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In focus: eau de Cologne

German perfumers have had a reputation for innovation since eau de Cologne was created. Today’s modern fragrances are worthy successors to this classic scent, reports Gwyneth Holland

Gwyneth Holland portrait
Gwyneth Holland,

German perfumers’ contributions to the world of fragrance have been characterised by innovation and artistry for centuries. Eau de Cologne has long been Germany’s most famous perfume, created by Giovanni Maria Farina in 1709 and worn by all the royal courts of Europe. Farina said that the fresh scent reminded him of ‘an Italian spring morning, of mountain daffodils and orange blossoms after the rain’ – a world away from the heady, sweet, unsophisticated perfumes of the time. His citrus scent with herbal undertones was named eau de Cologne in honour of his adopted home town, and he created a whole new genre of fragrances in the process. Farina’s invention is still in production three centuries later.

Farina’s work went on to influence the world’s most recognisable eau de Cologne, 4711, which remains hugely popular around the world, both for its classic packaging and its light, zesty scent. Now owned by fragrance company Mäurer & Wirtz, the cologne is still made to its original formula, but the 4711 brand is expanding to reach new audiences, from its breezy new Wunderwasser perfumes for men and women to an Italian twist on eau de Cologne, through its Acqua Colonia collection.

Germany’s newer perfume houses may not yet have the global reach of an icon like 4711, or the cachet of French perfume, but they are continuing Farina’s pioneering work by building artistry, innovation and individuality into their fragrances. ‘Germany is a country of innovations, where people are working on their dreams and want to create something new. We don’t just rethink old ways and refresh them, we want to establish new standards,’ says Tamas Tagscherer of niche perfume brand JF Schwarzlose, a Berlin-based house that specialises in luxurious perfumes that epitomise the city’s style.

Founded in 1856, JF Schwarzlose was relaunched in 2012 with designer Lutz Herrmann, perfumer Véronique Nyberg and marketer Tamas Tagscherer at the helm. The brand’s latest fragrance, Zeitgeist, encapsulates Berlin’s avant-garde spirit, its changeability and its sensuality through amber, musk and leatherwood combined with synthetic notes such as calone and edelonide. ‘The image of a German perfume brand today is still something new and unusual for most people – they find it exciting and innovative,’ says Tagscherer.

Projects such as Hamburg’s Biehl Parfumkunstwerke are enhancing Germany’s reputation for creative, unusual perfumes even further by elevating fragrance to an art form. Renowned perfumer Thorsten Biehl works with some of the perfume industry’s most respected noses to create singular scents available only in very limited editions. Free from commercial pressures, ‘fragrance artists’ such as Mark Buxton, Arturetto Landi, Patricia Choux, Egon Oelkers and Geza Schoen are able to create distinctive scents for the true perfume connoisseur.

Geza Schoen’s own perfume brand, Escentric Molecules, offers unexpected fragrances for perfume purists. ‘For most of my friends, perfume was always too much, too sweet, too heavy, too fruity... I thought it would be nice to wear [scent] more like an aura rather than a typical perfume, so it had to be really linear, almost one-dimensional, yet very sexy,’ says Schoen. The ‘one-dimensional’ perfumes in his Molecules collection are based on a single ingredient, such as ambroxan, vertiveryle acetate or Iso E Super, while his Escentric collection is more intricate, ‘playing with the molecule in a larger perfume structure’ by weaving both classical and ultramodern notes together.

At Frau Tonis in Berlin, the perfumers take a more personal, but no less inspirational, approach. The brand evokes the clear, distinct perfumes of the past through new fragrances such as the aromatic Aventure, with its notes of cedar wood, amber and pink pepper, Linde Berlin, which evokes Berlin’s famously fragrant linden trees and Violet, based on a perfume created for Marlene Dietrich in the 1920s. To create a genuine signature scent, visitors to the Frau Tonis Berlin store near Checkpoint Charlie, can compose their own.

Now available at boutiques in New York, Milan, Barcelona and Madrid, Frau Tonis is an example of Germany’s continuing influence on the perfume world. The brand was founded by Stefanie Hanssen, who believes that German perfumes’ reputation for quality and innovation is as potent as ever. ‘The times in which perfume had to come from France or Italy to get recognised are definitely over.’



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