While 4711 Echt Kölnisch Wasser is arguably the best-known fragrance manufactured in the German city of Cologne, there is another – and much older – local Eau de Cologne company. Farina can trace its roots back to 1709 and although the brand’s fragrances are a lot more exclusive than 4711, its customer base is equally international.
I knew 4711, of course, and on my recent trip to Cologne I visited the 4711 store in Glockengasse – read the brand profile here. The Farina flagship store is in the same neighbourhood; after I’d checked out the 4711 store I kept meandering through the streets of Cologne’s Old Town. You can imagine my surprise when I – almost accidentally – walked past the Farina building. Who knew there were two local fragrance brands in Cologne?! I went inside, took a few pics and tried out the Farina fragrance. Then, as I was writing the 4711 profile, I became increasingly intrigued by Farina.
The histories of both brands are quite intertwined and whilst one fragrance (4711) has become internationally famous and is widely available, the other (Farina) has a much more selective distribution. This is intentional, of course; you wouldn’t find Farina’s products in drugstores or souvenir outlets. Instead, the company is keeping things exclusive: Farina fragrances are sold in the flagship store, online and through mail order and in selected pharmacies and independent perfumeries. It is very much a niche fragrance brand.
And if you like convoluted company histories (which I do!), you’re going to love this! Read on:
The official company name of Farina is “Johann Maria Farina gegenüber dem Jülichs-Platz“ (Johann Maria Farina opposite Jülichs Square), or, in the French version, “Jean Marie Farina vis-à-vis de la place Juliers depuis 1709”. However, the abbreviation “Farina gegenüber” (Farina opposite) is a lot more common and this short version is also used in the company’s current logo (which dates back to 1924): a red tulip. What I like about Farina is that the company is still in the hands of the original family. The current CEO – the eighth generation Farina – is called Johann Maria, just like the Farina who first composed the original fragrance. Interesting fact: Farina is also considered to be the oldest Italian company located outside of Italy. After all, the Farinas come from the little town of Santa Maria Maggiore in the Piemont region of Italy.
The actual company was founded in 1709 by Johann Maria’s brother Johann Baptist Farina. Johann Baptist had emigrated to Cologne to open a store selling “French things”: lace, embroidery supplies, perfumed waters, silk stockings, snuff boxes, feathers, powders, wigs and so on. When Johann Maria came to Cologne to join his brother’s company he brought with him the recipe for a light refreshing scent (also called aqua mirabilis or eau admirable): the original Farina fragrance. Which eventually served as the inspiration for competitor 4711’s famous eau de cologne. After Johann Baptist died in the 1730s, Johann Maria took over the company and the fragrance business grew steadily. Farina sold its eau de colognes across the world although France remained one of the most important international markets.
The company’s historic customer list includes most of the European courts of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. Farina has one of the most complete corporate archives in the whole of Germany so there are verified client lists and order dates. Amongst the royal customers were German soldier king Friedrich Wilhelm von Preussen (1734), Empress Maria Theresia of Austria (1740), Napoleon Bonaparte (1811), Queen Victoria of Great Britain (1837), Tsar Alexander of Russia (1815), German Emperor Wilhelm I. (1861), King George V. of Great Britain (1910), King Gustav of Sweden (1927), Queen Soraya of Persia (1951), Indira Ghandi (1959) and Princess Diana (1987). Other famous clients included composers Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Lehár and authors Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, Heinrich Heine, Thomas Mann, Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain.
In the early 19th century a member of the Farina family, Maria Joseph, moved to Paris and founded his own eau de cologne company under the name “Jean Marie Farina, Paris”. In 1863, a newly established French soap and perfumery manufacturer, Roger & Gallet (the company who produces these beautiful gift soaps), acquired Jean Marie Farina and continued to sell the fragrances in the French market. Today Roger & Gallet belongs to L’Oréal group and the company still markets a Jean Marie Farina Extra Vielle cologne.
In an interesting twist the German branch of the Farina family sold their company to Roger & Gallet in 1975. In 1979, when Roger & Gallet was itself acquired by Elf Aquitaine (and subsequently changed hands several times until it went to L’Oréal in 2008), Swiss cosmetics group Doetsch Grether (which had already taken on some of the international sales business for Farina back in the 1920s) took over the Farina shares until, in 1999, the Farina family repurchased their company. And in 2001 Farina moved back into its beautiful historic building, “gegenüber dem Jülichs-Platz” (opposite Jülichs Square, or what used to be called Jülichs Square) on Obenmarspforten 21.
The Farina fragrance is quite similar to the more famous 4711: it is a refreshing citrus-dominated concoction of lime, bergamot, cedrat, petitgrain, neroli, grapefruit, jasmine and lavender although the precise recipe is a closely guarded secret. According to Farina, today’s fragrance still smells the same as (or at least, very similar to!) the original composition from 1709. The actual fragrance ingredients have, of course, been adjusted many times over the past century in order to accommodate the changing European INCI regulations. Personally, I preferred the Farina cologne to the classic 4711 scent; it is more complex and at the same time more subtle. It is also more expensive than 4711: 30ml is priced at 26 Euro, 50ml is 39 Euro and 125ml cost 56 Euro. Like 4711, the Farina eau de cologne is a unisex scent. It is packaged in distinctive red and white.
In the 1920s Farina brought out the men’s fragrance Russisch Leder (Russian leather) which combines accords of leather, moss and fern with warming notes of vanilla and aromatic musk. There is also a more contemporary fragrance range named after the current CEO’s wife Tina, but Farina’s bestseller remains the original Eau de Cologne. According to a 2009 interview with the current Johann Maria Farina, around 85% of the Farina cologne is sold internationally: South America, East Asia, the Middle East and the Gulf States are very important markets as are the Mediterranean countries in Europe. Farina has very loyal consumers and, apparently, there are customers (families or businesses, presumably!) that have been ordering the eau de cologne for more than 200 years. Seriously impressive!
If you are in Cologne’s Old Town, a visit to Farina-Haus is highly recommended (they also have an interesting fragrance museum). It is only a ten minute stroll away from the 4711 store on Glockengasse so you could check out both fragrances and determine your own favourite.