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Saturday, March 7, 2009

Eau de Cologne -- Made In Italy!

Valle Vigezzo

Here’s an interesting item that I recently read… From valle Vigezzo, near Switzerland in the far north of Piemonte about 40 minutes from Stresa, comes proof of yet another bellissima cosa, a beautiful thing, that originates from Italy. Legislators in Paris recently settled a long-standing dispute regarding the invention of Eau de Cologne. And as the Italian Feminis and Farina families have long been claiming, their ancestors, Giovanni Maria Farina and Giovanni Paolo Feminis, have been shown, officially now, to be the true inventors of the original ‘Eau de Cologne’, the world’s longest continuously-produced fragrance. The newly discovered documents, from 1727, credit Feminis, a barber from Santa Maria Maggiore, and his nephew, Giovanni Farina, with the invention and ownership of the fragrance. Basically, they were awarded the patent on it.

Back in 1708, Feminis had written a letter to his brother. "I have found a fragrance,” he wrote, “that reminds me of an Italian spring morning, of mountain daffodils and orange blossoms after the rain". He was able to recreate consistently the formula, quite a difficult thing at that time, of the perfumed water made from grape spirits, oil of neroli, bergamot, lavender, and rosemary, and he called it Aqua Admirabilis. His biggest clients were the members of France’s royal family and their court. And it was the French who gave it the name by which it is still known today. Eau de Cologne, they called it, Cologne being their name for the German city of Koln, where by this time Feminis and Farina had relocated, to more easily produce and sell their product.

The name stuck, and in fact, was so popular that it spawned many copycats and counterfeits, with cologne eventually becoming a generic term for any fragrance produced with 5% or less essential oils. Ownership of the true formula passed through many hands over the centuries; through family members who inherited it and to the perfumers to whom they sold it. It started to become unclear who, in fact, had originally discovered it. Today, the French company Roger and Gallet owns all rights to the original formula, having bought them from a grand-grand-nephew of Giovanni Farina. Don’t confuse it with the Eau de Cologne produced in Koln by the Muhlens company under the brand name 4711; it shares the cologne name, but has a completely different scent. And the new evidence proves what family descendants in valle Vigezzo have been saying for centuries, that the scent is, indeed Italian.

And so there we have it. Another mystery laid to rest, interesting trivia for Saturday reading, and another accolade for Italy. And just think, if Farina and Feminis had remained in Italy, perhaps women everywhere would be wearing Eau de Vigezzo...?
This photograph, courtesy of Wikipedia, shows an original bottle of Eau de Cologne; the paper uses a French translation of Giovanni Farina's name.

The valle Vigezzo area is an easy 30 to 40 minute drive from Stresa. One takes the motorway for Domodossola, heading towards the Simplon Pass. The area can also be seen and enjoyed as part of the Lago Maggiore Express train tour, which makes several stops in towns of the valley, such as Santa Maria Maggiore, Druogno, Malesco, and Re, before entering the Swiss Alps.

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