This does not refer to episode 9000 in the Star Wars epic. It is actually a scent epic, involving a courtroom battle over the trade mark “Farina” during the 19th century. The court decision may or may not have put an end to a couple of centuries of squabbling over who produced the original formula. You see Eau de Cologne was big business. Two firms had emerged as giants in the sparkly citric cologne trade, one was Roger et Gallet and the other was Muehlens whose product had come to epitomize cologne around the world.
Anyway why was cologne so special you are asking yourselves? The formula is very old and there are about as many variations on it as there are on lasagna. The recipe for “Hungary Water” which is a version of cologne, was supposed to be a beauty secret of the Queen of Hungary, and goes back some say to the 14th century. However Napoleon (see our post on The Emperor’s New Scent) really made Eau de Cologne fashionable for men because of his addiction to the tangy stuff. Some of his veterans noticed the preparation in and around Cologne in Germany where the fragrance was already being produced by Johann Maria Farina. The firm of Muehlens also made cologne, and soon, so did Roger et Gallet in France. Perhaps none of this would have mattered but the markets for cologne were expanding worldwide and everyone wanted to be known as the originator of the true formula.
You might be excused for thinking that these were relatively small businesses. Not really. You might also think that the matter of trademark was not so important in the 1870’s (I did). Wrong again. In fact Muehlens was one of the fastest expanding perfume makers of the late 19th century, with offices and factories in Sweden and Riga in Latvia ( this was to give them access to the Russian market) as well as the Cologne headquarters. 1900 saw the firm of Muehlens selling their scents in over twenty countries- including the US. *
The fracas with Roger et Gallet was provoked by Muehlens’ rising sales inside France. French courts took trademarks very seriously in those days which was one reason why perfume brand building was so successful in France. Muehlens lost the case (hence the change of name to 4711 after their early Cologne street address) and Roger et Gallet continued to sell Jean Marie Farina with a pretty standard cologne note but a large floral heart of neroli and carnation, ending in rose. Meanwhile 4711 was produced with a distinct rosemary
in the midsection but a musk dry down, and interestingly the firm which started it all, Farina was selling Original Kolnisch Wasser with rose and rosemary in the heart and a musk ending.
One of my German grandmothers in law swore by 4711 and wore that alone for her lifetime, and that’s probably true of a large number of folks. I do like the Roger et Gallet version myself, but have never tried the Original Kolnisch Wasser. I would like to though. I have a feeling that it’s the closest thing to the old Hungary Water or the Aqua Admirabilis that people used to down as a tonic or soak in a handerkerchief.
Do you have a favorite cologne?
My information here comes from Beauty Imagined by Geoffrey Jones, Oxford University Press