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Many of us, especially men, who have little experience with perfume, are likely to have encountered eau de cologne, often called “after shave.” 

Eau de cologne is used in a different way than perfume and is meant as a refreshing encounter with some persistence, but not the persistence expected of perfume. Some use it, with little or no success, to cover up body odors. It is sprayed more generously than eau de parfum so for this reason I’m going to bottle it in 100-ml. bottles.

Whereas eau de parfum is diluted to 15% to 20% concentration, an eau de cologne may contain as little as 2% of pure aromatic material. 

I’ve decided, in my research, to reproduce eau de cologne as it was made in the 1920s. In those days, the very best eaux de cologne were not only distilled, but were aged for a year before being released. The distillation scares me because it involves alcohol which, of course, is flammable. I may distill the concentrate with some, but not all, of the alcohol and then do the final dilution with alcohol shortly before bottling. 

After studying contemporary ingredients, it’s amazing to look at recipes from the 1920s. The ingredients are virtually all naturals and they include ambergris! So, when I make the stuff, it won’t be cheap, not unless it can be diluted a lot while still retaining its character. 

My first attempt is based on lots of bergamot and clary sage. Clary sage acts as a fixative and, being a natural source of linalool, provides a refreshing aspect.  Plenty of other citrus—blood orange, lemon, cedrat, neroli, petitgrain citronnier—enter into it as do green ingredients such as angelica seed. I’ve included benzyl isoeugenol which doesn’t have a whole lot of aroma, but acts as a powerful fixative. At this point, the mixture was beautiful, but very green and austere. To sweeten it, I added a small amount of fir balsam absolute. Sandalwood is included, along with koavone and rosewood, to provide woody aspects. I included methyl ionone. Then I let it rest. 

I often find, when I’m working on a mixture, that I’ll start to smell what it needs. When I left the room, I realized it needed lavender. I was trying to avoid lavender (such a cliché), but found that lavender absolute rather than the usual essential oil, lent the concoction the floral softness I was looking for.  

The next step is to make a 100% mixture of the concentrates and let it age.