Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A History of Colognes

“My perfume brings to mind a fine spring morning after the rain; a composition of orange, lemon, grapefruit, bergamot,  flowers and fruits of my homeland…”-Giovanni Maria Farina

The investigation into the roots of any family of perfumes is a fascinating one. It is equally intriguing to see how at a particular moment in time a particular fragrance captures the imagination of the people of that time and becomes immensely popular as happened with Eau de Cologne, its popularization in Germany and its eventual spread to all parts of the world.

Previous to the commercialization of Eau de Cologne which took place in 1709 in the city of Köln, Germany the most popular alcohol based perfume was Hungary Water. It is considered, by many the first modern perfume that had a multinational clientele. Indeed many local variations of the formula arose in the European countries that circulated it.

"Hungary water (sometimes called "the Queen of Hungary's Water") historically was the first alcohol perfume formulated in Europe at the command of Elizabeth, Queen of Hungary. The exact date of when the first batch of Hungary water was made is lost to history. It is equally unclear even who in particular created it. Some sources say it that a monk-recluse who first gave it to Elizabeth, though most likely it was made by court alchemist (who could also have been a monk, thus reconciling the two traditions). In its first version, it was distilled rosemary and thyme with an infusion of spirits, while later recipes contain lavender, mint, sage, marjoram, costus, orange blossom and lemon.

Hungary water first appeared outside of Hungary in 1370 when the French Charles V le Sage, who was famous for his love of fragrances, received some. Hungary water was known across Europe for many centuries and until eau de Cologne appeared in the 18th century, it was the number one fragrance and remedy applied in the world. Similar to other herb and flower-based products, Hungary water was not only a fragrance, but also a valuable remedy as it used to be in the Middle Ages. The most valuable description of its attributes was in 1683 in the "Pharmacopeia Londoniensis" by Nicholas Culpeper:

"The water (containing an infusion of spirits) is admirable cure-all remedy of all kinds of cold and humidity-induced head ailments, apoplexies, epilepsies, dizziness, lethargy, crippleness, nerves diseases, rheumatism, flaws, spasms, loss of memory, coma, drowsiness, deafness, ear buzzing, derangement of vision, blood coagulation, mood-induced headaches headaches. Relieves toothache, useful for stomach cramps, pleuritis, lack of appetite, indigestion, obstruction of the liver, obstruction of the spleen, intestinal obstruction and contraction of the uterus. It receives and preserves natural heat, restores body functions and capabilities even at late age (saying has it). There are not many remedies producing that many good effects. Use internally in wine or vodka, rinse temples, breath in with your nose."

Sometime in the late 1600's there lived in Italy a man by the name of Gian Paolo Feminis who was a barber by trade. It is thought that he was obtained a copy of Hungary Water produced in the Santa Maria Monastery, Florence for several centuries. Naturally the recipe had been adapted to the aromatics available in Italy at that time. He in turn modified the recipe according to his own tastes and created the prototype of Eau de Cologne in 1695 and gave it the name of Eau Admirabilis.

Then with his recipe in hand he came to Germany to seek his fortune and settled in the city of Köln. There, in 1709 he began selling his aromatic creation which was composed of citrus oils such as bergamot, neroli, orange and lemon and various herbs blended into pure grape alcohol. The simple, fresh, exhilarating beauty of his perfume immediately became popular in this major commercial center and as the demand for the product increased he required more help to produce and market it. He then requested his nephew Giovanni Maria Farina to come and assist him with his work.

Giovanni had a natural business bent-of-mind as well as a perfumers heart and he quickly advanced the name the delightful product even further and in 1714 gave it the name of Eau de Cologne which was locally known as Kölnisch Wasser or "Water of Köln". He furthermore began to promote it as a cure-all for both internal consumption and external application. Since Köln was a major center of international commerce of the time, traders from other countries began to take back this local product to their own countries. At that time French was the language of commerce so Giovanni converted the German name of the perfume "Kölnisch Wasser" to the French "Eau de Cologne". In 1731 he took over the business and with each passing year under his competent management the business grew. Many rich and famous people of the time became his customers including Charles VI of Austria, Maria Theresa of Austria, Clemens August I of Bavaria, and Frederick William I of Prussia. Through his work Köln established itself as a major perfume city. Seeing his success many other companies endeavored to copy him and by the end of 1860 there were over 40 shops advertising Eau de Cologne under the name of Farina.

In 1756 the 7 year war broke out (1756-1763) which involved most of the European countries and many of their colonies. Farina supplied the French troops with Eau de Cologne because of its purported medicinal value as well as for its fragrance. Through the French it was circulated to its allies in Austria, Russia, Sweden and beyond and its fame grew ever more.

Eau de cologne, a refreshing perfumed toilet water which was to become the world's most famous cosmetic item of all time, was originally used for medicinal purposes. Made from a formula which included essences of rosemary, orange flower, bergamot and lemon, drops of cologne were taken on sugar or in wine for disorders of the digestive system. In addition, due to its antiseptic properties, it was used as a mouth wash, for cleansing wounds, and for massage as relief for muscle and joint pains.

The fragrance became so popular in France that Farina decided to open a shop in Paris but appears that very soon after many copy-cat shops arose selling Eau de Cologne as it had in Köln so Farina sold the formula to Leonos Collas, a Frenchman who in turn sold it to the established Robert et Gallet perfume house who continued to successfully market the Parisian version of Eau de Cologne while descendants of Giovanii who remained in Köln continued to market the product in Germany.

When Napoleon came to power in 1799, he further championed the reputation of Eau de Cologne as he was a lavish user of the essence and it is reported that he used several liters of it per month. In 1810 he made a decree that every product that was reputed to have curative properties would need to openly reveal its ingredients. Those holding the secret formula decided at that point to declare Eau de Cologne to be a simply a toilet water and not a cure all as it previously advertised to be. By slow degrees people forgot this part of its history.

The late 1700's and early 1800's marked the ascent of France as the perfume capitol of the world and with passage of time many of the established perfume houses created their own versions of Eau de Cologne. Today the word cologne simply refers to a dilution of 3-6% perfume concentrate in alcohol and there are numerous perfume houses producing a great diversity of products which bear little resemblance to the simple citrus/herbal cologne of the house of Farina in Germany.

Two of the old perfumeries which are reported to have the original formula continue to offer a cologne that is in many ways related to the original: Roger and Gallet Farina House (which also has a museum and is at the original location of the first Eau de Cologne factory)