A small Italian company that started from humble beginnings in Parma, a town regarded highly for its violets, Acqua Di Parma created Colonia in 1916. Blended from natural essences this cologne was used to scent men’s handkerchiefs. In time its popularity grew and the brand reached cult status amongst American and European celebrities of the 1930s and again after the war in the 1950s. Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn and Eva Turner were all known to be passionate advocates of Acqua Di Parma’s Colonia. In the years that followed the brand slowly dwindled. The 1960s marked a turning point where the high price point of the product became more of a deterrent than an aspiration to a changing clientelle. Based in Milan the family showed little interest in developing the business further and the brand slowly disappeared. In the mid 1990s three prominent Italian businessmen who were also fans of the brand came to the rescue. Diego Della (Tods), Luca Montezemolo (Ferrari) and Paolo Borgomanero (La Perla). Within a few years the brand was revived with the creation of new lines. In 2001 LVMH became a 50 percent stakeholder and went on to acquire the remaining 50 percent in 2003. In recent years the brand has benefited from LVMH distribution expertise as well as a flourishing release of new fragrances, including a spa range, Blu Mediterraneo.
I’ve never been a strong advocate for perfume layering but I have tried it with Colonia and it was a great experience. The bath oil is an especially good product, combined with the bath salts, body wash, body cream and finally Colonia itself, a bathing ritual performed in the height of summer, you will feel like you have just stepped out of a Milanese barbershop. Although colognes are simple fragrances I can see why Colonia stands above the rest. It has everything the others do: Sicilian citrus notes of bergamot, lemon and neroli. Lavender and rosemary are augmented with Bulgarian rose, a small amount of jasmine and I suspect some green floral notes, perhaps hydroxycitronellal. But it is the soapy amber/musk accord that sets Colonia apart from its competitors such as Eau D’Hadrien, the Guerlains or the Santa Maria Novellas. And because of this silage is never too much of an issue. Colonia has a rich, powdery talc-like drydown that will easily last all day.
Italians have been spraying Colonia for years. Men, women and children have all benefited from its refreshing scent. This is one of my favourite summer scents when I am in hot dry climates. Like most colognes, it is perhaps more appreciated by a slightly older man. I do have some younger Italian friends that enjoy wearing Colonia. It is what their fathers wore and it reminds them of their childhood. Colonia smells great on women as well. On men think Donald Draper from TV’s Madmen. Although in reality he would probably smell more like an ashtray and bourbon than a Sicilian citrus orchard.
Bottle designer: Acqua di Parma studio
Release date: 1916
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Citrus