The History Behind Eau de Cologne

Johann Maria Farina

Portrait of Giovanni Maria Farina

The quintessential year of 1709 caught Giovanni Maria Farina — Italian born and bred — living his life in Cologne, Germany. He felt the sheer ache of homesickness, there in that German town. And he took to his chemistry to form a taste — a scent, in actuality — of home.

He wrote to his brother Jean Baptiste (which was, let’s be honest, probably everyone’s name back then): “I have found a fragrance that reminds me of an Italian spring morning, of mountain daffodils and orange blossoms after the rain.” He was a poet, this Farina. And a genius.

He named his formula after Cologne, his hometown. It contained an alcohol concentration of approximately 2%-5% and was fueled with essential oils from lemon, orange, bergamot, tangerine, neroli, and grapefruit. Farina inserted snippets of lavender, thyme, rosemary, petitgrain, jasmine, and, strangely, that tang of tobacco.

And he wore it, as one wears a broach or a necklace. He wore his eau de cologne to enact a sort of “presence of smell” into the world. The smell he had concentrated, supposedly, sent scents of his Italian home, of his nostalgia. And so, in a way, it was completely unique to his personality, his time and lineage.

A Heavenly Scent for the Royal Dynasty

The Farina’s substance was a hit, the world over! The royal homes of Europe sent for the liquid, hoping to douse their surely very dirty eighteenth century bodies in that life-affirming Italian stream water. His sensational ability really racked up a pretty penny: one vial of the stuff — called aqua mirabillis (which is, of course, Latin for miracle water) cost the royalty about half of the year’s wage of a civil servant.

4711 Original Eau de CologneAnd since that fateful mixing day in 1709, Farina’s cologne operation has been in full-force: creating beautiful-smelling maidens and masculine, clean-smelling men out of heathens. The formula, however, has remained a secret. For some three hundred years! His factory in Obenmarspforten is the oldest renowned fragrance factory in the world.

But the eighteenth century also brought the most world-renowned fragrance, the Original Eau de Cologne 4711, created at Glockengasse No. 4711 — thus the name was notated in numerals. Amazingly, Glockengasse No. 4711 is also located in Cologne; did someone snatch up Farina’s formula? After three hundred years of not-knowing, however, the two companies can continue to co-exist in the great city. The cosmetics production of Maurer & Wirtz scooped up the 4711 most recently — in 2006. Since that fateful day, the 4711 has expanded to entire brand empire.

On throughout the nineteenth century, with the increased utilization of the eau de colognes, people began limited cologne by providing rules for the stuff. Some perfumes were meant to be worn while others were to be strictly avoided. Exaggerated smells — those enhancing sensuality, for example, yielded a sense of ostentation. It revealed a bad reputation. The most formidable socialites wore their perfume on their handkerchiefs, fans or purses — never their skin. It was a privacy matter.

Discovering The World’s Most Reputable Eau de Cologne Brands

The modern cologne, when compared to the light, uncharacteristic, unassuming perfumes of the nineteenth century, contains a smattering of musk, wood, and balsams. These aggressive sensors would have made for quite the criticism in the old days. Eau de colognes of today, unlike many perfumes, arrive at no base note, contributing only the top and then heart, or middle notes.

Eau de Cologne Imperiale by GuerlainThe eau de cologne craze spun south from the city of origin — aligning itself in the fashion capital of the world: Paris, France. The luxurious Perfume House of Guerlain was constructed via this legend of the miracle water.

Back to 1828, the former chemist Pierre-Pascal-Francois Guerlain set up a shop on Paris’ Rue de Rivoli. And, via this timeless vision, he was able to appoint his supply to the grand duchess of Bade and Her Majesty the Queen of Belgium. Later, Guerlain created Eau de Cologne Imperiale, presented to Empress Eugenie upon her marriage to Napoleon III. Its famous “bee design” bottle is an enduring symbol of Guerlain.

Acqua di Parma is another prominent brand, praised for the artisanship of Italy in a collection of iconic colognes. The company’s original scent, Colonia, was created in 1916 in a small factory in the centre of Parma’s historic old town. Over the years, Acqua di Parma has passed through the hands of many passionate owners, but continues to be one of the world’s most iconic labels.

Famous perfume houses of Chanel and Christian Dior have added their exclusive, branded fragrances to the global bank of colognes. The simplicity of eau de cologne is unambiguous, utilizing the most sublime, natural elements. It yields the zest of an orange, a lime, and a lemon. It highlights the quality richness of rose, wood, musk — of the surrounding world. It’s the natural splash that will allow you to feel completely as yourself; it doesn’t distract for your personality, it rather completes it.