Niche Fragrance Magazine

Oh the Cologne!

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Part one – citrus classicism

Following NeoXerxes’ fascinating post on oranges in perfumery, I’m sticking to the citrus theme, but taking a different twist on it, looking at some of the simplest, most refreshing fragrances out there: Eaux de Cologne. While ‘Cologne’ has come to mean ‘perfume for men’, particularly in the USA, it actually is a very specific category of fragrance.

Just to start there with the name – ‘eau de’ means ‘water of’ and Cologne is a city in Germany, so when you have more than one, you multiply the water, rather than the city: hence Eaux de Cologne. While there was a perfumery industry across Europe in the 18th century it was Cologne where these refreshing light fragrances were made popular by Italian perfumer, Jean Marie Farina. But you can find more about the history of Eau de Cologne elsewhere on the interwebs. I will keep it simple and describe them as fragrances made at a lower strength (under 5% of scent ingredients) for more frequent application.

I think of them as being ‘top heavy’ fragrances, because they tend to work really well as vehicles for those ephemeral topnotes that fly away within half an hour or so. Eau de Cologne is made to be topped up regularly as a little refreshing ritual, so you get to replay that fabulous filip several times each day.

While my Nana was a fan of 4711 Echt Kölnischwasser and often had a little bottle of it in her handbag (as do I) not all Eaux de Cologne are the same, or even similar. There are fruity, spicy, leathery and floral eaux, as well as the citrus versions we tend to think of as the classic type. I am going to look at some citruses to start with and in posts to come I’ll be snuffling my way through other variations.

Food & Drink

Citrus eaux are popular because they are unisex, easily recognisable, and embody a particular perception of cleanliness and freshness, making them acceptable to most people. While fragonerds like me might seek out the animalic dark delights of Eau d’Hermes, there is a lot to be said for fragrances that are light, approachable and have a sunny ease to them. Given the number of citrus fruits and complimentary flowers such as jasmine and neroli (orange blossom), there’s an enormous range of combinations and possibilities (Guerlain alone has five different eaux de Cologne). It’s just a matter of finding which one you like best.

Eau de Guerlain
Provence was apparently Jean-Paul Guerlain’s inspiration when he created this eau de cologne in 1974. Even though my first impression was of a bright cloud of citrus that sang up off my skin, it does have a certain herbal weight to it. The sophistication lies in the choices of citrus and the notes that orchestrate around it – there is bergamot as well as lemon in the topnotes along with mint and basil, so there is a complexity right from the beginning. The heart then contains lavender, sandalwood and caraway enriching the carnation and jasmine for more complexity and a spicy herbal depth that stays on the skin longer. Finally there is a clean musky base to this fresh and elegant eau de cologne, which I find adds to the longevity as well, giving me a few hours of wear, which I find unusually long for this class of fragrance.

Eau de Fleurs de Cédrat (Guerlain)
Created in 1920 by Jacques Guerlain, to a traditional family formula inspired by the landscapes of the Riviera (how does that work, I wonder?) Eau de Fleurs de Cédrat has a delightful fizzy lemon opening that’s fresh and light, mellowing out to a gentle sandalwood fuzz. Its song is short and sweet, lasting barely two hours, so carry a little purse spray to refresh yourself several times during the day. There is something mouthwateringly delicious about these fizzy lemon types of cologne that I find absolutely addictive, so respraying frequently for those lemonade topnotes is no hardship for me.

Eau de Cologne (Acqua de Genova)
We go from lemonade to sherbert lemons with another delicious effervescent pure lemon eau de cologne with a history. This one was created for the house of Savoy (yes, the one the hotel is named after), the alpine fiefdom that we more usually think of as snowy and ski-able. But those high mountains get very hot in the summer and this would be a perfect refresher. Where the Guerlain has the zip of a Citron Pressé, this is a touch sweeter and lightly floral, making it a lemon sherbert. There are definitely some additional floral and perhaps even ambery notes in the heart, giving it more roundness than Eau de Fleurs de Cédrat. It is rather more feminine than many citrus eaux, and lasts well, leaving a light muskiness on the skin. I must admit to falling in love with this right from my first wearing.

Eau d’ Orange Verte (Hermes)
If you’re lucky enough to stay in a posh hotel that has these toiletries, enjoy! My daughter has a great fondness for this fragrance thanks to a kind friend of mine who gave her a dinky little set when she was small. How could I disagree with her? It’s a lovely bracing and unisex lemon and orange spritz with a touch of white flowers to prolong its life. This has a fabulous sillage that is absolutely gorgeous, and the bottles are incredibly stylish. This was the original from the 70s that inspired Jean-Claude Ellena to launch the annually-expanding range of Hermes Eaux which are so much fun. One of those gifts that can’t really go wrong, I would suggest.

Eau de Colgne Bergamotto Marina (Gianfranco Ferre)
This little oddity from the great Pierre Bourdon has a bergamot topnote along with white flowers that warm the heart, so I’ve included it in the citrus section, but there is an aquatic aspect to it that makes it quite different from classic citrussy eaux. Personally, I like that slightly ‘warm’ touch of the marine that makes it last quite a lot longer; it reminds me very much of Dior’s Escale a Portofino. Sadly, it’s discontinued, but it still pops up for sale here and there, so it’s worth a mention, and also if you do have it in your collection, this is a little reminder to fish it out and enjoy it. (And that’s as much a note to myself as to anyone else – I had failed to spot the black box lurking at the back of my cupboard until last week. Shame on me.)

So when you’re switching over from your winter and spring fragrances to your summer wardrobe, spare a thought for some Eaux. They might be just the ticket to cut through the early summer mugginess and keep you cool. More thoughts on this, and a visit to the kitchen garden, next time.

A decade ago in a little secondhand bookshop, I bought a biography of an obscure biophysicist written by a New York Times journalist and my life changed. Yes, I blame it all on Luca Turin and Chandler Burr; thanks to them I fell in love with L'Heure Bleue and haven't looked back since.

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