Grooming

History of Cologne


Wearing cologne can be tricky for a man.

It’s a turn off if you bath in it and wearing too little will pretty much accomplish nothing. Finding the right balance, however, can be be beneficial. It turns out “that daily use of pleasant-smelling colognes significantly improves the mood of middle-aged men, reducing mood disturbances such as tension, depression, anger, fatigue and confusion which are associated with the ‘mid-life crisis”.

Oh yeah, the ladies prefer colognes more than that oxidized sweat you’ve been extracting all day, despite what companies pushing pheromone-based scents will have you believe.

But, this isn’t a guide on how to wear cologne or the best colognes on the market (maybe that’s for another day), it’s about the long and rich history of cologne.

Cologne in Ancient Times

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Egyptians were some of the first people to use cologne in the ancient world. They used fragrances for religious ceremonials, believing that they could communicate with the gods by raising scented smoke. This is where we get the word perfume from, which was per fumum in Latin meaning through smoke. Incense was also used for religious purposes, while scented balms and ointments were used for cosmetic and/or medicinal purposes. Common ingredients for these early perfumes were myrrh, frankincense, peppermint and rose. This was also the case for Islamic, Chinese and Indian cultures, who had been using perfume as part of their religious and social rituals as well.

Since the Egyptians also invented glass, they utilized glass perfume bottles to store their perfumes. Gold, hard stones and other materials were also used to make their perfume containers.

The Egyptians weren’t the only ancient civilization that made advances in perfume and scents. The Persians, for example, perfected the art of preserving scents. After invading Egypt, Alexander the Great brought perfume back to Greece. It was in ancient Greece where perfumes were categorized according to the part of the plant that they came from. Ancients Greeks also kept records of their compositions. After invading Greece, the Romans became aware of perfume.

Cologne Conquers Europe

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Despite being in existence in the Middle East for centuries, fragrances and aromas didn’t spread to Europe until the Crusades. While the spread of Christianity had diminished perfume use initially, the end of the Crusades and flourishing trade routes to Asia in the 12th Century helped Europeans realize the art of perfumery. Interestingly enough, the spread of Christianity also diminished perfume use.

The trade of new scents and spices from the East became increasingly important in Western Europe. These were the same spices that were used not only in perfumes, but also in medicine and food. Soon, Europeans discovered that perfume made a great addition to personal grooming and perfume use was revived. It even became the norm for people to develop their fragrances by mixing flowers, herbs, spices and oils at home. In 1370, Hungary Water, the first Alcoholic perfume, was created for Elizabeth of Hungary.

In 1656, the guild of glove and perfume-makers was established in France. Meanwhile, in the Royal Court of Great Britain, women would put fragranced sponges under they clothes. By the 17th Century a perfume fad had taken over Europe. It wasn’t uncommon for noble women to create their own fragrances by experimenting with different aromas. Fragrances became so popular that Louis 14 of France even considered restricting the use of perfumes because he was jealous that his subjects loved fragrances more then him. After the discovery of the Americas a new perfume industry opened up for the Europeans. Balsam of Peru and American cedar, sassafras and vanilla immediately found loyal consumers in Europe.

What we know as of cologne can be traced back to the early- to mid-1700s. One legend it that Johan Paul Feminis, while traveling from Italy to Cologne, Germany, came upon a down-on-his-luck monk and took him to Cologne where he nursed him back to health. The monk gratefully gave him the recipe for eau admirable, supposedly the precursor to eau de cologne, a formula Feminis manufactured and sold in Cologne.

There’s also the legend that in 1709, Giovanni Maria Farina, a young Italian, invented cologne after he spilled a collection of essential oils and created an appealing, if serendipitous scent, while in Cologne, Germany. So it was Farina who unveiled the original Eau de Cologne (“water from Colgne”), which was a variant of Hungary Water. The eau de cologne was originally intended for both internal and external use, having both medicinal and cosmetic applications.

In 1752, No. Six Cologne was made from a formula in England and brought to America by the founder of Caswell and Massey, Dr. William Hunter. It became the most popular scent in early America, and was even sent as a gift to Lafayette by Washington while he was President. In 1794, the 4711 Cologne was introduced after a formula made by a French émigré friar. This scent was named after the house number assigned to the Mulhens Family perfumery’s shop during the 1794 French occupation of Cologne. It has been said that Napoleon used to bathe in a diluted version of this scent. Napoleon also created a legal distinction between medicinal and cosmetic perfumes.

Cologne in Modern Times

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By the time that the 19th Century had arrived, hygiene had become a symbol of soul purity. Both modern chemistry and advanced technology made it possible to create new extraction techniques. Perhaps the biggest of all technological advances was the ability to create synthetic ingredients as a substitute for natural perfume ingredients, which were hard to find or very expensive. This helped to bring the price of perfume and cologne down, which made it accessible for the masses. Perfume was no longer a luxury for the wealthy. However, there remained only a few brand names available until the 20th century when mass production of fragrances began.

In 1920, Chanel No. 5 was created. This became the first expensively produced perfume using artificial scents. However, as the 20th Century progressed, men began wearing cologne from Old Spice and Dunhill For Men in the 30s, English Leather and Givenchy in the late 40s, and later on the successful Halston Z-14, Geoffrey Beene’s Grey Flannel and Ralph Lauren’s Polo lines. Even Axe has been around since 1983. Of course, there numerous other colognes from Calvin Klein, Armani, Gucci, Tommy Hilfiger and more.

Today, eau de cologne (or simply, cologne) just refers to a fragrance whose oil concentration is approximately 5%, unlike perfume, which has the highest concentration, typically ranging from 20% to 25%. At the turn of the millennium, colognes were a $1.5 billion business in the United States.

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