting Eau de Cologne back in the saddle as I did at Hermès and Frédéric Malle, I wanted to reconnect with the aristocratic image of Eau de Cologne; which seems fair to me with our times where a form of new aristocracy is in place. The leftist that I am is aware that there is a new aristocracy not based on the possession of land or on republican merit; but on sometimes immediate fortune, that of appearance." He defines it as follows: "Simplicity, immediacy, freshness, non-genre of the subject. She shouldn't be tenacious."


This year 2019 is announced under the sign of Cologne. Mugler is relaunching its icon with a colorful collection and five heritage colognes to mix and match: Love You All, Run Free, Come Together, Take Me Out, Fly Away. The brand always brings a pop dimension to the Cologne while reinventing a story around the creation of Alberto Morillas.

For Louis Vuitton perfumes, Jacques Cavallier-Belletrud designed colognes to wear in summer. Sun Song, around fleur d'oranger and lemon. Cactus Garden, around mate, Bergamote and lemongrass (which is not exactly lemongrass). Afternoon Swim, a citrus festival. The brand Couvent des Minimes launches new collections including botanical colognes by continuing the story of a 17th century botaniste century, Louis Feuillée. The Latin names feature the term water: Aqua Mysteri, Aqua Solis, Aqua Paradisi, Aqua Sacrae, Aque Nymphar. Appointed to the direction of the brand's olfactory creation, Jean Claude Ellena will put his paw and his nose into it.

For his personal brand, Mizensir, Alberto Morillas imagined Colognes, a White Neroli at the start, and the addition of three novelties. Cœur de Cologne marie neroli, fleur d'oranger, Bergamote, lemon, liatris, musks, incense. Cologne de figuier blends a citrus spirit with the crisp green of a crumpled figuier leaf. Cologne du maté fuses tangerine and maté blended tea.

Aurélien Guichard, who is launching his brand in the fall Raw material, has composed a citron Cologne with spicy notes of black pepper and pink berry.

Classic of classics, Cologne has now regained spice and nobility. Recently in tune with the times, she also has the immense advantage of not needing to be defined by her gender. In memory of his past, you can still generously sprinkle it on in a big splash.

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