[o də kɔlɔɲ ɛ̃per'jal]
Family: citrus, aromatic
Notes: bergamot, neroli, verbena, lemon, orange, rosemary, lavender, cedarwood, tonka bean
Period: The imperial years
An important attraction of Guerlain's perfumes is their use of names and ideas inspired by famous personalities or stories. Eau de Cologne Impériale was the inaugural one in that respect, the fragrance that started Guerlain's own story. Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain, young perfumer and vinegar merchant, opened his first shop in 1828 on the ground floor of the Parisian deluxe hotel Le Meurice which was owned by his uncle. The location was advantageous: this hotel was a favourite with upper-class English visitors who even nicknamed it "City of London", and the travel guides recommended it as being "the most commodious in Paris and particularly adapted for the Englishman". At that time the English were reputed to be the best perfumers in the world, and Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain wanted this to change.
From his Rue de Rivoli shop, Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain sold imported soaps and vinegars from the principal English houses, but at the same time he began creating his own beauty products and "Eaux de Cologne", fragrances that suited people's taste for freshness and subtlety, such as Eau de Cologne Supérieure, Eau de Cologne Royale, and in 1830 Eau de Cologne Impériale, a crisp, uplifting scent of citrus notes and Provençal herbs. In 1853 the latter was presented to the French emperor Napoléon III and his wife Eugénie as a wedding gift. The empress liked it so much that she appointed Monsieur Guerlain purveyor to the Empress and sanctioned the name "Eau de Cologne Impériale" to be used.
Eau de Cologne Impériale was the celebrity fragrance of the day. Royals and nobles lent their names to perfumers' work and were supplied with all manner of toiletries in return. Having a queen, emperor or princess associated with a product helped sales, and Guerlain received credentials from the Queen of Belgium, Queen of England and Prince of Wales. But the arrangement with France's own imperial ruler was Guerlain's most important and grand achievement, and very worthy of showcasing.
Eau de Cologne Impériale is synonymous with the bee bottle. As a gift to the emperor couple, the scent had to be properly dressed, so Guerlain commissioned glassmaker Pochet & du Courval to produce a bottle in Empire style, shaped like the top of the Vendôme Column and decorated with Napoléon III's emblem, gold-painted bees. The Vendôme Column is part of the street perspective of the rue de la Paix where Guerlain's boutique was situated at that time.
The Empire style originated in Napoléon's desire to revive the majestic luxury of imperial Rome. Interiors used classical columns, molding, and other grand Greek and Roman motifs. Napoléon chose the bee, so as to link the new empire to the very origins of France: golden bees (in fact, cicadas) were discovered in 1653 in Tournai in the tomb of Childeric I, founder in 457 of the Merovingian dynasty and father of Clovis, and the bees were considered as the oldest emblem of the sovereigns of France. Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain couldn't be content with anything less stately for his first famous fragrance.
The bee bottle has since then existed in different shapes, sizes and interpretations and contained countless Guerlain perfumes. In 1992, an atomizer version of the bee bottle was introduced, now used for most of the classic feminine fragrances.
The deep scent of raw bergamot oil isn't available in IFRA-safe perfumery, but Eau de Cologne Impériale smells as sparkling, dry and nostalgically herbal as always.
We love: that the old colognes are still being produced, despite their lightness and simplicity
Citrus and herbs know no gender
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