A visit to Cologne in Germany and the home of Eau de Cologne – both the original & the much more famous imitator.
Back in the 1970’s, when I was closer to the ground, a scent called 4711 Eau de Cologne was having a little moment. It was a popular, light perfume and I have strong memories of my mother wearing it, dousing her handkerchief in it and, if I was lucky, giving me a dab too. Our sense of smell is perhaps the most evocative of the senses and, when I walked through the door of the German house of 4711 Eau de Cologne in Cologne, the scent in the air took me straight back to my mother’s bedroom all those years ago.
The massive international success of 4711 Eau de Cologne is a salutary lesson in clever marketing for anyone in business as I found out when I visited Cologne. I was surprised to discover that it is neither the oldest, nor the original perfume originating from that city.
Not far away from the familiar gold and turquoise labels at the house of 4711 is the house of Farina 1709, makers of the less well-known, but proudly authentic Eau de Cologne. Farina is actually the worlds oldest fragrance company whose Eau de Cologne was used by many of the European royals. Their products are still made by the descendants of the original family. They produce their original fragrance as well as a range of other perfumes and the city was so proud of perfume-maker John Maria Farina that they placed a statue of him on the tower of the town hall.
Running a close second, 4711 has been made in Cologne since 1799 and has been using the same formula for over 200 years. This version of Eau de cologne was produced by Wilhelm Mülhens who cheekily appropriated the Farina name for his product. This was challenged by the Farina family and Mülhens lost the dispute, but got around it by employing another Mr. Farina so he could keep using the name. Over the years the company has been hugely successful and 4711 Eau de Cologne is still marketed around the world
I’m not one to take sides, so I was just as happy to check out both perfumeries. The house at 4711 is very modern, with a fountain pouring the perfume at the door and displaying a full range of their signature product downstairs. Upstairs they have a modest display of their historic old bottles which is freely accessible. They offer guided tours of their museum collection and also a fragrance workshop which is conducted in German.
The Farina store has opted to focus on it’s history, with old photos and parts of their historical collection on display and a full range of their perfume selection available for
playing with testing. They also offer popular guided tours of their museum which must be booked and paid for ahead of time.
In the true spirit of bipartisanship I purchased perfume from both producers and bought a bottle home for my mother. I proudly presented it to her, explaining the story and how it had actually come from Cologne in Germany – an exercise which soon became obvious was lost on her when she looked at me and noted that she could simply get some at the local chemist.
House of 4711
Johann Maria Farina gegenüber dem Jülichs-Platz GmbH since 1709