Columns Oh for Eaux! The Renewed Vogue for Eaux Fragrances

Oh for Eaux! The Renewed Vogue for Eaux Fragrances

04/22/13 15:05:22 (9 comments)

by: Elena Vosnaki

If one thing was consolidated thanks to the recent repackaging and relaunching of three classic "eaux" compositions by French brand Annick Goutal (Les Colognes Neroli, Vetiver and Hadrien) is that we're witnessing a renewed interest in the idea of a luxurious, but straightforward olfactory "break" from the hysteria of dense, thick, syrupy and complicated compositions that have bombared niche perfumery since at least 2005.

It is enough to browse through the New Fragrances section of Fragrantica's encyclopedia to discover hundreds new releases in the last few seasons that are tagged with the moniker "eau," a denoting of lightness, limpidness, of transparency and joie de vivre.

Historically the first thing that comes to mind when we hear about an "eau" fragrance is the classic Eau de Cologne (literally "Cologne's [the city in Germany's] water"), in either the Kölnisch Wasser or the Jean Marie Farina versions. Eau de Cologne is perhaps the longest surviving "recipe" for fragrance, a melange of citrus essences with lavender and herbs and a very airy base note of light musk and wood for fixation and tenacity; this formula comes replete with its own stimulating, exhilarating and yes, aromatherapeutic properties. In fact people used to imbibe: wet a cube of sugar with Eau de Cologne and eat it as an ailment chaser and a prophylactic, they used to say. Napoleon apparently consumed it by the gallon, according to his orders for it! But even if modern synthetics have rendered this practice obsolete, the scent has been nothing but extremely durable to the vagaries of fashion. 4711 Eau de Cologne must have been poured by the liter on a couple of generations of Greeks who loved its tart, refreshing notes.

My own mother, same as lots of men and women in my culture, used to carry a small splash bottle of 4711 in her purse at all times, irrespective of her perfume choice, to refresh her hands or handkerchief during the day with a swift and effective “pick me up” and to even quick-cleanse mine in the absence of water and soap as a toddler, thus killing two birds with one stone: eliminating some bacteria from casual contact with dirt and making me a fragrance aficionado ever since!

Several trusted fragrances brought out in modern times have followed that well-trodden path with varying little recalibration on the shooter: Guerlain has a pleiad of "colognes" in their archives from Fleurs de Cédrat to the Empress Eugénie-sanctioned Eau de Cologne Impériale. Eau de Rochas, a mainstay in the hot Southern European summer, infuses the whole crystalline hesperidia ambience with a whiff of patchouli which gives a shadowy, chyprish feel.

The crisp Eau Dynamisante by Clarins, a staple in the famous French brand's line, has been called "Prozac for the mind and a bull whip for sagging flesh" by writer Susan Irvine.

Biotherm had followed suit with their Eau Vitaminée in the 1990s and continue with various limited editions even today. Acqua di Parma Colonia is a classic mark of effortless style, immortalized in the remake of "Alfie," starring Jude Law.

Ô de Lancôme has been the youthful lemon and herbs scent of the students' revolution following May 1968; two summers ago Lancôme re-marketed this classic with the introduction of two flankers, Ô d'Azur and Ô d'Orangerie.

Annick Goutal's Eau d'Hadrien, inspired by the famous Roman emperor and his Memoirs, was a breath of fresh air when it was introduced in 1981, an era steeped deep in potent spicy orientals in the wake of YSL Opium. Chloe L'Eau is tart and fresh, like frozen lemonade, contrary to the soapy, detergent feel of the other Chloe contemporary fragrances; it is reminiscent of the tart citruses that dominated the summers of my childhood. These perfectly unisex paradigms are only meant to signify the lasting success of this simple but genius idea.

Chic, old-money brands always believed in the "eau" concept, either thanks to their heritage (Eau d'Orange Verte by Hermès directly transposing the Cologne Orange Verte has been a steady best-seller and emblem of the brand for years) or their creative forces (in-house perfumer for Hermès Jean-Claude Ellena is a major believer in the indulgent nature of splashing "eau" and has the imagination to give new and exciting twists to the time-honored concept).

Eau de Gentiane Blanche is a modern Eau de Cologne which instead of hesperidic essences is based on the cooling feel of angelica with modern white musks. Eau de Pamplemousse Rose takes on a decidedly more floral nuance with a modern grapefruit feel on top.

Now Ellena proposes two other novel ideas for summer 2013 and beyond: one ambery, one green floral; Eau de Mandarine Ambrée and Eau de Narcisse Bleu. The concept is not an olfactory diet that would serve to clean the palate, as with Lutens, but is a dyed-in-the-wool aesthetic choice. Here the "eau" is close to its origins, an act of mental and physical well-being, splashed on after a bath, rubbed on skin on a hot day, to refresh and regroup, meant to be shared by both sexes, a giant flacon in the bathroom or the fridge, waiting for the grabbing, and to introduce children to the joys of a lightly scented ambience around their linen cupboard.

But it is also a field of innovation: just how many twists can one give to an "eau?" Jean-Claude Ellena already had his ingenious ideas since Frédéric Malle asked him to do a fragrance for his fledging line Editions des Parfums.

 Eau d'Hiver was Ellena's interpretation of the usually cooling "eau" into a warm "eau" de cologne instead, paying tribute to Après l'Ondée and to mimosa and iris notes and creating the holographic image of a fluffy, apricot-hued cloud of a lazy summer afternoon.


Diptyque
is also another believer in the indulgent and aromatherapeutic "Eau" idea, what with their original L'Eau—which is closer to a pomander than a fresh citrus—and their spicy incense of L'Eau Trois, but also with their follow-up Eaux launched a few years ago (Eau de l'Eau, Eau de Tarocco and L'eau des Hesperides), as well as with "Eau de 34." In the latter the term "eau" seemingly takes the distilling of a brand's pure essence!
 

The vogue for eaux didn't come out of the blue for some markets. Hermès and Diptyque are well-loved perennials in the countries around the Mediterranean and wherever the climate is similar. Eaux never went away in those regions. “A typical spring fragrance smells mostly of fresh notes that belong to the type Citrus Green," says fragrance psychologist Dr. Joachim Mensing. "Their market-share in the U.S. is about 15%. But in the Latin countries like Italy, Spain and Brazil, they have around a 18-25 % share. The citrus green fragrances reach out to a more extrovert personality who wants to feel more dynamic and energetic. They hate the idea of professional routine and don’t want to be bored. They set a signal with these refreshing and stimulating citrus-green-aqua notes like Ô de Lancôme, Escale à Portofino (Dior), Energizing Fragrance (Shiseido) and Concentré d’Orange verte (Hermès)".


Some contemporary brands bring out an "Eau" declination to infer a lighter interpretation of an unrelated idea: Prada Candy L'Eau is simply a less dense caramelic olfactory dessert, Dior's Miss Dior L'Eau is a floral fragrance twist on the sweetly chyprish modern Miss Dior (not the 1947 original) which according to perfumer F. Demachy "is proud of its simplicity." Eau de Cartier has become a brand name, so its new Goutte de Rose flanker does not necessarily rehash the "eau de cologne" idea; instead it's based on rose, just like its name suggests, another major trend for 2013. Mademoiselle Ricci L'Eau is a pastel version of the original for romantic, playful coquettes and L'Eau Jolie in the Lolita Lempicka brand is a similar take on the gourmand original Lolita. Other modern designers, still, choose the connotation to denote a straightforward "marine," just like in the 1990s, such as Armani who follows his best-selling Acqua di Gio for men and for women with his recent Aqua di Gioia. Niche firms have no shame in infiltrating the portfolio with a marine, aqueous specimen or an "eau fraiche." Eau de Rem is well-respected after all.
 

Perhaps one of the major reasons why this renewed interest in "eaux" is manifesting itself is the emergence of a major market that will dominate tastes and fashion directions soon, mark my words: Brazil.

Unburdened by traditionalist preferences like the Middle East is and free to indulge in a perceivable fragrance trail (which, however, remains lightweight and non-suffocating in the heat of summer) unlike the Chinese and Japanese, Brazilians hold all the cards.

With their exuberant character, their joie de vivre and their warm, languid climate they are a natural for this refreshing, but not simplistic olfactory trope. And I for one cannot judge them for it.

Elena Vosnaki

Elena Vosnaki is a historian and perfume writer from Greece and a Writer for Fragrantica. She is the founder and editor of Perfume Shrine, one of the most respected independent online publications on perfume containing fragrance reviews, industry interviews, essays on raw materials and perfume history, a winner in Fragrantica Blog Awards and a finalist in numerous blog awards contests.

Her writing was recognized at the Fifi Awards for Editorial Excellence in 2009 and she contributes to publications around the world.

 



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Denoula
Denoula

My grandmother too would always carry 4711 for its therapeutic qualities. A little dab on the temples to revive flagging strength.

Apr
24
2013
sweetiepea161616
sweetiepea161616

I second Abdulla's statement! That in no way means I don't appreciate this article, because I do! I'm just not a huge fan of light, fresh scents. Plus I think it gives the perfume industry an excuse to make thier scents even weaker (i.e. watered down, i.e. more profitable!)

Apr
23
2013
tinyxxangel
tinyxxangel

The more I learn about perfume and its history, the more I love it and learn to appreciate it. Thank you for this wonderful article!!

Apr
23
2013
jovejove
jovejove

Kinda funny to me; I just bought the Mugler Cologne. I felt like I needed something that was refreshing in my fragrance wardrobe. It's simple and energetic, a great pick me up after all those complex concoctions I still love so much. I'd love to see a cologne style bath oil or lotion; any recommendations?

Apr
23
2013
lilybelle911
lilybelle911

Sparkling, buoyant fragrances that express a joie de vivre. Looks like it's a good time for me. I need to visit Brazil, apparently. :) Another great article from Elena.

Apr
23
2013
Abdulla
Abdulla

Looks like I will be saving alot this year.

Apr
23
2013
benpaul12
benpaul12

So this article is hinting at no more Flowerbomb?! Yahoo!

Apr
23
2013
mariotgomez
mariotgomez

Elena, wonderful article on one of my favorite olfactory categories.

Apr
22
2013
greydove
greydove

Funny, I've been craving lighter fragrances myself these days...

Apr
22
2013

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