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Giovanni Maria Farina, whose formula for Eau de Cologne has remained a guarded secret for over 300 years.

The History of Eau de Cologne

What sounds like it is a combination of French and German is actually the creation of an Italian. The original Eau de Cologne was a citrus/alcohol-based fragrance, launched in Cologne, Germany in 1709. The manufacturer was Giovanni Maria Farina (1685–1766), who was an Italian perfume maker from Santa Maria Maggiore Valle Vigezzo in northern Italy. In 1708, Farina wrote to his brother Jean Baptiste, “I have found a fragrance that reminds me of an Italian spring morning, of mountain daffodils and orange blossoms after the rain.” He named his fragrance Eau de Cologne, in honor of his new hometown. Who would have thought that the name would stick?

The Eau de Cologne created by Farina was used as a perfume and delivered to almost every royal house in Europe. His ability to produce a fragrance that maintained its scent, remained stable and consisted of dozens of essences was seen as a sensation at the time. When it was introduced, a single vial of the aqua mirabilis (Latin for miracle water) cost half the annual salary of a civil servant! When free trade was established in Cologne by the French in 1797, the success of Eau de Cologne prompted countless other businessmen to sell their own fragrances under the name Eau de Cologne. Giovanni Maria Farina’s formula has been produced in Cologne since 1709 and to this day remains a secret. His shop remains the world’s oldest fragrance factory.

In modern times, Eau de Cologne or “cologne,” has become a generic term. The term cologne can be applied to perfume for men or women, but it conventionally refers to perfumes marketed towards men. Had Farina stuck to his roots and named his formula after his hometown, we would have Eau de Maggiore, which we think sounds a whole lot better!