Acqua di Parma’s Colonia is a classic that withstands the test of time. Originally created in 1916, Colonia represented a departure in style from the heavier perfumes that were popular during that era. Uniquely suited to the minimalist (yet supremely chic) Italian aesthetic, it was popularized by a range of high-profile American and European actors and actresses who discovered Colonia just before the outbreak of the Second World War.
In that atmosphere of fear and tragic violence, with the looming spectre of global conflagration imprinted readily on the social consciousness, I like to think that Colonia provided an escape, however small. During the wartime years, when those actors gathered to prepare the films that would provide necessary entertainment for a fearful and weary public, I imagine their crestfallen faces as they hear of yet another nation that has fallen to annexation, perhaps Flanders or France or countless other principalities, unable to resist a rising tide that must have then seemed totally unstoppable.
But instead of succumbing to fear and melancholy, those actors soldiered on. Barricading themselves alone in their dressing rooms to steel their hearts and faces, they prepared to walk onto the set with a smile on their face, to offer tales of heroism and tragedy, of love and death and life, and most importantly, stories of hope to a public that desperately needed an escape. And for some, there in that dressing room, amidst the makeup powder and the costumes was a bottle containing a liquid that was quintessentially Italian in both origin and character. Prepared for the scene, just before heading out into a world that must have seemed ever darker and more brutal, these actors and actresses would have sprayed the wonderful Colonia… and there, right there! Could it be? The beautiful actress entered stage left with a genuine smile, eyes shining with a renewed glimmer of hope.
For me, Acqua di Parma’s Colonia is a tribute to the classics and the classical. It is uplifting and clean; it brightens the senses and fortifies the spirit. Despite its ephemeral cologne concentration, it has an eternal quality to it. Something about Colonia brings to mind sunshine-covered Italian herb gardens – gardens that will never and can never be conquered or defiled by any kleptomaniacal dictator. Pristine and untouched, Colonia is an olfactory testament to the nobility of the human spirit.
At first sniff, the wearer will be reminded of an array of citruses placed gently on a bed of lavender and stimulating rosemary. After a few minutes, the heat of the skin gives rise to an elegant yet slightly soapy Bulgarian rose, which is framed less prominently by jasmine. It is a polite fragrance, certainly elegant, with a distinguished character and optimistic outlook. It is certainly unisex, as it contains elements considered in modern perfumery to be both masculine and feminine. Light, unassuming, and fresh, Colonia is a fragrance for a brighter tomorrow.
If Creed’s Aventus is the olfactory soundtrack of the modern Napoleonic conqueror, Colonia is the aroma of democratic resistance. In many parts of the world, it is not just the poppy, but also leaves of rosemary that are used as a symbol of remembrance at the funerals of those who were killed in war. Unsurprisingly Colonia features a pronounced rosemary note that pairs well with rose. Rose, the most symbolic of flowers, is used to express love, and also happens to be representative of both nobility and compassion. These elements combine with the citrus to remind me of those who soldier on (and perhaps even soldier) in historical periods of danger. Though it remembers the First World War, I find that it is the fevered hopefulness of this poem (“America’s Answer”, by R.W. Lillard) that best captures the spirit of Colonia:
“Rest ye in peace, ye Flanders dead
The fight that you so bravely led
We’ve taken up. And we will keep
True faith with you who lie asleep,
With each a cross to mark his bed,
And poppies blowing overhed,
When once his own life-blood ran red
So let your rest be sweet and deep
In Flanders Fields.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
The torch ye threw to us we caught,
Ten million hands will hold it high,
And freedom’s light shall never die!
We’ve learned the lesson that ye taught
In Flanders’ fields.
Today, many years after the world wars, likely due to its the combination of citrus, rosemary, rose and lavender, Colonia comes across as a noble and happy fragrance that is subtly tinged with an element of sacrifice – it delivers a feeling that the better days ahead will certainly come, but at a heavy cost. When I wear this fragrance, I think of the people who loved and lived and died as part of the Greatest Generation. That classic elegance, those brave souls are commemorated in this wonderful cologne, and through our fragrant remembrance of those who soldier on in times of great adversity, we are reminded that it is indeed true that heroes never die.