Vintages Eau de Cologne Russe

Eau de Cologne Russe

01/05/14 15:20:32 (13 comments)

by: Sergey Borisov


The only reason for this article is the long New Year holidays in Russia. The ten days pause provides a great opportunity for hobbies, homework or education. I did my research on Russian colognes, and I was particularly inspired by a picture I saw on ebay.com:

This is a picture of Eau de Cologne Russe's label, a fragrance made by Societé Francaise des Parfums d'Orient. I'm guessing it is from the first half of the twentieth century which can be confirmed by vintage sellers paperwork and stock. This Parisian company with offices in Paris produced perfumes in Cannes and Katana. The company existed in 1920. OK, so the era is clear.

Then I decided to get to the bottom of things and find out whether it was an original perfume of the brand. Google immediately gave me a dozen brands that used to produce “Colognes Russe.”

photo above & below by Monsieur Guerlain

At the top of the list there are a couple of Guerlain colognes: namely Eau de Cologne Impériale Russe and Eau de Cologne Russe, both by Pierre-François Pascal Guerlain. They were created in 1840 and 1850, respectively (some sources say 1863). Therefore one can see that the imperial cologne for Russia existed 13 years earlier than Eau de Cologne Imperiale which brings Napoleonic bees to the bottles of the House of Guerlain.

So Guerlain began to gain European glory from Russia. Pierre-Francois Pascal Guerlain did a presentation for the Tsar Court in 1830, just two years after the perfume house was founded. The difference between “imperial Russian” and “simple Russian” colognes is just simple: Eau de Cologne Impériale Russe was created exclusively for Russian Emperor Alexander II (1840), and Eau de Cologne Russe was made to become a more popular version for enthusiastic courtiers and citizens. The house of Guerlain has produced its Eau de Cologne Russe for more than a century and also added Cuir de Russie in 1870, Eau de Cologne Russe Double Impériale in 1880, and a few more exclusive perfumes for the Tsars and Grand Duchesses, like Parfum Impérial Russe for Alexander III in 1881. In 1900, the house of Guerlain had become the official supplier for the Russian Imperial Court—imagine what could have happened if it was made 60 years earlier? Maybe instead of the bees the two-headed eagle of the Russian Empire could have been found on some Guerlain bottles?

Alexander greeting rural district elders, Ilya Repin

Guerlain seems to be The Legendary House of Perfume Heritage right now, but in the 19th century this house was just one amongst many. So it is no wonder that the French exploration of Russia was somehow repeated: Within just ten years, A. Rallet & Co. in Moscow and Edouard Pinaud in Paris released their own versions of Eau de Cologne Russe.

Grand Duke of Russia Vladimir Alexandrovich

“Russian colognes” were just one of the marketing ploys of the 19th century. Parisian perfumers were looking for new perfume markets to explore. For example, Bouquet du President J.L. Cuestas (1899) was created by Edouard Pinaud for the then President of Chile. There were also some other colognes that remind me of a political map: Bouquet du Soudan (Mülhens & Kropff), Bouquet du Val d'Andorre (Lubin), Bouquet Egyptien (Borsari de Parma), Bouquet du Nil (Alexis Biette). New markets were important in the 19th century—they were just as important as they are now! Just one Parisian perfumer and chemist, Georges Delettrez, created Bouquet du Venezuela for the Venezuelans, Aux Violettes Russes and Aux Violettes Blanche de Siberie for the Russians and especially the Siberians, Bouquet Americain for the Americans, Bouquet Argentine for the Argentinians, Bouquet de Bresilien, Bouquet de Republique Bresilienne, and also Bouquet du President Etas-Unis de Bresil for residents of Brazil, and the country's President personally. And there's even more: Bouquet de Manille, Bouquet Mexicain, Esprit de Verveine des Indes, Fleurs de France, Heliophar d'Arabie, Iris de Florence, Lys de France. And all these colognes were made by Georges Delettrez in 1880! It seems like a century ago there was a serious perfume boom too!

But back to “Russian colognes.” It seems that the Russian theme was established by Guerlain, but that is not important. Sooner or later any country will be explored by other perfumers (this may explain the perfume houses' recent interest in oriental/oud perfumes). Russian colognes are just one example of popular trends, especially after the October Revolution of 1917 when Russian emigrants flooded Europe. Back then the Russians' nostalgia provided enough fuel to power perfume houses in France, Germany, Italy, etc.

Another proof that the Eau de Cologne Russe was a popular trend is the similarity of perfume labels made by Pivard Paris and by Societé Francaise des Parfums d'Orient.

These dome-shaped labels were definitely an attempt to play the nostalgia card.


Then a logical question arises: What were these Russian colognes like? How did they smell? Did they smell alike? Some questions were answered via email—and I have to thank my friends for that. A friend from Germany (a passionate collector of vintage perfumes) recalled that she heard something about that matter in Cologne, Germany, where the cologne was born. A lecturer of the house J. M. Farina told her that “Eau de Cologne Russe” was a classic hesperide cologne enriched with ambery notes. There's a perfume label of French Eau de Cologne Supériere Russe-Ambrée made in Grasse that supports this version.

Irina Jourikhina, a young perfumer from Grasse, gave me a detailed explanation:


"Generally speaking, Les Colognes Russes were created with a classical cologne structure. Of course, there were ideas to further improve this structure. We are talking about a demi-saison autumn theme with fresh citruses but also with cozy and warming notes. A fragrance that you can wear in the fall. The classical cologne structure (bergamot, lemon, lavender, neroli, rosemary) was supplemented with warm base notes. 
Unlike French or Italian colognes, Eaux de Cologne Russe are warmer and cozier. Italian colognes are fresh, dynamic, green and sunny; French colognes are more floral; and Russian colognes have a powdery warmth and feel comfortable and peaceful.
 I actually managed to find a few formulas  for “Russian colognes” from the past.

The main part of these colognes is no different from the conventional Cologne recipe with lemon and bergamot making up more than 50% of the formula. About 10% are lavender and rosemary oils. The base accord of Cologne Russe could be amber, chypre notes or a powdery accord. This means there would not only be musky notes (musk ketone or musk ambrette, about 10%), but also benzoin (10%), vanilla and vanillin (up to 4%), iso-eugenol (up to 5%), ionones (10%), coumarin (1-2%), and heliotropine (6%) in the base. In some formulas I found animalistic notes like ambergris, cistus labdanum, castoreum tinctures and even birch tar. I consulted with my teacher, Yves Tanguy of Osmothèque, on this subject, and he confirmed that the closest to Eaux de Cologne Russe are Colognes of Mont St. Michel, especially L'Originale and Ambrée Authentique.
"
 

Mont St. Michel is a traditional Eau de Cologne, that, for the French people, carries the typical scent of childhood. Bergamot and orange peel, jasmine and rose on a base of sandalwood and amber—it is a delicate but assertive fragrance. It is refreshing on a hot summer's day, but it is great for any time of year, really. The retro bottle volume of 250 ml suggests that the fragrance was applied lavishly. It is still produced in France, and it remains one of the iconic colognes for lovers of wet shaving and steel razors. The brand Mont St. Michel was founded in 1920, and even today this budget brand cologne is sold in all French supermarkets. This fragrance was more fortunate than its peers: Cologne Russe de Grenoville, released in 1920, was discontinued right after the Second World War. Its Italian namesake Colonia Russa Santa Maria Novella has had much more luck—this year it will celebrate its 113th anniversary!

Another option, Cologne à la Russe, is even more expensive and niche. It was recreated by Pierre Bourdon for the Institut Très Bien, together with an Italian and a French cologne version. Its formula, which dates back to 1906, was found in Lyon and was passed on to Bourdon in order to create a modern and precious cologne. Bergamot, citron, lemon, bitter orange, orange blossom, rosemary, lemon verbena, lavender, neroli, amber, iris and benzoin were listed among its notes. Cologne à la Russe differs from the Italian and French colognes because of its warm ambery, powdery base.

You may also recall the magnificent bergamot and benzoin fragrance Eau de Russe by Crown Perfumery, which disappeared in the process of the magical transformation of this British house into Clive Christian, the cathedral of überluxury. And there is also the old cologne Troika Juchten Eau de Cologne 4711 with its spicy-woody-ambery-leathery trail.

.

Finally, to dispel the sadness and boredom of the forced idleness, I suggest to compare some homemade colognes and find the differences between Eau de Cologne, Eau de Cologne Russe and Eau de Cologne Ambrée. Let me note that the Russian cologne is, by composition, the most complex amongst all traditional colognes. The "recipes" I found on the internet were taken from the magical book The Ancient Book of Formulas (published in 1940 by Lewis de Claremont, but those recipes were reprinted from a collection of formulas from 1928). Those who want to immerse themselves in the era could try to make colognes themselves (for essential oils 1 gram equals about 35 drops, depending on oil density). Just remember that there are also recipes for Occult Ink, Success Powder, Love Incense and Ten Commandments Oil in this book, so please do not expect any special perfume miracles.

Happy New Year to all readers!

Eau de Cologne:


Essence de citron 25 grammes
Essence de cedrat 10 grammes
Essence de bergamote 20 grammes
Essence de lavande 5 grammes
Teinture de benjoin 40 grammes
Alcoolat de melisse 100 grammes
Alcool a 90º 1,5 kilo
 

Eau de Cologne Russe:


Coumarine  0,25 grammes
Vanilline  0,25 grammes
Ionone au 1/10  20 gouttes
Teinture de musc a 7°  10 grammes
Teinture d'ambrette 25 grammes
Teinture d'iris  25 grammes
Essence de bergamote  5 grammes
Essence de citron  5 grammes
Essence de cedrat  50 gouttes
Essence de lavande  40 gouttes
Essence de neroli  6 gouttes
Essence de limette  40 gouttes
Essence de romarin  12 gouttes
Essence de verveine  12 gouttes
Eau de fleurs d'oranger  100 grammes
Alcool a 90° 720 grammes
 

Eau de Cologne ambrée:


Essence de bergamote  6 grammes
Essence de citron  60 gouttes
Essence de girofle  30 gouttes
Essence de neroli  15 gouttes
Essence de lavande  30 gouttes
Essence de romarin  40 gouttes
Teinture d'ambre gris  60 gouttes
Eau de rose  50 grammes
Eau de fleurs d'oranger  100 grammes
Alcool a 90º 850 grammes
 

 

Serguey Borisov

Serguey Borisov has been known in the Internet world of perfume under the nickname moon_fish for more than 10 years. Now he writes about perfumes for GQ.ru and Vogue.ru, and contributes on the subject for glossy magazines.

 

 

 

 



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Chickenboo
Chickenboo

Dear Mr. Borisov,

What a great read! Thank you for posting your thoroughly entertaining, informative, and beautifully illustrated article. With EdC recipes, to boot! Just by coincidence, I have been reading an old(ish - 1979) book by Chloe Obolensky titled "The Russian Empire: A Portrait in Photographs". If you happen to come across a copy, I highly recommend it. Happy New Year, 2014!

Warmest regards,
Chickenboo

Jan
10
2014
SorceressOfTheDark
SorceressOfTheDark

Wonderful article, beautiful images. Fascinating to delve into perfume history. Thank you for a good read!

Jan
10
2014
hadassa
hadassa

Very interesting, thank you for the research! S Novim godom!

Jan
07
2014
cytherian
cytherian

Terrific article! You clearly put a lot of work into this and it paid off handsomely. One of the most enjoyable I've read here yet. Fascinating to learn about the history of Russian inspired fragrances.

Jan
06
2014
jht4060
jht4060

Fabulous article and thanks for including all the recipes!

Jan
06
2014
rasteria
rasteria

Thank you, very interesting article!

Jan
06
2014
phurstclass
phurstclass

Fascinating article.

Jan
06
2014
Bajar
Bajar

This is a great article, Serguey, and very informative too. I had very narrow knowledge about Eau de Colognes thinking that once the success of the original recipe surpassed Germany's (or France's) borders, the ingredients were always the same, no matter in which country there were made. Hopefully your information opened a new field of research for me and as I like experimenting in natural perfumery I'm definitely going to try the recipes you give us. Thank you!

Jan
06
2014
Jinalda
Jinalda

What a wonderful article - thank you, Serguey!

Jan
06
2014
wesleyhclark
wesleyhclark

What a great article, Serguey!

Look at that wonderful Guerlain Cuir de Russie bottle! And an Ilya Repin painting, too - well done!

Check out elsha.com for an American "Russian leather" scent - "1776" - that is still produced. Definitely old school, it's birch tar-based, full strength and great sillage. Something of a cult fragrance in Utah. Don't go by the low price. I have a bottle - it wears very well indeed in the coldest weather.

Jan
05
2014
drugstore classics
drugstore classics

Fabulous info and article, Serguey. Just the thing to dispell the weather we've been having.... thanks!

Jan
05
2014
Aafridi
Aafridi

Many thanks for the information on Eau de Cologne. The entire world is grateful to the Russians for introducing Cologne. Its hard for me to prepare homemade Cologne, but I'll note down the detail you mentioned.

Thanks for the well elaborated article and Happy New Year.

Jan
05
2014
Zaleska
Zaleska

Thank you for the information! Really amazing!
Now I want a bottle of Mont St. Michel traditional Eau de Cologne. But, meanwhile, to reduce the anxiety, gonna wear some 4711! :)

P.S.: got really curious about Bouquet de Bresilien, Bouquet de Republique Bresilienne, and Bouquet du President Etas-Unis de Bresil.
Well, I think we'll never know how exactly they smelled like.

Happy new year, from Brazil!

Jan
05
2014

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