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Bombay Duck London

4711 Eau de Cologne

Drenching myself in this, I wonder:  how many fragrances, created in 2010, will women (and some men) still be splashing all over in 200 years’ time?   The answer:  none, probably.  How remarkable, then, that 4711 is pretty much as loved today as it ever was.  But there’s a reason for that.  Because this quintessential eau de Cologne – created in, yes, Cologne – is basically as refreshing, as summery, as light and wearable in the 21st Century as it was in 1792, when 4711 debuted.  Zesty, so zesty:  citrus-heavy, it opens with almost tinglingly uplifting notes of bergamot, orange, neroli – and lemons so juicy they almost squirt you straight out of the bottle and in the eye.  If you have the least tendency to synaesthesia, this makes it almost physically thirst-quenching on a sultry day – like a long drink of iced lemonade with a sprig of mint tucked inside.  As the citrus softens, the aromatic heart makes itself known:  lavender and rosemary are obvious.  (Think:  stepping through a gate into an apothecary’s walled garden on a cool evening after a frazzled day, with surprisingly powdery roses pulsing their sweetness softly from a sun-warmed wall.)  Of course, there’s a now-you-smell-me-now-you-don’t aspect to this entirely unisex scent: allegedly there’s a touch of musk and vetiver in the base, which my nostrils can’t find anywhere – although they do detect a pencil-shavings element that lingers on the skin for a while, as well as what seems like black pepper.  The whole bliss of 4711, though, is that it invites you to keep splashing it on, to recapture that light freshness of the top notes throughout the day.

Naturally it does echo strongly many other eau de Colognes:  Acqua di Parma, Miller Harris’s Citron Citron – or any of the other dozens of cheap-as-pommes-frites options you can pick up by the half-litre in Monoprix.  Only what makes it remarkable is that 4711 pre-dates them by centuries, going all the way back to the reign of George III and Louis XVI.  How did it come to be?  Legend has it on 8th October 1792, a Carthusian monk gave the young entrepreneur Wilhlem Muehlens a wedding present:  the previous secret formula to something called ‘aqua mirabilis’, a ‘miracle water’ that could be taken internally, and applied to the skin.  Now, quite how much attention Muehlens paid to his bride that night goes unrecorded, but he was so taken with this liquid’s magic powers that he started to manufacture it not long after – at 4711 Glockengasse Street, as it happens, hence the (household) name.  (If you want to be nit-picky, 4711 wasn’t the very-very-very first eau de Cologne – the accolade for that goes to a perfumer called Giovanni Maria Farina, who started producing his version in Cologne as long ago as 1709.  But while J.M. Farina’s cologne, which I also rate, still exists – under the Roger & Gallet banner – 4711 is way ahead in the bestseller stakes.)

Amazingly, the 4711 bottle seems barely to have changed since 1792 – all swirling gold and turquoise, with a red paper seal that you have to break to get your wrists on it – and it’s still unbelievably inexpensive.  (A fraction of many a designer scent.)  Its power to soothe, calm and revitalise all at once means that 4711 seems to work on aromatherapeutic principles, long before those were understood – more than a fresh smell, it can affect the mind, maybe the soul.  And I know one thing:  when I’m feeling in the dumps, the instantly cheering power of 4711 can turn me back into Polyanna, and I can’t get enough of it.   (Cheaper than therapy, and much more pleasurable.)  Can’t see a single reason why they won’t be splashing it all over in 2210, actually. 

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1 comment to 4711 Eau de Cologne

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