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~ Fourth in a Series of Articles about Perfume ~

Although Jolique usually prefers the staying power and prettier packaging usually reserved for perfume (isn't it all about packaging these days?), sometimes a less potent form of fragrance, such as eau de parfum or an eau de cologne, is more pleasing. But what is eau de cologne, anyway? Today, eau de cologne (or simply, cologne) means nothing more than a fragrance whose essential oil concentration is approximately 5% (as opposed to perfume, which has the highest concentration, typically ranging from 20% to 25%. See Ether Madness...). Three centuries ago, however, eau de cologne meant something quite different. It was a fragrance in its own right, connoting a delightful mixture of lavender, bergamot and neroli.

Above: Packaging label from an 19th c. bottle of Eau de Cologne (1).

Because the word, cologne, is actually the French name given to the German city, Köln, it may seem surprising, then, that the origins of eau de cologne are actually rooted in Italy. These are the little tidbits that make history so interesting! It all started with Gian Paolo Feminis, a barber from Val Vigezzo, who left his Italian homeland to seek fortune in Germany. While in Germany, he created a perfume water which he called Aqua Admirabilis. This Aqua was made from grape spirits, oil of neroli, bergamot, lavender and rosemary. When it was released in 1709, customers swept it off the apothecary shelves of Cologne with such speed that Gian Paolo recruited his nephew, Giovanni Maria Farina, to help with the demand. In 1732, nephew Giovanni took over the business and marketed the product as a consumable cure-all for a variety of ailments, ranging from stomach aches to bleeding gums.

Word of this "Admirable Water" spread during the Seven Years' War, a war during the mid-18th century, in which Prussia and Britain fought against an alliance that included France, Austria and Russia. Prussia and Britain may have won the battle, but Farina won a few new French, Austrian and Russian customers. These soldiers brought bottles back to their homelands and voilà!—an instant global market was created. The French were the ones who dubbed it Eau de Cologne, and it became the particular favorite of one of Louis XV's mistresses (there were many!), the Comtesse du Barry.

Word of Napoleon's (1769-1821) endorsement of this cologne (he consumed entire bottles of it each day!) reached Germany, prompting the Farinas to open a shop in Paris. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, however, and it wasn't long before a number of copycats popped up in Paris and elsewhere. Some even had the audacity to adopt the Feminis/Farina names!

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