From Italian monastery to society Parisian boutiques, Cologne had a European fortune: its creator’s audacity plus vicissitudes of royal wars drew the conquest of this fragrance in all courts of Europe. Like its most fervent adept, the Emperor Napoleon I.

From Tuscany to Northern Europe.

Bien naïf celui qui porterait sur l’eau de Cologne un regard complaisant ; comme souvent l’histoire est bien plus riche qu’il n’y paraît. Elle débute à Florence, dans le prospère XVIe siècle toscan où règne la maison Médicis. À deux pas de la basilique Santa Maria Novella, un couvent de Dominicains dispose d’un jardin de plantes médicinales à partir duquel les frères excellent dans l’élaboration d’essences, de potions, de pommades et de baumes.

The Santa Maria Novella perfumery in Florence, antique Medici pharmacy.
The Santa Maria Novella perfumery in Florence, antique Medici pharmacy.

Naïve, one who would take a complacent look at the cologne; as often History is much richer than it seems. It begins in Florence, in the prosperous 18th century Tuscan where reigns the Medici family. A stone’s throw from the Santa Maria Novella Basilica, a Dominican convent has a medicinal garden from which the friars excel in the elaboration of essences, potions, ointments and balms.

On the occasion of the departure for France Court of the very refined Catherine de Médicis (1519 – 1589), the Dominican monks elaborate especially for her a perfume thanks to an innovation which will initiate to the birth of Cologne. “Water of the Queen” with bergamot scent is not, as was the custom, made from vinegar but from alcohol. The intuition of holy men will pay off … but not for them! It is Giovanni Paolo Feminis (1660 – 1736) who will benefit from it. Born near Milan, he invented, from Water of the Queen, a hesperidic blend, which he foresaw the success. Our Italian moved to Cologne to commercialise this water he called “Acqua Mirabilis” and which concentrates all the mythical perfumes of an idealized Italy: bergamot, lemon, lavender and rosemary awaken the senses with their freshness and poetically evoke the Tuscan sun. Success is fast and his fortune is made. Rich but not eternal, Giovanni Paolo Feminis bequeaths the secret of his recipe to a member of his family so that his business remains.

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« Eau de Cologne » conquers Imperial France.

Let’s wait now for the Seven Years’ War (1756 – 1763) that brought French soldiers to Cologne. As military as he is, a French in a foreign land will forever remain a tourist. Thus the soldiers brought back bottles of Acqua Mirabilis in their kit. Cologne seduces Paris and it is all (the wealthier) France which hastens to get some. Jean-Marie Farina (1685 – 1766), nephew of Feminis, renames the Acqua Mirabilis in “Eau Admirable” and is proud to count Bonaparte among its most loyal customers. Countless colognes then flood the market and fierce competition triggers a lawsuit in Cologne at the beginning of the 20th century to determine the paternity of the Cologne. The Supreme Court of the Empire will decide, after tedious research, in favor of Giovanni Paolo Feminis.

In the end, it is no surprise that Napoleon found in this water a perfume very suitable for him. From the scents of his native Corsica to those of the nearby Tuscany, there is less distance than between Ajaccio and Paris. It will still have taken a voluntary expatriation and a war so that the meeting between the fragrance and the Emperor could take place. A proof if necessary that the essential always returns within our reach.