Many stories exist about the creation of Eau de Cologne, the lightest of perfumes characterized by its refreshing citrus notes. Roger & Gallet attribute its origin to 1695 when the young entrepreneur, Jean-Paul Feminis migrated to the German town of Cologne. His first perfume, Aqua Mirabilis was a great success and news of the miraculous “water of Cologne” travelled across Europe. Some say the recipe came to Feminis by the hand of a foreign traveller and others say the Florentine monks of Santa Maria Novella influenced him; their apothecary predated Feminis by more than a century. By the early 19th century, the legacy of Eau de Cologne had passed to Jean-Marie Farina, a young Italian living in Paris. Farina’s Eau de Cologne gained favour with numerous royal courts and inspired future generations of perfumers including Pierre-Pascal-Francois Guerlain, who created Eau de Cologne Imperiale in 1830. Guerlain’s Imperial Cologne sprouted a legacy of its own and an entire lineage of Guerlain perfumers has made a version of the house cologne, from Eau de Coq to Cologne du Parfumeur, reinterpreting their forefather’s formula for their own generation.
In the 21st century, the Eau de Cologne continues to inspire. In 2007, Chanel’s Jacques Polge launched his own interpretation of a Chanel Eau de Cologne created for Mademoiselle Chanel in 1929. It formed part of Les Exclusifs de Chanel and proved the humble Eau de Cologne was not just a chemist or drugstore consumable; it could also be luxurious. In the same year Chanel created their cologne, Tom Ford proposed a similar sentiment, a modern version that respected Feminis’ original perfume structure. The blue waters of the Mediterranean coast inspired Ford’s. He named it Neroli Portofino.
Neroli Portofino is the work of perfumer, Rodrigo Flores-Roux. After speaking with him recently in New York about his latest Tom Ford creation, Sahara Noir, I wanted to know more about Neroli Portofino, one of my personal favourites in the Tom Ford line and a perfume that for me, has sentimental value as I wore it last summer during my trip to Morocco, a country that has its own cultural affiliations with the benevolent orange tree.
The orange tree is also important to Rodrigo and the orange flower is one of the perfumer’s favourite raw materials. He remembered discovering its many aspects at perfume school; the fresh green odour of the essential oil distilled from the bitter orange flower and the honeyed, animalic odour the flowers produce when placed under solvent extraction. This vast palette of smells coming from the tree’s fruit, twigs and flowers took him back to his childhood in Mexico, to 1972 and his family home, where they planted a bitter orange tree in the courtyard. As the tree matured, Rodrigo’s mother used the bitter fruit’s rind in her cooking. She would prepare a special orange pudding decorated with orange flowers and leaves. Rodrigo says sleeping was never easier as he remembered his teenage years, his bedroom window left open to allow the scent of orange flowers and pittosporum shrubs to pervade the room.
Years later, the perfumer was on a quest to create his own personal Eau de Cologne, no doubt influenced by the scent of the orange tree that was so integral to his upbringing. Rodrigo told me how this quest was the beginning of Neroli Portofino.
Rodrigo Flores-Roux: “Neroli Portofino was a fragrance I made for myself, as I have always loved the eau de cologne story. I was buying 4711 and Jean Marie Farina, blending them together with this absolutely wonderful thing called Agua de Flor de Naranjas Sanborns from Mexico, which is basically the same story. I love these colognes but I find them a little anticlimactic because they are always so fleeting. So I made a very simple eau de cologne accord and I loaded it with a musky mixture that I could smell (earlier in the interview, Rodrigo told me of his anosmia to most synthetic musks). I added a neroli specialty and then it all happened. I called it Freshie, its working name. I had bottles of Freshie diluted at 7% in the lab and I would see the bottle dwindling and then the bottle full, then dwindling again. I realised my fragrance had developed a cult following amongst my colleagues. When we started working on the original concept of Tom Ford’s Private Blend they were looking for something fresh. They were talking about other fresh perfumes that were not exactly cologne and I proposed Freshie as my private perfume. I was asked to relinquish it, which I did, we re-tweaked it a little bit and that is how it happened.”
When you are the senior perfumer for one of the world’s most successful fine fragrance companies, you can create perfumes for yourself that have no budget constraints and this is what Rodrigo did with Freshie. Blending a healthy dose of Tunisian neroli oil with Sicilian lemon, Calabrian bergamot, lavender, rosemary, thyme and grapefruit, Rodrigo reconstructed the classic 17th century Eau de Cologne accord. He enriched it with jasmine sambac and orange flower templar that is produced using a CO2 extraction method. Rodrigo told me one of Freshie’s secrets is the touch of Eau de Brout he used in his formula. It is an absolute made from the watery residues of leaves when petitgrain is distilled. He described it as a burnt, smoky orange smell. Finally he wrapped his fresh citrus accord, nuanced with very costly florals, in a canvas of musk, ambrette and angelica seeds.
I asked Rodrigo what the secret to Neroli Portofino was in terms of the eau de parfum’s longevity. It lasts and lasts, “Rodrigo, it’s like an Eau de Cologne on steroids.”
Rodrigo Flores-Roux: “Yes, that is exactly what it is. Well I actually don’t know exactly what happened there. I am not being smug. This point keeps coming back as something people study.”
As a perfume collector, I am often asked which perfume I would wear if I could only wear one for the rest of my life. The thought terrifies me but beyond that fear, I would choose an Eau de Cologne. I think of it as a staple in any man’s wardrobe, like a crisp white shirt or a favourite pair of jeans. There is something so casual about it yet a splash of Eau de Cologne will also add a layer of sophistication to any business suit. I find it wonderfully versatile. I have a bottle of Neroli Portofino in its Eau Fraiche concentration. Rodrigo confirmed it is the same formula as the Private Blend’s eau de parfum, just slightly lighter so that it can be generously splashed on the body. This Fifi Award winning product may not have the longevity of the eau de parfum but I enjoy the ritual of splashing it on periodically throughout the day. Perfect for the Australian summer!
Alternatives: 4711 Eau de Cologne, Roger & Gallet Jean Marie Farina Extra Vieille, Chanel Eau de Cologne, Santa Maria Novella Colonia, Guerlain Eau de Cologne Imperiale, Sanborns Colonia Flor de Naranja
Perfumer: Rodrigo Flores- Roux
Release Date: 2007
Typology (via Fragrances of the World): Citrus