The History of Eau de Cologne
“Eau de cologne” is a French phrase that means "water from Cologne". When people talk about eau de cologne today, they're referring to a perfume with a concentration of 2-5%. Eau de cologne is a mix of alcohol and essential oils. Sometimes, the word "cologne" is used by itself to refer to men's fragrances.
Johann Maria Farina was the first person to mix eau de cologne in the region of Cologne, Germany in 1709. He was originally from Italy and felt homesick in a new country. He created eau de cologne as a scent to remind himself of home. Farina wore his cologne in a necklace. The first eau de cologne was derived from a combination of various essential oils, such as bergamot, naroli, grapefruit, orange, lemon, and tangerine. Eau de cologne is one of the oldest perfumes in the world. Back then, eau de cologne was sold to royal households. A government employee would have had to spend half of his salary to afford just one bottle of the fragrance. At the time, the ability to standardize a scent and produce it on a large scale was revolutionary.
In general, eau de cologne is a type of perfume. The word perfume comes from the Latin phrase "per fumus" which means through smoke. Many different cultures experimented in the making of perfumes. Perfume making was a common practice under the Roman Empire, the Persian Empire, and the Islamic Caliphates. Historically, perfumes were made from incense. This is in contrast to eau de cologne, which has an alcohol base.
The earliest evidence of perfume making was during the Bronze Age, circa 4000 BCE. Archaeologists uncovered an industrial-size factory. Even the Bible, in the book of Exodus, describes the use of perfume as an exclusive fragrance for priests. This perfume was derived from cinnamon, cassia, myrrh, and cane.
The first known individual perfume maker was a Tapputi, a Mesopotamian chemist. She used solvents to extract scents sometime around 1200 BCE. The Hindus of the Indus civilization in greater India also had a documented history of perfume during the period of 3300 BCE to 1300 BCE. They created a fragrance based on essential oils called ittar. Varahamihira wrote about the use of perfumes for members of the royal household and their harems in his book the Brihat-Samhita. Archaeologists later found terracotta jars that were used to store perfumes.
Islamic civilization contributed significantly to the art of perfume making. This is because alchemy and chemistry saw great advances during the peak of the Islamic empires. Muslims used steam distillation to extract fragrances from oils and raw materials. The Middle Eastern Arab and Persian civilizations were located at a trade crossroads between the Far East and Europe. Consequently, they were able to acquire more fragrance materials such as spices, herbs, resins, and scented woods. If a plant used for perfume wasn't native to the region, as jasmine and rose were, the Muslims imported the plant and cultivated it locally. The prophet Muhammad once said that using perfume was compulsory for Muslims if it was available. Using perfume was as important as bathing and brushing one's teeth. Al Kindi wrote a book containing hundreds of perfume recipes. The Persian chemist Ibn Sina was the first person to distill flowers to extract their oils. Following his discovery, rose water became a popular scent. Perfumes made in the Islamic world made their way to the royal courts of Europe through trade.
The French are famous for their perfumes, but they were not the first Europeans to produce them. The Hungarians made a perfume called "Hungary Water" following an order from Hungary's Queen Elizabeth. The chemists of the Italian Renaissance were quite adept at making perfumes. Eventually, France did become the continent's center for perfume production. King Louis XIV and King Louis XV were obsessed with perfumes. They ordered the use of perfume to scent everything, from clothes to furniture. Many courtiers washed their hands and bathed with perfume instead of soap and water. To supplement the demand for perfumes, farmers began growing raw materials in the Grasse region of France. France continues to be a global epicenter for perfume manufacturing until today.
In England, the royal households of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I also promoted the use of perfumes. Queen Elizabeth I, in particular, was averse to bad smells, so she demanded that public places be scented with perfume.