The refreshing blend of citrus and herbs that we classify as ‘eau de cologne’ today can be traced back to the fourteenth-century ‘Hungary water’, the first alcoholic perfume known in Europe. Reputedly formulated per the order of the Queen of Hungary, possibly Elisabeth of Poland (1305 – 29 December 1380), the concoction is said to have been based on the distilled essence of rosemary. Later formulae might also call for other aromatic essences. More closely associated to what we recognise as eaux de cologne, however, is the original 4711 Kölnisch Wasser created by Giovanni Maria Farina in 1709, containing essence of bergamot, orange, grapefruit, and petitgrain. Defunct though the original compositions may be, the freshness and radiance of their character have survived and come to define the hallmark of eaux de cologne.
Likewise, the sweltering heat of summer had inspired me to seek out such beloved traits in eaux de cologne, and I revisited a few modern compositions over the past weeks. I revelled in the avant-garde intensity of Pamplelune (Guerlain, 1999) and the wondrous contrast between green fig and wood of Ninfeo Mio (Annick Goutal, 2010), but I beheld the immaculate Eau de Cologne of Chanel (2007) by perfumer Jacques Polge, which seems to strike the ideal aesthetic between classical allure and minimalistic polish.
Here, the beautiful backbone of vibrant citrus versus sensual musk in an eau de cologne is not only well preserved, but also polished. The creation of Eau de Cologne, it seems, necessitates only the essentials: bergamot, orange blossom, and musk. These are dosed generously, and the composition executed with such balance that each turn — from the bright clarity of bergamot and the green floral of petitgrain and neroli to the sweetness of orange blossom and musk — is seamless. It is simple yet brilliant, like a chip of white diamond.
This bright character is not unlike 4711 Kölnisch Wasser, an all-time classic and affordable eau de cologne, and one may well question the necessity of another pricey eau de cologne. However, the quality of materials and simplicity of Eau de Cologne are what sets it apart. The beloved freshness and radiance is brought to the fore, but kept understated. That is the quality of Eau de Cologne that I admire. So, even if I did not own one, I think it would be worth a trip to a Chanel counter just to smell it.
Smelling the result of beautiful materials and excellent balance is already pleasing, and such an uncluttered presentation of a classical idea is all the more reason to like this one. It perfectly distils the classical essence of an eau de cologne in a modern manner.
Sources: chanel.fr; Élisabeth de Feydeau, Les Parfums: Histoire, anthologie, dictionnaire, Robert Laffont, 2011, 1206 p.