Farina Fragrance Museum In Cologne, Germany Holds The Secret To Perfume And Cologne Making.



The Power Of Fragrance From Farina House [Cologne]

The Farina Fragrance Museum In Germany Holds The Secret To Eau de Cologne, Which Has Essentially Stayed The Same Since The 18th Century

Inside The Fragrance Museum With Historical Rosoli Flacons [Courtesy: Johann Farina]

The way perfumes are concocted is a piece of knowledge that people don't tend to think about too much. They just smell and do not know what they are taking in. The Buzz traveled to Cologne, Germany to visit the intriguing Farina Fragrance Museum that allows yourself to be swept away into the wonderful world of perfumes. A tour through our Fragrance Museum lets you discover three centuries of fragrance and cultural history, starting with the Rococo era, the time of the perfumer Johann Maria Farina. The Buzz sat down with historian of the museum and member of the Farina family, Johann Farina. 

The Buzz: It’s interesting looking at what you guys have here plus what you produce, what do you do at the museum?

Johann Farina: Yes. I'm the Historian of the Fragrance Museum here.

The Buzz: Can you talk about how you want to maintain a certain idea of what cologne is and how it was made versus perception today by modern people because, as you said, your cologne, your perfume, Eau de Toillette, people don't know exactly where it originally came from?

JF: Well, my fifth, grand, grand, grand, grand, grandfather founded this company in Cologne on this site. And when he created a fragrance, he had to do the sales, not only in Cologne but all around to the courts because it was a very expensive product. So normal people couldn't afford it because perfume was much more higher price than today because of the ingredients. It was not sold so much as today in the market; what probably today, is a niche market. It was a whole market at that time. Our first important customer was the Arch Bishop of Cologne in Bruhl, the UNESCO area in Bruhl near Cologne, which is normally the site Cologne considered an important site to visit. The Cathedral there, more of a Palace. You know what I mean…Augustusburg and Falkenlust Palaces, these two sites which are better to visit. Yeah, and when he became a customer, he was the most important customer all around, so all the lower royalties and lower courts followed as customers and then their customers, like the emperor in Vienna became customer, then later in Paris and so on. And so, Eau de Cologne became the scent of the Rococo of the 18th century. And when somebody said, "Eau de Cologne," he only wanted the product of Farina from Cologne."

The Buzz: How would you describe that smell? That's the one thing I really loved...

JF: The smell is a light fragrance of citrus notes. The major top note is bergamot. Farina was one of the very first who used bergamot for perfumery. It wasn't known before 1700. And this became something very new at that time because before Farina, most fragrances were very heavy on the foreign odors and so it was something new. It was a new fashion of perfume, a light fragrance. A fragrance which was healthy, cleanly, which was also with bergamot, more alcohol, so it was very pleasant. And it was something for the day. In the evening, you would use more heavy fragrances, more erotic fragrances. And during daytime, Eau de Cologne was a scent to have a nice odor, a nice smell around you, even if it was not too healthy or too clean around you. So that was the major success of this fragrance, and so at the end of the 18th century, Eau de Cologne became a term of light fragrance. Because it was so successful, other people tried at that time also to participate in this export, and in this succeeded because you didn't have trademark rights at that time. So Eau de Cologne became a generic term, even for those who were not Farina, it didn't stay in Cologne. But Eau de Cologne is nothing more than water from Cologne, but it was a trademark of Farina. Named Eau de Cologne of Farina later on.  Because then nobody traced Eau de Cologne only to Farina because it became a generic term. So we had to add Eau de Cologne de Farina.

The Buzz: And originally it was cologne just because of the city?

JF: Yes, but Eau de Cologne means in English: Water from Cologne.

The Buzz: Can you talk about the importance of this house, maintaining it as it is, and also down in the basement?

JF: Yes. In the 18th century our protection was in the basement, in the old cellars, dating back to the Romans. The walls are still Roman downstairs. This house is, in the basement, Roman, dting back to 1500s. As you go up higher, it's getting younger. Upstairs, it's more 18th, 19th-century. The tulip is a symbol of a fragrance you never reach, because tulip is not used in the perfumery. The original old tulips have a marvelous scent, but you cannot extract the scent out of the plant. It cannot be used in perfumery, so it's the idea of a ‘fragrance you can never reach.'

The Buzz: The unattainable.

JF: Yes. It's a symbol of something you can never reach. That's also the society of perfumeries in France, already got a tulip as a symbol of the society in 1906. The tulip is more a symbol of something very expensive. 

Mr. Farina Sits At His Desk With Ancestral Portraits [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]
The Cathedral Of Cologne Is Like A Palace [Photo Credit: Tim Wassberg]

The Buzz: One thing I loved hearing downstairs was that your fifth great-grandfather had the sense of perfect smell. Can you talk about what that means?

JF: Yes, but much more than the perfect smell, is the idea how to compose, the composition. That's like music. You can be a marvelous musician, but unable to compose a new song. On the other side, you are a miserable musician, but you're a marvelous song writer. The song writer is more important than the one who expresses. The same, like Beethoven. He was nearly deaf when he composed his last symphony.

The Buzz: He remembered.

JF: Yes, and that's the same with perfume. You must get it in your head. You compose it first in your head, and smell it in your brain. Then you try to mix it in the laboratory. That's much more important, but both must come together.

The Buzz: Looking at both sides of it, both ancestry of it, but also the modern aspect of it, can you talk on how things have evolved?

JF: Yes, everything is very new, and we are more an internet company than anything else. I can lead my company by internet. Even if I'm outside of the house, nobody will mention it or realize it, but the main product of the company still is something which we kept from the 18th century to today. Everything around is going with the time, but the essential, the fragrance, must be the same. And that's very, very important. But in the end, how to produce it, it's really similar to the 18th century. We don't use any more wooden barrels. Now, we have stainless steel barrels. But inside, it's the same anyway. So it's not really different. I mix it in same way as it was mixed in the 18th century.

The Buzz: One thing that I did like that I learned from the tour is that every person's skin creates a different reaction. And nowadays, there's so much mixing of ethnicity that the skin is changing. Can you talk about how that work?

JF: Yeah. It's a reaction between fragrance and people. But there are minor differences depending on your own smell. It's a very light fragrance. That's also the reason why Chinese and Japanese people like it. All of the fragrances from the States are often bought more off of celebrity and something like that. In China, they don't' want to use it because it's much too heavy. Then, they prefer these light scents.

The Buzz: Now, can you talk about the importance of educating people like you do downstairs? It's important for the history to be learned and the interaction to show how smells work. Can you talk about that?

JF: That’s not interesting if we just place the product on the wall and that’s it. In here, you get more an interactive dialog about fragrances, even if you are in the rooms. Where 300 years history has always lived and kept all of the time. It's much interesting for many people, and that cannot be a normal exhibition. We had a normal exhibition in a previous museum,  was first installed in 1925. That was like what you are thinking of. But today, you have a dialog with the person who will come to us. So they can ask. You can answer. You can give them new ideas of fragrance and that's much more what you remember.

On The Street Walking Into The Farina Fragrance Museum - The Birthplace Of Eau de Cologne [Courtesy: Johann Farina]
Water from Cologne, The Original Recipe Book [Courtesy: Johann Farina]
Essences And Oils That Make The Cologne Special [Courtesy: Johann Farina]

The Buzz: Do women need fragrances and do men need fragrances?

JF: Yes. No. There are two things, if you are young man you smell a bit strong then you should use fragrances. Young female much less strong, if they're coming older, then yes. It depends on your appearance. It depends on your age and what you want to do with it. At the earlier times, you didn't have the separation between female and male perfume. Everybody decided himself if he liked it, and the main room much more using Frankincense than the female in the 18th century. The young female should smell for itself. A man should have more citrus notes. Female can use everything else.

The Buzz: So it's psychological too?

JF: Yes. With the fragrance, you want to participate in a life, which is probably part of this fragrance. If you are using older cologne you must remember you are representing Napoleon, for example, or Princess Diana, so you are participating in this history when you are using it, and that's the same with Chanel 5, for example. You buy something. It's the same if you're drinking a special wine or wearing special boots. And the same when you ride on Harley Davidson. You are not buying just the machine, you are also buying a way of life.

The Buzz: Can you describe the Farina name? It's a lifestyle. It's a way of life, and it's been a way of life for centuries. Can you talk about looking at that legacy and that brand in that way?

JF: Yes. Farina is on one side a tradition, while on the other side, it's also a very niche market, which is selective and those people who are buying and using it, buy it also because they don't want to be mainstream. They want to be unique and they don't want to have it on every corner the same fragrance in their neighborhood. Something individual. Because it's not a mass-market product.

The Buzz: And you want to keep it that way?

JF: Yes, because we don't want to compare it to L’Oreal for example. We are a niche market and the niche market we are selling most the whole marketing the 18th century, actually [laughter]. So we kept our market and I didn't scale up the company, but otherwise, we probably wouldn’t be a family run company any more. 

Tim Wassberg

A graduate of New York University's Tisch School Of The Arts with degrees in Film/TV Production & Film Criticism, Tim has written for magazines such as Moviemaker, Moving Pictures, Conde Nast Traveler UK and Casino Player. He enjoys traveling and distinct craft beers among other things.

Farina Fragrance Museum

Make Sure To Check Out:

Farina Fragrance Museum, where you can tour a centuries-old house that talks about the history of perfume. Flacons, paintings and art objects testify the fascinating history of the original Eau de Cologne. You can also learn the proper way to discern the scents that are mixed to create the final product.   

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