The modern retelling of the classic scent is being redefined by a focus on sustainability through sourcing natural origin ingredients, eco-conscious packaging, and creating circular economies
Les Exclusifs de Chanel – Eau de Cologne
The French have always been at the forefront of perfumery and they have also adopted and captured the German-Italian fragrance. The best example of this comes from the house of Chanel with the creation of its first-ever men’s fragrance Pour Monsieur in 1955. Created by the house’s perfumer Henri Robert, citrusy top notes of Sicilian lemon and lavender and a woody trail of vetiver and vanilla from Madagascar characterize it.
There is also the Jacques Polge interpretation of cologne, the 2007 Les Exclusifs de Chanel – Eau de Cologne. A more classic homage, this interpretation reveals notes of mandarin and bergamot along with neroli. Then, there’s the brand’s most successful men’s cologne, Bleu de Chanel. The fragrance unites the freshness of grapefruit with the woody aromas of cedar and New Caledonian sandalwood.
Alongside creating luxury products and perfumes, Chanel recognizes the need for action against climate change. Their Chanel Mission 1.5 outlines their plan to reduce their carbon emissions and create positive impact via their environmental strategies. For their fragrance lines they have developed an environmental impact methodology to assess each ingredient in their formulations. This includes measuring the footprint of each ingredient. The brand develops eco-conscious, reusable packaging, reducing also the carbon footprints of their perfume bottles.
Aqua Mirabilis or Admirable Water
The story of the creation of one of the world’s most enduring fragrances is a smelly one. The middle ages in Europe lacked sanitation and a certain disregard for personal hygiene. But that changed with the arrival of Eau de Cologne. The earliest origins of the scent go back to Italian monasteries in the middle ages. Here, they prepared a perfumed alcoholic solution called Aqua Mirabilis or Admirable Water admired for its scent and therapeutic properties.
This secret recipe escaped the doors of the monasteries and landed in the hands of Giovanni Paulo Feminis. An Italian barber and entrepreneur from Val Vigezzo who later settled in Cologne, Germany, in 1695. He began selling a blend of bergamot, neroli, lavender and rosemary oils diluted in grape spirit. The product was such a success that Feminis summoned other members of his family to northern Germany. The aim was, in fact, to help develop the business, passing it down to his nephew Giovanni Maria Farina. He tweaked his uncle’s formula, committed it to writing and, then, developed a citrusy perfume with only five percent alcohol. Farina named it after his adopted hometown, Cologne.
Eau de Cologne: a three-hundred-year-old history
Although shrouded in some controversy, this has largely come to be known as the earliest origins of the fragrance. Not only did Farina advocate his creation for scenting one’s person. He also encouraged the use of it to combat all sorts of ailments. These included skin, stomach as well as gum problems. So convinced were people of cologne’s healing powers that they believed it could keep the bubonic plague away.
So precious was the scent that a vial could cost the equivalent of a civil servant’s salary for six months. Around a thousand euros at that time. This is the reason why, for the longest time, it enjoyed an audience of only the wealthiest patrons. The German aristocracy – including Beethoven and Mozart – loved it.
Eau de Cologne’s key ingredients
Writer Goethe had a cloth dipped in the perfume, placed in a basket by his desk as he wrote. Prince Elector of Cologne Clemens August used forty bottles of cologne a month. But one of the fragrance’s greatest fans was Napoleon Bonaparte. He had a standing order with his perfumer, Chardin, to deliver fifty bottles of cologne a month to him. Bonaparte was even rumoured to munch Farina Ducks. Pieces of sugar soaked in cologne to protect himself from diseases.
Eau de Cologne has endured The French Revolution, the First and Second World wars and competition from popular imitations. The reason for this lies in the combination of ingredients used in its making. Citrus fruit, flowers and herbs, diluted in a mixture of alcohol and water, with the smell bergamot and bitter oils pressed from the skins of lemon and having a perfume oil concentration of anywhere between three to five percent only, as opposed to Eau de Parfum’s twelve percent or more. This gives Cologne a lightness of character that Farina described as, «reminiscent of a spring morning in Italy after the rain, of oranges, lemons, grapefruit, bergamot, cedar and the blooms and herbs of his home».
Twenty-first century’s revisitation of the Eau de Cologne
Over the years, perfumers and luxury brands have revisited and reimagined the fragrance for the modern age. While early years saw the use of natural ingredients only, the twenty-first century has brought with it synthetic chemicals and ingredients. These have made the scent cheaper to replicate and available to a larger audience.
The modern landscape has introduced sustainable practices that ensure the long-term preservation of ingredients, ethics across the supply chain and eco-conscious packaging. There are brands that have stuck with tradition, retaining the essential character of the fragrance. While others have taken to innovating the fragrance, adding new ingredients to the mix, and experimenting with more intense notes, that last longer on the skin. A feature that doesn’t characterize Cologne, due to its low alcohol to perfume oil ratio.
Eau de Cologne
Or simply cologne, is a perfume originating from Cologne, Germany. Originally mixed by Johann Maria Farina (Giovanni Maria Farina) in 1709, it has since come to be a generic term for scented formulations in typical concentration of two to five percent, and also more depending upon its type essential oils or a blend of extracts, alcohol, and water. In a base of dilute ethanol – seventy to ninety percent – eau de cologne contains a mixture of citrus oils including oils of lemon, orange, tangerine, clementine, bergamot, lime, grapefruit, blood orange and bitter orange. It can also contain oils of neroli, lavender, rosemary, thyme, oregano, petitgrain (orange leaf), jasmine, olive, oleaster and tobacco.