For a country this perpetually hot, you’d think cologne would be a more prominent point of conversation in beauty and fragrance. But alas, the cologne – that is, the kind of classic lightweight citrus scents primarily made for men – is an unsung hero.
It’s a kind of scent I’ve come to love again, and with a renewed passion. This, after experiencing the Acqua di Parma toiletries at the Shangri-La, has left me almost literally thirsty for fresh citrus, soapy cleanliness, and the refreshing clarity of colognes. Because they are made to be light, they do not cling to the skin for hours. They linger for a bit, not far from your skin, ultimately becoming inconspicuous enough so that you can justify reapplying throughout the day.
Of course, the grand daddy of colognes is the previously mentioned Colonia by Acqua di Parma (from SGD140 for 50ml at Escentials). This classic, it should be noted, is pretty much the foundation on which the brand is built. First created in 1916 in Colonia, Italy, this scent has remained almost unchanged since its beginnings as a scent for handkerchiefs.
It’s most distinct notes are lavender, rosemary, Sicilian citrus, and verbena. After a bright opening akin to a splash of water on the face, the notes very quickly settle into a rich and heady aromatic cloud that mute the harsher edges of citrus. It is, ultimately, an elegant scent and one I can imagine almost anybody wearing – all the better on a woman.
If you must trace the lineage of cologne further back, you will probably end up at the legendary 4711 Original Eau de Cologne. This archetypal citrus scent was first created in 1792, and has formed the basis and starting point of nearly all cologne-type fragrances created since. It’s a very watery cologne, better splashed in small spots onto the skin. The bergamot and lemon notes are most distinct, and 4711 tends to ring just those citrus facets for the roughly 2 hours it stays on the skin. There are base notes, of course, but the impression they give is so slight that the overall experience of 4711 ends up being a sort of palate-cleanser. But it’s cheap, and reapplying won’t break the bank.
Quite unlike Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino (from SGD210 for 30ml from Sephora). This blue bottled perfume has become an almost satirical standard of men’s luxury fragrances these days. What Neroli Portofino simply is, however, is a beefier update of 4711. In spirit, they are almost identical. Neroli Portofino, to its credit, has a much stronger base of woods and aromatics and a more nuanced development. From a cool and slick opening, the scent turns into a complex aromatic tinged with just the right amount of bitter orange, before settling into a more obedient and classical drydown. Still, the Private Collection scents from Tom Ford will set you back a pretty penny.
While you’re on the market for old classics, be sure to seek out Christian Dior’s Eau Sauvage and Chanel’s Eau de Cologne. The former is a masterpiece by the French perfumer Edmond Roudnitska, and folds most distinctly lemon, jasmine, and basil for an impossibly sophisticated citrus accord. It works as a sort of abstract, giving Sauvage a delicate balance and recognisable profile. Its name and the more contemporary Sauvage Eau de Parfum might cause confusion, but one whiff will doubtless make clear the distinction of the elegant from the truly savage.
The Chanel version, simply named Eau de Cologne, is part of its high end Les Exclusifs line. This recreation of a 1929 original has a more dressed up effect than the other colognes previously mentioned. The citrus and neroli notes are almost bled out into the house's previous longtime nose, Jacque Polges’ signature aldehydic style, and the result is a clean scent that smells perfect for dressing up.
If you like the Chanel style, but prefer a more straightforward and more multi-purpose cologne, their Les Eaux line are fantastic options – as previously reviewed here. Paris-Deauville is a personal favourite for its surprisingly rich green notes that offer a modern take on this classic scent family.
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