Simple. Lemon with a touch of lavender and piney rosemary. Not a perfume to wear if you want a big trail. Not a perfume that will make you ponder the mysteries of life. Just a good, no-nonsense cologne that smells bracing and sharp and makes you feel clean and energized. And the name is straightforward too, just four numbers. 4711.
When I first smelled 4711 at the now defunct pharmacy on New York’s East Side, it smelled so familiar and traditional that I could picture my grandfather slapping some on his shaved cheeks or my grandmother adding it to her bath. This was, of course, pure fantasy. 4711 didn’t exist in my Ukrainian childhood, but because the scent of a classical cologne–and 4711 is anything if not classical–has such a recognizable form, it feels as if this German cologne has always been around.
Created in 1792 by Wilhelm Muelhens, 4711 was a blend of citrus oils and herbs, not very different in style from other 18th century citrus mixtures. One of the first successfully marketed was Gian Paolo Feminis’s Eau de Cologne. Feminis moved from Italy to Cologne, Germany, and his Eau de Cologne, born in 1709, gave rise to a new scent family and put Germany on the fragrance map. Feminis’s Eau de Cologne is now sold as Jean Marie Farina Cologne by Roger & Gallet, but I prefer 4711 by a small margin.
The Mäurer & Wirtz brand owns the formula for 4711, and while they have a number of different colognes (Acqua Colonia, Nouveau Cologne and Wunderwasser), the one I’m talking about is Original Eau de Cologne. It comes in a bottle adorned with an ornate sea-green and gold label and smells like lemon rinds crushed with herbs of Provence. It is sharp, zesty, with a touch of bitterness and peppery spice. And that’s about it.
There are certainly many other much more exciting colognes, from chic Hermès Eau d’Orange Verte to exotic Diptyque Oyedo, but I like the austerity of 4711. Its simplicity and its refreshing character make other complicated citrus perfumes seem too fussy. Its lack of sweetness is wonderful as an antidote to rich fragrances, and sometimes one craves something simple and clean. If that’s the case, then 4711 will satisfy.
It is said that Napoleon Bonaparte used eight quarts of cologne every month. If you have similar cologne appetites, then 4711 will make it easy, since it’s one of the least expensive perfumes you can find on the market. It has a citrus standard lasting power, but since it is a fragrance that has a functional role–wake up, uplift, refresh, a couple of hours are plenty for me. 4711 also makes a great cologne bath (fill up a bath and add a few generous splashes of cologne), my favorite way to relax and wind down after a stressful day. Napoleon was definitely onto something.
4711 Original Eau de Cologne includes notes of bergamot, lemon, orange, lavender, rosemary, and neroli. The fragrance is available as 60, 90, 300, 400 and 800 ml eau de cologne. The smallest size is 25ml, around €6-10, depending on where you buy it.