Tuesday, October 2, 2018

"Grand Opening": popping a vintage rosoli flacon of Johann Maria Farina Gegenüber dem Jülichsplatz Eau de Cologne

Acquired cheaply on ebay, this rosoli flacon harks from the 1950s, when Johann Maria Farina gegenüber dem Jülichsplatz, the city of Cologne's and thus the world's first and oldest Eau de Cologne producer was recuperating from WWII and a long era of 20th century decline. Eau de Cologne had lost its status as the paradigmatic fragrance, acquired in the Rokoko era, during the Belle Époque, when modern perfumery was born out of the confluence of technical and chemical innovation and the rise of a new white collar middle class that frequented urban(e) department stores, engaged in conspicuous consumption, and whose females were invited to reimagine themselves as Geishas or oriental seductresses via consumer capitalism.

Eau de Cologne became an industrial mass product,used for refreshment rather than refinement and 4711, a drugstore product, was soon better known than the venerable Farina it had once imitated (including name theft). By the 1960s Farina was apparently going into steep decline, as suggested by efforts to revamp bottles, change formulations from the zesty-dry bergamot to a sweeter 4711-style neroli and finally the sale of a controlling interest in the company to a Swiss low-end cosmetics manufacturer. When the firm was brought back under full family control in the 1990s the formulation was adapted to contemporary tastes and it now contains a healthy dose of ionones and other synthetics  which make it smell quite different from its original form - which, at this point can only be experienced if one manages to pick up a 1950s bottle. Full pre-war flacons seem to be virtually nonexistant, but ever so often 250th anniversary Rosoli flacons from 1959 that survived their owners - hidden away in the back of a drawer or cupboard, forgotten unwanted gifts - make an appearance on ebay.

Here, now is a small rosoli flacon from that era, which was perfectly filled - no evaporation. These flasks were covered with an aluminum cap fortified with what appears to be a very hard textile-cardboard-like covering. In this case, it did an excellent job of preventing evaporation and oxidation. After opening the flacon and decanting a small amount of Eau de Cologne I treated the bottle with a nitrogen gas sprayer normally used for wine preservation. The Osmothèque uses the more expensive argon for the same purpose - the heavier gas displaces the oxygen over the surface of the fragrance and thus prevents the perfume from turning.

Spraying some vintage Farina on my arm was delightful - this is the best preserved bottle I have ever smelled. It begins with a zesty-bittergreen burst of freshness - picture a gin tonic with a spritz of bergamot (and whiffs of  orange and lemon zest). This persists for some minutes, while hovering below is a faint suggestion of rose, sandalwood  and (nitro?)musk. A wonderfully elegant, light, but by no means trivial composition which clearly inspired aspects of Guerlain's Imperial cologne. File under "genteel blast from the past" and  "they don't make them like this anymore" - though vintage Farina would today easily pass as a stylish minimalist superniche scent.