Eau de Cologne creator Johann Maria Farina

On this day in history: Perfumier Johann Maria Farina born

Culture News

Johann Maria Farina, the Italian perfumier, was born on 8th December, 1685. He invented the fragrance, Eau de Cologne.

Born in the small town of Santa Maria Maggiore in Piedmont as Giovanni, Farina emigrated to Germany where he created Eau de Cologne.

Farina’s family were masters at distilling alcohol to carry fragrances. The art had been developed in northern Africa, exported to Sicily and then onto the Italian mainland.

Farina’s grandmother established a workshop in in Santa Maria Maggiore in the northern region of Piedmont.

Emigration to Germany

When in his early 20s, Farina followed in the footsteps of an uncle and emigrated to Germany. He took the the name Johann Maria Farina, working for his uncle who had moved to Cologne.

Homesick, Farina started dabbling with the distilling techniques from home. In 1708, he wrote to his brother telling of a scent so pleasing it was almost dreamlike.

“I have made a perfume reminiscent of an Italian spring morning, accompanied by a gentle freshness, where the scents of wild narcissus combine with sweet orange blossoms. The fragrance is refreshing and stimulative for my senses and imagination.”

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Birth of Eau de Cologne

There have been suggestions the recipe belonged to another product, Aqua Mirabilis, a medicinal mix created by Giovanni Paolo Feminis, a friend of the Farina family.

Whatever the truth, Farina gave it the name “Eau de Cologne” in honour of his adopted city.

In the summer of 1709, Farina’s brother – Giovanni Battista Farina – arrived in Cologne and registered under the name of Johann Baptist Farina. In August, he signed a 12-year contract to rent a building opposite the Julichplatz in the street now known as Unter Goldschmeid.

With his brother-in-law, Franz Balthasar Borgnis, he founded Farina & Compagnie. Later, it evolved into Gebrüder Farina & Compagnie – Farina Brothers and Co – after Johann Maria and another brother, Carlo Girolamo, joined the board.

Family company grew

Rosali of Eau de Cologne (1811)

The business initially sold a range of luxury items, such as lace, silk stockings, wigs, as well as the perfume. After some initial problems, the business renamed as Fratelli Farina (Farina Brothers) and began to grow.

The first delivery of Eau de Cologne was for just 12 bottles in 1716. Between 1730 and 1739, they sold around 3,700 of its distinctive long, slender bottles, named rosali.

Vitally, the fragrance soon became a royal and imperial favourite.  Frederick William I of Prussia, Maria Theresa of Austria and Louis XV of France were all taken with the unique scent. By 1740 it was being sold in cities all over Europe.

Johann Maria Farina died in Cologne in 1766.

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