The history behind eau de cologne


Have you ever wondered what the origins of “eau de cologne” are? The history behind eau de cologne is simple. Sometimes simply called “cologne”, the “Water of Cologne” (as it was originally translated from the German Kölnisch Wasser or the French Eau de Cologne) is a toiletry perfume made in Cologne, Germany.

An Italian fragrance


The history behind eau de cologne starts with Giovanni Maria Farina, an Italian perfume maker from Santa Maria Maggiore who lived in the 17th century. He moved to Cologne and launched a spirit-citrus perfume in 1709 which reminded him of Italy. He wrote to his brother claiming he had found a fragrance that reminds of an Italian spring morning, of mountain daffodils and orange blossoms after the rain. This fragrance was called Eau de Cologne in honour of his new hometown. The original formula was a much appreciated perfume and was sold to all European royal houses around Cologne. Giovanni’s way of combining the essences and keeping the same proportions and consistence were unique at that time. The price of a vial of the miracle water was the equivalent of half the salary of a civil servant for a year. After 1979, other businessmen started to sell their own fragrances under the successful name of “Eau de Cologne” but the original formula produced by Giovanni Maria Farina remained a secret until today.  The former shop in Obenmarsp where the fragrane was sold became is today the world’s oldest fragrance factory. The business continued with many generations and the grand-grand son of Giovanny, who enherited the business, opened one of the most exclusivist perfumeries in Paris. This was then sold to Mäurer & Wirtz, a group owned by the Wirtz family in Germany, which created the famous “4711” brand of perfumes. This number represents the house number attributed to the cologne factory after the French invasion in 1795 and the place is still a tourist attraction today.

Eau de cologne today


Nowadays, the term is generically used to describe scented fragrances in concentration of 2 to 5% essential oils. Today the cologne is a mix of extracts, alcohol (70-80%) and water. The frequently used essences are citrus oils (lemon, orange, tangerine, lime, grapefruit, bergamot or neroli) but it can also contain extracts of lavender, rosemary, thyme, orange leaf or jasmine. Even if they were originally conceived to be used by both sexes, the cologne is usually a men’s alternative to perfume. The modern convention states that the term “cologne” should be used to describe men’s fragrance but this convention does not exist in Germany.

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