Current Beauty Crush: Historical Perfumes And Colognes

Old fashioned fragrances are steadfastly unchanging – the formulas and packaging remain the same over decades, if not centuries, and that’s comforting

When I was in Capri recently I kept seeing displays in the pharmacy windows of beautiful bottles of perfume (this was when I wasn’t trying to take covert snaps of VALENTINO wandering around the town with his entourage and pug). One evening we took a stroll down the hill and just past a stand selling fresh lemon granita, discovered the source of the bottles – the original lab where the perfume was first produced.

It’s still working today and has a shop whose walls are covered in photos of Jackie O and other glamorous stars of yesteryear stocking up on bottles of the stuff. I came away with a bar of soap shaped like a lemon (seriously, there are lemons everywhere – I even ate my lemon risotto out of a bowl made from a lemon one night) and a fistful of tester cards sprayed with different scents.

I love a good beauty story and Capri’s Carthusia perfumery has a cracker: apparently it all dates back to 1380, when the prior of the Carthusian monastery received a surprise visit from Queen Joan of Anjou. He hastily picked a bouquet of flowers for his VIP and after three days, noticed that the water they’d been standing in smelled amazing. A friar identified the source of the scent as the ‘Garofilium Silvestre Caprese’ and so Capri’s first fragrance was born (I don’t care if this story is true, it’s lovely).

I don’t think you’ll find any scent that’s more evocative of a specific place than these little bottles of sunshine. I also really like Carthusia’s groovy logo, which was designed in 1984 by Mario Laboccetta – a ‘flower siren’ who is meant to symbolise all the mythology of the island and the flowers that go into the scents.

You can buy the Carthusia fragrances here. My favourite is the ‘Meditteraneo’ eau de toilette which has a sharp, zingy scent derived from lemon leaves, mandarin, wild mint and green tea.

The Carthusia fragrances are real luxury, artisanal products – handmade from local flowers and herbs and all that jazz. But you can get the same effect from a good quality cologne - refreshing scents that are perfect for the hot, dusty summer months.

My mum used to douse me and my brother in the Spanish S3 cologne every day before and after school – it had such a clean, invigorating citrus smell. Suitable for kids and babies, it’s still one of my favourites, not just because it evokes the languid, sun-drenched afternoons of childhood, but because it gets my senses buzzing and wakes up my brain when I’m about to pass out from the heat on the bus.

Aqua di Parma unisex cologne is one of my mum’s signature scents and I love it too. Dating back to 1916, this Italian (made in Parma) eau de cologne is slightly warmer and spicier than the S3, but still fresh and light, thanks to a combination of Sicilian citrus, jasmine, verbena and Bulgarian rose with woody base notes of vetiver, cedar and sandal.

The packaging is gorgeous – that art deco flagon with its Bakelite stopper was designer in 1930, the cylindrical ‘hatbox’ container is hand-embossed with the arms of the duchy of Parma and the yellow paper represents the 18th century facades of Parma’s buildings.

And finally we have 4711 eau de cologne which comes from... Cologne (but it was created by an Italian expat in the early 18th century.) According to the legend, a Carthusian monk played a part in this story too (what is it with those guys?) Known as ‘wonder water’, after two centuries it’s still going strong – sales have doubled nationwide since the start of the summer. Oh and Holly Golightly wears it in Truman Capote’s novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which is neat. £11.49,

I think I like all these old fashioned perfumes and colognes because they are steadfastly unchanging – the formulas and packaging remain the same over decades, if not centuries, and that’s comforting in a world where it can feel like new products are constantly being shoved in our faces. The idea of doing one thing, and doing it really well, appeals to me. It doesn’t hurt that the scents are crisp, refreshing and timeless and they’re contained in elegant bottles of course.