The L’Eau-down on Colognes

See what I did there? With the title? The “l’eau-down”? Get it? Let me just dodge the huge tumbleweed that’s rolling towards me and then I’ll get on with the post.

Colognes! What does that word make you think of? Beautiful orange and lemon groves and crumbling old villas next to the mediterranean? Or a middle-aged Italian man with greased back hair trying to proposition you in the middle of a Milanese street? For me, it used to be the latter, but I am gradually coming around to the joys of a light, fresh cologne.


A cologne, for those of you who aren’t sure, is a perfume with a very low percentage of actual perfume oil or essential oil – it’s lighter, less intense and it doesn’t last for anywhere near as long as an eau de toilette or parfum. It’s usually far cheaper per ml than the more concentrated versions of the scent and usually comes in larger quantities so that you can spritz or splash away to your heart’s content.

It’s not only the concentration of the scent that’s different to your regular perfume, though; the top notes are typically fresh and citrussy (Bergamot, Neroli, Lemon, Mandarin, Lime, Grapefruit), often offset by Lavender, Thyme and Petitgrain. The classic version would have to be the Original Eau de Cologne, 4711, but there are hundreds available now, all of them different, lots of them extraordinarily beautiful. I’ve gathered together some of my favourites – a few of them aren’t colognes, strictly speaking, and a couple aren’t labelled as one but should be!

I think that there’s a degree of snobbery towards colognes, but I’d point you firmly in the direction of Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino: all of the notes of a classic cologne, and has even been relaunched in a “splash” bottle. So there – colognes are most definitely stylish!

From left to right:

1) Roger & Gallet Jean Marie Farina Cologne. This has oranges and lemons and a lovely woody base. Classic, but limited edition for R&G’s 150th Year Anniversary. £30.60 at Escentual.com

2) Acqua di Parma Fico di Amalfi. I reviewed this recently (read the Fico di Amalfi Review here) and I absolutely adore the “fig” twist on the traditional cologne scent. It’s stunning. Out of stock at John Lewis, but Escentual.com have it with free delivery. Most definitely unisex, this one – read the review!

3) 4711 – the original eau de cologne. And it really is. This holds a place in many a heart – it’s pretty old-school, but massively popular! £17 from Escentual.com Again, definitely unisex.

4) l’Occitane’s Eau Captivante comes in a HUGE “Art Deco” glass bottle. The scent is beautiful – Bergamot, Lime, Mint and Basil – very zesty and fresh. Though it’s unisex, I can imagine that this would be very popular with men. It has that “shower fresh” feel that’s light and sexy. l’Occitane do scent so well – it’s usually the florals that I’m drawn to (their Peony is immense!) but the colognes are spot on. Clean and crisp. Find them here:  Eau Captivante

5) Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino is, as I mentioned, very close to the classic cologne scent, but as with anything Tom Ford, there’s a little bit of magic thrown in. Don’t know what it is – something a bit deeper and darker – but this manages to be sporty, sexy, exotic and heady all at the same time. This is a fresher version of the original Neroli Portofino scent and it comes in a much, much larger bottle with a “splash” top rather than a spray. Again, firmly unisex. £85 from Selfridges.com

6) Jo Malone’s Lime, Basil & Mandarin Cologne is one of the all-time bestsellers. And for good reason. It has some of those citrussy cologne top-notes, but then a really modern and unusual twist. There’s this light, soapy sweetness that’s (I think) quite feminine, but I can see how this would also be such a popular male choice. Jo Malone’s fragrances last so long that I’m not sure they can be compared with some of the lighter “splashes” and “spritzers” – you can also layer different scents to create a bespoke fragrance. From £38, Selfridges.com

a model beauty and style blog

7) Agua de Colonia Concentradareviewed here recently. (Told you I had a cologne fixation!) Spicy, herby, fruity. Cologne with added fire, would be the best description of this one! It comes in a bright yellow box (you can just see it peeping out in the photograph above) and the bottle reminds me of some kind of exotic tequila or rum bottle. Nice! Find this one on Carter and Bond.

That’s all of my tried-and-testeds, but there’s a little extra mention. The Verde d’Arancia from Monotheme’s Library of Citruses (Il Libro Degli Agrumi) is just the purest orange scent in a bottle. (Far left in photograph above.) If you puréed an orange, peel, pith and all, and jammed it into a pot, it would smell like this. It’s happy, summery and vibrant. It’s not a cologne, but whilst we’re on citrus notes, I thought I’d drop this one in! £22.50 from the recently launched M&S Beauty Paradise!

How do you feel about colognes now? Tempted? To finish this marathon post, I just wanted to tell you a few ways that you can use cologne – feel free to add your own suggestions. Firstly, they make quite wonderful emergency room sprays. There’s something about the fruity, sharp notes that make musty rooms smell fresh again. Ditto for laundry water or for spritzing bed linen and towels. You can add a splash of cologne to bathwater for a light scent that doesn’t leave any oily residue, and you can use the cologne as a body splash when the weather’s hot.

Signing off now, as I may go insane if I write the word Cologne one more time! For more fragrance reviews, click here!

42 comments

  1. Thanks Ruth. I think my main issue is lack of exfoliation – I haven’t exfoliated, well, ever, that I’m aware of. I currently use a foaming cleanser (ditching it), a light benzoyl gel (amazing) and grapes seed oil as my moisturizer. Thanks – I am buying Liquid Gold, I’ve read so many incredible reviews for all skin types. My combination, build-up prone skin will do well with some exfoliation!

    Thanks,
    Erin

  2. Oh Ruth, I love you!!! I have a big crush on citrus colognes and I’m trying to build a little collection- my first purchase was this 4711 cologne because it’s the most popular, though I’ve read that the Jean Marie Farina “recipe” that the Roger & Gallet version has is the real thing that started the cologne craze back during the Napoleon days. I’ve also added to the mix some local vintage citrus colognes that were popular 50-60 years ago, now I want to branch out to something a bit more special like these ones. Thank you so, so much for this post, it made my day!!! xx

  3. Hi Ruth I have bought the 4711 from boots I think for the same price very nice but the sample had a spray bottle but the purchased one is a splash type I’m a bit messy so every thing including my hands smell nice !!

  4. Ohh I forgot to say my all time fave cologne is Diptyque L’eau De Neroli.

  5. Hi Ruth,
    As per your contact section, I am writing this comment to ask for personal skincare recommendations (as you seem to know your stuff quite well). I thank you for your dedication to this blog and your thoroughness in testing products (such as the new Teen Skincare video – how wonderful that you went through both teen trials as well as your own!). That being said, I’d like to ask you what you think.
    I have a bit of a paranoia of cleansing my face with tap water, given that I live in a state that has very hard water. Water contains chlorine and other harmful properties that can lead to breakouts, dryness, as well as a number of other skincare problems (or so I’ve researched and been told – maybe I’m wrong!).
    I’m a teenager with an okay complexion (knock on wood) but am not pleased with it. It has hyperpigmentation, unevenness, dry areas and oily areas, mild blemishes, and just an overall rough appearance. It could be much, much better.
    All that being disclosed, I would like to know what you’d recommend to assist me. What should I do in terms of a morning and night cleansing routine? What rules should I adhere to with lotion toniques and moisturizers? I never wear makeup, so I don’t need to worry about removing it.

    Thanks,
    Erin

    • Hi Erin, I really need to update the contact section as I can’t provide skincare recommendations at all, most of the time – I can’t see your skin, and I’m not a skin doctor! I also don’t know what you’re currently using.. There’s going to be a whole skincare series soon answering some commonly asked questions, so sit tight for that, but in the meantime have a look at some of my cleanser recommendations (the Alpha-H Balancing could be good for you?) and the Liquid Gold review. I think that they might really help! xxx

  6. Ah my mama used to wear colognes and so do my uncle and brother so for me. I think when you’re in a hot country (they all live / used to live in Brazil) colognes are more appealing as they make you feel ‘fresh’ when it’s humid and sticky… So colognes always make me think of being in Brazil or somewhere very hot by the beach!

  7. Sweet lord – you have tipped me over the edge!! I’ve wanted neroli portofino for months but couldn’t justify the cost. But now you’ve shown me that whopper for 85 quid, I’m just going to HAVE to do it!!! Does that version have decent staying power? X

  8. I remember that my Grandmother had some miniature bottles of 4711 and I used to play with them and pretend they were real bottles for my Barbie dolls :D

    I get very easily tired of fragrances, but I love the Acqua di Parma colognes – even though I only have samples because they are really expensive. They smell clean and sophisticated and interesting…

  9. I love colognes! when I was a child my mom gave me the Original 4711 as a gift. Now I’m mad in love with Jo Malone’s White Lilac and Rhubarb. I love Acqua di Parma too, but Fico di Amalfi sounds new to me… I will check that out for sure. Very nice post as usual Ruth, cheers from Milan – sorry for all the bad memories! xx

  10. Hi Ruth, sorry off-top. where are the best places in London to get eyebrows waxed for a reasonable price? thanks

  11. My favourite cologne is Nenuco, my childhood smell. I’ve never left it, and I’m 20.

  12. Woo nice post Ruth! I once walked past a Jo Malone counter in Selfridges and although everything was lovely, there are so many scents to choose I felt quite deterred from buying in the end! I’d like to choose a scent which not alot of people use and maybe I should be a bit more obscure in the future with my scent choices. I wouldn’t mind spritzing myself but those colognes look pretty large to be lugging it around town on a busy day. Do they all come in one big standard size or can you choose ones which are smaller? Like a 30ml bottle for carrying around? Thanks for this lovely post, shame the weather is so miserable :(

    • @Helen decant them into a Travelo – those things are lifesavers! I have a few of them with different scents in… x

  13. Chanel used to do eau du cologne for No 5. Sadly no more. I notice fewer and fewer fragrance houses do them now.

  14. Hi Ruth, nothing to do with colognes, lol! But have you ever heard of the skincare brand Lidermi? I only ask as my hubbie has just sent me a email saying he’s got me some samples of this brand to try and can I provide some feedback??? I’ve had a look at their website and it’s fairly expensive russian skincare.

    • No, never heard of it! I’m intrigued – are you going to try it? xx

      • Yes I’ve agreed to give it a try, I’ve got the 15ml serum ( rrp £119 but selling for £89 currently) and 50ml lifting cream £59, plus a box full of the leg gel and moisturising cream, so should be able to give it a proper test.

  15. I am from Cologne, where they make 4711. It is hugely popular with the tourists, of course, but most Colonians would not wear it. It is very much considered an old-lady smell here, I’m afraid. I don’t dislike the scent personally, but I would never spray it on me because the scent is instantly recognisable.

    • Oh, someone else from Cologne just wrote what I was about to say, haha!
      It’s true, only elder ladies would wear it here. The House of 4711 promoted some new scents a while ago, maybe something to be checked out by the Eau de Cologne hardcore-fans…

  16. 4711 brings back so many memories. I thought it the height of sophistication when I started university. You nailed it with “old school” and in many hearts. It was also a political statement as our school went coed just the year before – the unisex thing was quite “daring.” :)
    Thanks for the sum up, Ruth. I’m trying to find a new scent that will be “me.”

  17. I do like the loccitane one, and the bottle is beautiful, I am lucky enough to have a loccitane store near me :-) so this will be finding its way into my bedroom soon lol!
    I must admit though i think colognes are generally thought of as being abit old fashioned, so your post was quite interesting.

  18. I actually never knew the difference between an eau de toilette and cologne–so your post was very informative for me. I’m really wanting to try the Jo Malone one now. Would you believe, I’ve never tried ANY of her scents?!

  19. I’m a long term fan of 4711 and I think my love of Chanel No19 is because it has cologne leanings or heritage. I’m intrigued by the Tom Ford but not sure I could swallow that price tag for a cologne – is it more long lasting?

    • It’s less long lasting than the Private Blend Perfume version, but then that one is well over £100 for a much smaller amount, so it’s swings and roundabouts! x

  20. Thank you for such a lovely post Ruth! Have you tried Jo Malone’s Wild Fig and Cassis? I absolutely adore it!x

  21. Whats your favorite perfume ?

  22. To say I’m obsessed with Neroli Portofino would be an understatement! I drown myself in it whenever I’m in the department store and I will buy it this year if I have to go hungry!

    Great post

  23. They’re always a bit strong for me, but nice selection there xx

  24. I dont think I will ever abandon my summery eau de toilette for cologne but these retro looking bottles are works of art.If I had an empty one I would fill it with my homemade rosewater and keep it for ever!

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