Monday, February 23, 2009

Bergamot in Fragrances and in Eau de Cologne: a Match made in Heaven

The use of bergamot in the Mediterranean fragrant waters is something of a tradition, even to this day. My mother, same as lots of men and women in my culture, used to carry a small splash bottle of fragrant alcoholic “eau” in her purse at all times, to refresh her hands or handkerchief during the day with a swift and effective “pick me up” and to even quick-cleanse mine in the absence of water and soap as a small child, thus killing two birds with one stone: eliminating some bacteria from casual contact with dirt and making me a fragrance aficionado ever since!

Although she kept her precious exotic perfumes at home, the bergamot, lemon or even pine-infused eau de Cologne travelled with her, refreshing many a time a weary travelling companion and alleviating a stuffy atmosphere of a couped- up car on a long drive across Europe. The citrus base of such waters has left an indelible mark on my conscious making me hanker after the smell of bergamot as the one cure to prevent nausea. But the history of Eau de Cologne and its inclusion of bergamot goes far, far back...
Although technically neroli (the essence rendered by the steam distillation of orange blossoms) is the prime constituent of an Eau de Cologne "type" of fragrance, bergamot gives it a finishing joyfulness and polish like no other thing.

The most influential scent of the 18th century and the court of Louis XV (nicknamed la cour parfumée due to the dictation of wearing a different scent every day) was Aqua Admirabilis, a composition by Gian Paolo Feminis. G.P.Feminis blended grape spirits (instead of today's undrinkable perfumer's alcohol), along with essences of neroli, lavender and rosemary adding the basic component of freshness, bergamot essential oil, thus creating the first recipe for what would later become celebrated by another name: Eau de Cologne. When Feminis moved from his native Italy to Köln/Cologne, in Germany, his nephew Jean Marie Farina from Santa Maria Maggiore Valle Vigezzo, in Italy, tweaked the refreshing elixir, which then became known by its place of production as Eau de Cologne or more specifically “Johann Maria Farina gegenüber dem Jülichs-Platz” (John Maria Farina opposite the Jülichs place) ~the address of the world's oldest Eau de Cologne and perfume factory.

In 1708, Farina had written to his brother Jean Baptiste: “I have created a perfume which is reminiscent of a spring morning following a soft shower where fragrances of wild narcissi combine to that of sweet orange flowers. This perfume refreshes me and stimulates both my senses and imagination...” [1]. In June 1709 Johann Baptist Farina travelled to Cologne where his younger brother Johann Maria Farina had been working for his uncle since 1708. And so on the 13th of July Johann Baptist founded the company G.B.Farina, its production uninterupted ever since. Such was the popularity of the scent that according to records, 3700 bottles were delivered to a total of 39 addresses between 1730 and 1739! [2] Small papier-mâché boxes aromatized with bergamot were used to keep small precious mementos like locks of hair and billets doux wich showed bergamot's already established popularity. So the fragrance of the new "water" delighted the upper nobility and soon became a royal and imperial favourite. The red seal bearing the family crest which appeared on all products was a token of quality and authenticity. The bottles were moreover accompanied by a signed document with directions for use as “Eau de Cologne” wasn’t exclusively for exterior use. It was recommended for dental hygiene, a cure against bad breath and a way of avoiding infectious diseases! A panacea in disguise!
Napoleon Bonaparte who favoured Brown Windsor soap (which included lavender, bergamot and clove oils) used Eau de Cologne by the gallon, going through a bottle a day and consuming sugar cubes dipped in it. The German composer Richard Wagner on the other hand is credited with this quote in his correspondence: “I expect to use one liter of Eau de Cologne per month. Please send me three liters for one quarter so we can see how we manage”
Other Eaux de Cologne, such as the famous Cologne 4711 (Echt Kölnisch Wasser), named after its location at "Glockengasse No. 4711", share the name in common but not the formula. Before retiring, Farina sold the formula to Léonce Collas, while in 1806 Jean Marie Joseph Farina, a grand-grand-nephew of Giovanni Maria Farina (1685-1766), sold the rights to Armand Roger and Charles Gallet in 1862, the duo behind the Roger & Gallet brand [3], who produce the Eau de Cologne Extra Vielle in contrast to the Original Eau de Cologne from Cologne.

The suaveness and complexity of bergamot make it a supreme choice for inclusion in many an aromatic blend, not only for Eaux de Cologne, where it pairs with neroli (the par excellence ingredient in the Eau de Cologne blends), but other fragrances as well. Apart from the classic chypre accord and its ubiquitness in the olfactory family of “mossy woods”/chypres, bergamot adds its magic in a plethora of fragrances from other families as well, both for men as for women. It's especially welcome in leather scents, where its suaveness provides the perfect pairing for the pungent hide notes or bitter greens of quinolines.

Here is a small (by no means all inclusive) list of fragrances in which bergamot is clearly discernible:

Antica Farmacista Alonissos,
Antica Farmacista Mediterranean,
Aramis Aramis,Aqua di Genova Colonia,
Aqua di Parma Colonia and Colonia Intensa,
Bois 1920 “1920 Extreme,”
Boucheron Boucheron femme and Boucheron homme,
Calvin Klein CKone,
Cerrutti 1881,
Chanel Allure,
Chanel Allure Sensuelle,
Chanel Bois des Iles,
Chanel Coco Mademoiselle,
Chanel Cristalle (both EDT and EDP),
Chanel No. 19,
Chanel Pour Monsieur,Christian Dior Miss Dior,
Christian Dior Diorling,
Christian Dior Diorama,Creed Amalfi Flowers,
Estee Lauder Azurée,Etro Palais Jamais,
Fabergé Brut,
Floris Cefiro,
Gianfranco Ferré Bergamotto Marino,
Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Orange Magnifica,
Guerlain Cologne du 68,
Guerlain Derby,
Guerlain Jicky,
Guerlain Les Eaux : Eau de Coq, Eau Impériale, Eau De Fleurs De Cedrat, Eau de Guerlain,
Guerlain Mitsouko,
Guerlain Parure,Guerlain Rose Barbare,
Guerlain Shalimar,
Hermès Amazone,
Histoires de Parfums 1740 Marquis de Sade,
Institut Tres Bien Cologne à l'Italienne,
Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male,
Jo Malone 154,
by Kilian Cruel Intentions,
Knize Knize Ten,Lanvin Arpège,
Lancôme Cuir (2007 re-issue),Ormonde Jayne Ormonde Man,
Parfums de Nicolaï Cologne Sologne (a citrus explosion with lime and lemon too),
Ralph Lauren Safari for Men,
Rancé 1795 Eugénie,
Robert Piguet Bandit,Sisley Eau de Soir,
Sisley Soir de Lune,
The Different Company Divine Bergamote,
Visconti di Modrone Aqua di Selva,
Yardley Gentleman,
Yves Saint Laurent Y

[1]Markus Eckstein, Eau de Cologne, J.P. Bachem Verlag 2006, Cologne
[3]Edwin T. Morris, Fragrance: The Story of Perfume from Cleopatra to Chanel. E.T. Morris and Co. 1984, New York.

Pic Gates of Handax, Crete taken by Tsoublekas/flickr
Pic of Risoli flacon of Farina Eau de Cologne via wikimedia commons


  1. Anonymous06:12

    You forgot about Bond No. 9. I recently got their Saks Fifth Avenue for Him scent for my husband - the bergamot in that juice is perfection. I believe bergamot (but perhaps a different strain?) is also in their Central Park and New York Fling scents...all three of these are so different, great examples of lovely use of bergamot.

  2. Anonymous09:47

    This reminds me of the scent I craved a lot for last late spring/early summer, namely Dior's Escale à Portofino. This year I MUST get it! :)I'm actually trying another scent with bergamot today, Pyxis in the Scents of Time line. It has a very nice herbal fresh opening, but now, after some hours, it is barely there - but the faint smell left it beautiful. Not something I would have wanted to own, although.

  3. Darling-
    You could go 'pie eyed', trying to include everything...
    Heaven knows !

    Have you ever worn the MH Cuir d'Oranger ?
    Perhaps not for everyone, but I adore its neroli-bergamot with oakmoss and birch tar.

    Oh, these posts make me SO happy !

  4. Anonymous15:04

    This bergamot series is a delight! I'm fascinated by the whole original idea of eau de cologne, and although I don't considr myself to be a big citrus fan overall, just look at all those Guerlains; I discovered recently that my beloved Shalimar contains 30% bergamot - unbelievable!

    Thank you dear for brightening my day.

  5. Thanks for another great series about one of my favorite notes. In addition to loving bergamot in perfumes, I was once an Earl Grey addict, drank a dozen cups a day!

    How is bergamot's use restricted now, given that it is a skin sensitizer? Are we going to begin seeing fake eaux de cologne, the same way we way we have fake chypres?

  6. Hello, E. Thanks for the lovely list of bergamot fragrances. Alas that we have to be careful with this one as a photosensitizer.

    With respect to eaux de cologne, by current obsession is with Chanel's Eau de Cologne (I am longing for a bottle of this for the summer, and intend to spritz with abandon).

  7. Jarvis, my love !

    About 33 years ago, I developed Berloque's dermatitis- a simple, pendant-shaped hyperpigmentation, due to Mitsouko -on-the-beach !
    All citruses, and lavender, cause photosensitivity- and have for years.
    Best to forgo in the rays !

  8. Anon,

    you're not letting me forget, at any rate!
    Glad you're enjoying.

  9. S,

    the Escale one is very refreshing for summer and actually nicely done (especially for a department store fragrance), I agree!
    Looking forward to your impressions on Pyxis, those scents have intrigued me.

  10. I,

    it's certainly not possible to include everything with bergamot, so I just tried to include some characteristic ones where it's prominent. Hope someone gets some help out of it.

    I very much like Cuir d'Oranger, quite individual (same as L'air de Rien in a different strain). I think I had included it in my Leather Series, as that's what I get more clearly, but not sure. Got to go check.
    Fine specimen!

  11. D,

    awww, thank you for your kind words.
    The Guerlain Eaux are wonderful, especially the quite tenacious Eau de Guerlain which is a summer staple for me. It transcends the "eau" category by being a "complete" perfume (floral and woody elements aplenty).
    And who could forget Shalimar in talking about bergamot...delicious.

  12. M,

    thanks and happy you're enjoying it. It will be continued with another instalement so stay tuned :-)

    Earl Grey is such a simple, wonderful pleasure. It just tastes really good! I can see how you went through numerous cups.

    I believe that citruses as a whole are in danger of certain restrictions due to their photosensitizing properties (to various degrees). Of course there are other ingredients apart from the complex essential oils themselves which can be used to render the citrus notes (citral of course, but also litsea cubeba which is lemony extending the note into the heart even, etc etc.) Can't imagine the whole citrus and eaux families abndonded, they're such a tradition throughout the world.
    I know it's not the same, but I guess we will do as allowed in the end. (Not much we can do if they decide to eschew them, alas).
    Let's hope the restriction is only implemented on large quantities of bergaptene ratio.

  13. J,

    you're very welcome. Someone might find it handy so it was kinda pleasurable to think of frags to get down in B&W.

    I think Chanel's EdC is mighty fine so good choice. You might also want to give Eau de Guerlain a chance, which is excellent and O de Lancome a twirl: they're both quite tenacious for that genre. (I am most familiar with the vintage EdG of course, but I can't believe they have messed too much with it).
    And you don't need me to point out just how good is Cologne Sologne. Went through tons of it one hot summer a while ago...

  14. There you are: I learn new things every day. "Berloque's dermatitis": didn't know the name. Thanks! (and ouch!)
    Wise advice, as always :-)

    Hugs to you, dear I!

  15. E-ska, my darling-
    I was but a student nurse, and felt like a bloody fool-
    It took an old fart of a decrepit doc to figure it out [ I'd figured it out myself, but didn't want to spoil the fun...after all, MGH IS a 'teaching hospital ", LOL]

    [The nasty part was being 18, naked, and having allthose randy med students feeling you up...YUCK ! ]

  16. Ouch in double intensity!!
    Had heard of someone having an operation with local anesthetic in a university clinic and having the medical students watch. She told me it was a terribly self-conscious moment for her. I can imagine!

  17. Anonymous02:48

    Some serious research into one of my favourite olfactory fields here, thanks so much. What would be our fragrant equivalent for "food" for thought?
    thanks for the writing'

  18. There is something both invigorating and comforting about bergamot. Fresh, lively citrus. I love it in the traditional eau de colognes like Roger & Gallet's Extra Viella (Jean Marie Farina).

    Mixed with neroli, rosemary and rose, bergamot is magic. I also enjoy when lavender is in the mix as well, and additional herby/flowery dimension.

  19. Jane,

    thank you for the wonderful compliment and glad you enjoyed! (sorry for the late reply, just saw this)
    What could the equivalent be indeed? Perhaps "train of scent"? :-)

  20. Cologne Lover,

    excellent words, I so agree: comforting and invigorating, both! It's a very precious essence in classical perfumery for a reason.

  21. We have just linked your post to ours regarding the origins of citrus fruits.

  22. What shocks me is that being a life-long fragrophile and having long been a fan of bergamot, none of the list of bergamot-heavy fragrances has ever been in my fragrance wardrobe. Bergamot flowers are, however, among my very favorites in my garden. They attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, and they make your hands smell so wonderful when you handle them slightly. They are also known as bee balm. And like others, I've always adored Earl Grey tea.

    Thank you for this list, though. On this basis, I think it's time I really check into Shalimar.


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