Now get a whiff of this:
You come in from a hot day of sight-seeing in hot and humid weather to your hotel. You crave a shower more than anything, but the idea of a quick cocktail at the bar before you head to your room is too enticing. You order a bespoke cocktail upon recommendation of the charming bartender made from citrus infused-liquor, gin and muddled herbs, and a generous squirt of orange zest. As it all hits the back of your throat you feel the refreshing blast of the aircon fan hitting the back of your neck as it goes through its directional cycle. You think to yourself that another round while basking in the rooftop pool might be a better alternative to the shower you’d been thinking of. After all, you’re both in Italy and on vacation. In addition, there are likely attractive, scantily clad bathers up there who might be interested in joining you.
Acqua di Parma is an Italian brand that started as a small factory in Parma, of course. This fragrance, Colonia, was the first of the house and was created way back in 1916. And seeing as this stuff still flies of shelves, I’d say that this is a classic. Originally it was used to aroma-fy handkerchiefs, but it became a status symbol of sorts among celebrities in North America and Europe before WW1 and then after WW2. Cary Grant, Eva Turner, and Audrey Hepburn were among earlier fans. Acqua di Parma is now a major fragrance house with worldwide distribution. OK, I’m sure the formula has probably been tweaked a little bit over the years, but still.
The bottle and packaging in general are minimalist and elegant and molto Italiano. I love that it has the royal coat of arms of Parma on it. Yellow is the perfect color for the box in this case as this is basically a citrus cologne. But actually, yellow is also the colour of the brand’s original and staple fragrance collection (there are now 5 in total), as there are apparently a lot of yellow buildings in Parma. The shape of the container is also a bit like a hat box, and I believe this is also a nod to the brand’s origins. Colonia was originally promoted in men’s tailor shops owned by the baron Carlo Magnani who started the company in Parma, which was more of the cultural hub at that time compared to today.
The notes are:
- lemon, sweet orange, Calabrian bergamot
- lavender, Bulgarian Rose, verbena, rosemary, jasmine
- vetiver, sandalwood, patchouli, white musk, amber
These notes are from a mix of Fragrantica and the Acqua di Parma website listing. The former gave more details about the citruses and the latter overlooked particularly the musk, but also the jasmine and amber.
This fragrance is fresh, bright, and just a tad spicy from the beginning. It starts off with sharp citrus and verbena, and there is an interesting heart of rose which pulls it almost into the floral chypre direction but then the vetiver pushes it back up. And while this gentle push-pull action is going on, the lavender, rosemary and amber get jostled around and show some cheeriness from time to time. Actually, the mid-notes and their romance with the citrus at the top is my favourite part of the fragrance. It’s like you’re on a morning walk in nature and the sun comes out to playfully spit citrus juice on the flowers you’re passing, causing them to completely open up and stand in full
erection attention … erection.
Sometimes I get a sniff the base notes trying to tether the whole thing together. But nope, beautiful as that would be, the base notes cannot get a hold and part I love is too fleeting. Mind, I guess beauty itself is fleeting. And that short life is arguably the quality that makes it so beautiful to begin with. Once the citrus-herb-chypre shuffle dance stops, out of the remaining slight stickiness on your skin comes forth and froths up some soapiness – caused by friction between the citrus and rose perhaps?
At the end of the day, or perhaps I should more accurately say the end of the scent, there too much soapy musk in the formula for me. At times, once the top wears down a bit, I feel like some Keihl’s Original Musk was poured directly into the bottle. It’s just my personal preference, but generally speaking, I much prefer a pinch of skank to a dash of suds. The soapiness is not always there, but when it does froth up, it’s all I smell.
Nonetheless, Colonia is the prototype citrus cologne. Back in the day there were not a lot of light and fresh scents like this one. I imagine it really stood out, much more original then compared to the present. I’ve read this fragrance referred to as a Barbershop scent, and the brand does sell shaving and grooming kits that include the fragrance, but to my mind this scent is too unisex and citrusy for that association.
There are noticeable floral notes which offer up the traditional feminine archetype, and there is lavender and herbs, traditionally associated with masculine scents. Of course, fragrance gendering is hogwash and is used is for marketing purposes. Colonia is defined as unisex on Fragrantica, despite the shaving kits. Well heck, women shave – just not necessarily the same places!
Words that come to mind for me with this frag: classic, classy, refined, new school/old school, Frank Sinatra, prestige club locker room, Marlon Brando as the Godfather and all his minions, sophistication, and my friend Alan – to whom I am planning to send this gem because it’s his signature scent and because he deserves a wee giftie.
To me this is a somewhat versatile scent, although your fragrant voice won’t be heard in za club. Yes, it is more of a day scent than night, and although you could wear this in any season you wanted, it shines in summer. And spring perhaps as well. It can indeed be worn in both casual and formal situations, and even if you overspray (can you, with this?) I very much doubt you’ll offend anyone, so it’s great for the office.
Because I live in a generally warm climate, I am finally starting to appreciate lighter and fresher fragrances, especially citrus, which is great at cutting through oppressive humidity. It’s just a bloody shame that citrus is a short-lived top note. Well, you simply must be ready to spray throughout the day and go through your bottles of divinity more quickly, I guess.
I cannot deny that Colonia is, or at least at one time was, a masterpiece of sorts, at the end of the day. Over 100 years and not outdated! The fragrance deserves respect. But in more recent decades, I don’t know… There’s a lot of competition in this genre, and I own quite a few bottles of fresh citrus fragrances now. Colonia has become the grandaddy of a long line of flankers and copycats. So for that reason, and mostly due to the soapiness, this fragrances is a pass for me. My friend Alan will be thrilled, though, when he gets this in the post. But next time he sprays it, I think I’ll ask him to spray more and bring it along on our outings so I can enjoy it on him, too.
The scent comes in 20ml 50ml, 100ml, and 180 ml sizes, depending on where you shop in the world, and the scent is also available in body lotion/crème, shampoo and conditioner, aftershave balm, talcum powder and bath oil. Not all the individual Acqua di Parma country websites appear to list prices, but I did find that the Italian site lists this 50ml bottle for 86 Euros. That’s not terrible, especially considering its heritage, and its lively, decorous, quality packaging and presentation. But seeing how this is a cologne, albeit not the weakest of colognes, it does still translate into less-than ideal performance. So, I would suggest searching for this second-hand, as I did, or try your fragrance discounters. But you know, I say that for pretty much all fragrances.