Napoleon’s Cologne and The Art of Citrus Fragrances

Napoleon Bonaparte is said to have used liters of cologne. While exiled on St. Helena, his servant Mameluke Ali created a blend that approximated the former emperor’s favorite combination of citrus and herbs. While my ambitions don’t reach as far as world domination, citrus fragrances nevertheless feature prominently in my perfume wardrobe. Few aromas are more uplifting and rejuvenating and their versatility makes cologne an easy fragrance type to adapt to various moods and occasions.

Hermès Eau d’Orange Verte is as classical as a beige trench coat and crisp white shirt, a blend of lemon, orange and oakmoss.  A bracing, slightly austere fragrance, it instantly makes me feel energized. The bitterness of the orange zest is softened by musk and cedarwood shavings, while a subtle touch of spice brightens the composition further.

Pairing well with Eau d’Orange Verte is Roger & Gallet’s Bois d’Orange soap. Roger & Gallet has several excellent colognes in its line, including Jean Marie Farina Extra Vieille, purportedly the same potion favored by the French emperor. My preferred, however, is Bois d’Orange, a vignette of woods and peppery citrus. The Bois d’Orange soap is one of those scented marvels that demonstrate the perfumer’s art even in the most quotidian context. Its creamy foam smells of zest and green leaves, with hints of amber and basil that linger on the skin well after the morning shower.

The most popular orange used in colognes is the bitter, or Seville, variety, but many modern compositions rely on sweet orange for a juicy, radiant effect.  Acqua di Parma Arancia di Capri adds a whisper of vanilla to its orange cocktail for a teasing gourmand sensation. Atelier Cologne Orange Sanguine, on the other hand, explores the natural sweetness of fruit and amplifies it with musk to create a long lasting presence. Both fragrances are reminiscent of crushed citrus peel and freshly squeezed juice, an aroma that feels upbeat and exhilarating.

Another part of the orange tree that finds its way into colognes is flowers. Bitter orange blossoms are especially rich in essential oils, which can be extracted either with volatile solvents, resulting in orange blossom absolute, or steam-distilled to make neroli essence. The former is warm, jasmine-like, with a sweet grape note, while neroli is green and spicy. Zagara from Santa Maria Novella, one of the oldest Italian pharmacies, uses the two essences for a complex effect, while Serge Lutens Fleurs de Citronnier counts on the green verve of neroli to make its musky woods radiant. The orange flowers form the main structure of these perfumes and offer a suave complement to the sharp citrus notes.

Those who are not convinced by colognes might like to explore Parfums de Nicolaï Eau d’Été. Its blend of orange, grapefruit and bergamot is as refreshing as a sip of iced lemonade, but a layer of cinnamon dusted jasmine adds a sultry touch. From the citrus opening to the drydown of vanilla and musk, Eau d’Été is elegant but quirky. Appropriately named Summer Water, it’s also an ideal winter companion.

If you wish to smell the blend Napoleon so loved, look for Napoléon Ier, a reconstitution of the Saint Helena Eau de Cologne. The Osmothèque perfumer Jean Kerléo worked with the archival materials and memoirs to compose a fragrance worn by the banished emperor. Whatever your interest, history or mere curiosity, this orange blossom cologne will strike you as unexpectedly wistful and lyrical.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin



  • Klaas: A post to my heart, as I love colognes and citrus fragrances! Year round! Nothing beats a spritz of citrus centered perfume on a dark winter morning…..

    I have tried and used many, and my favorites are Azemour les Orangers (Parfum d’Empire, the current version is especially bracing!), Cédrat Intense (Patricia de Nicolaï, it’s a modern Chanel pour Monsieur, which so suffered from reformulations), Andy Tauers Orange Star (creamy and floral) and of course Eau de Fleurs de Cédrat and Eau de Guerlain…. December 4, 2023 at 10:22am Reply

    • Victoria: You named so many stars in the citrus pantheon! Eau de Guerlain is one of the best for sure. December 4, 2023 at 3:45pm Reply

  • Bregje: I love citrus fragrances too and now i am really curious about Napoleon Ier! December 4, 2023 at 11:51am Reply

    • Victoria: Much recommended if you like colognes and history. December 4, 2023 at 3:45pm Reply

      • Bregje: I do! December 4, 2023 at 4:53pm Reply

  • Mr Dominic paul Camilleri: Can you do something on guerlain vintage issima aquaserum line 1980 and evolution skin care soon will enjoy it December 4, 2023 at 1:58pm Reply

    • Victoria: Guerlain skincare is not a topic I write about very much. December 4, 2023 at 3:46pm Reply

  • MaureenC: Great post, I love citrus fragrances and it’s good to be reminded of some less obvious ones to try again. December 4, 2023 at 3:06pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s a favorite topic, especially when it feels dark and gloomy. December 4, 2023 at 3:55pm Reply

  • Rachel McLish: My husband has a long history of loving and enjoying a cologne that has proven very difficult to find, anymore. It’s by Jacques Fath, called ‘Green Water.’ He (and I )has searched high and low only to be disappointed by inferior formulas. Apparently, it’s not in production and vintage offerings of partially used product come at an exorbitant price. ………..sigh! December 4, 2023 at 3:54pm Reply

    • Victoria: Oh, that one is a beauty—and impossible to find! December 4, 2023 at 3:55pm Reply

    • Julia: Hi Rachel, I am in the US and ordered a sample discovery set from the Jacques Fath Parfums website out of France and it had Green Water in it. I see they do have the larger bottles. Of course I don’t have any idea if the formula is the same but the samples were very inexpensive which balanced the shipping fees. Hope that helps! Julia December 5, 2023 at 1:10pm Reply

      • Rachel McLish: Thank you so much, Julia. I will most definitely try my luck by registering and ordering via the French website. Again, thank you. December 5, 2023 at 2:01pm Reply

        • Julia: You are very welcome! I hope you are able to get it. Julia December 5, 2023 at 6:08pm Reply

  • John Luna: Dear Victoria,
    Thank you for this lovely piece! I find that I always do return to things I think of as citrus-oriented fragrances from the cologne tradition…There is something about them that has that aura of intimacy and repair (plus a touch of ceremony) that is very moving to me. Sometimes if it has been a while since I used one, I’ll find myself wondering why I waited so long, and what other aspects of self-care I have been ignoring…
    I really enjoyed your referencing soap ‘pairings’ (as it were)… The era where a person could find a full grooming line to match with their fragrance seems to be passing except for the odd favourite. One thing I love about these (Pour un Homme de Caron is a great example, thinking of the eau de toilette, aftershave and deodorant) is how each different product reveals a different interpretation of the composition. Eau Sauvage still has some grooming products, and the aftershave is delightful to use, with a lighter, tangier iteration of the fragrance that is tenacious enough to serve as a durable eau de cologne… And one has the joy of splashing it on instead of spraying. I used to use a great old Crabtree & Evelyn soap with it (Vetiver and Juniper berry) that is now sadly discontinued. If you have any recommendations for a soap to accompany Eau Sauvage (or Guerlain Vetiver, for that matter), please do let me know! Thank you again for this diverting article — it is exactly what I needed o a day when 2PM finds us in darkness already. December 4, 2023 at 5:53pm Reply

  • Julia: Hi Victoria, this is such a nice read on a super rainy, gloomy day in the pacific northwest where I live. Have you smelled the Napoleon cologne? Thank you! Julia December 5, 2023 at 1:14pm Reply

  • Silvermoon: Very much enjoyed the article, Victoria. Thanks!
    I don’t consider myself a great fan of citrus perfumes and colognes. All the same, I really love some of them – so invigorating, refreshing and joyful. For example, Zagara from SMN is one of the four SMN colognes I have. I also find Orange Sanguine excellent on a hot summer day. Another favourite is the R&G soap, Bois d’Orange.

    On the other hand, orange blossom is amongst my favourite perfume notes. More recently, I am also quite taken by neroli. I have many perfumes with these notes, especially the former. There is something so centring, calming and beautiful about orange blossom. It’s hard to explain.

    Anyway, I am very excited to attend your Zoom classes in January. I signed up for the three floral ones. And look forward to learning more about orange blossom as well as rose and Iris (other favourites for me). The only one missing is tuberose in my quartet of top favourite florals. December 5, 2023 at 4:57pm Reply

  • Aurora: How wonderful that Jean Kerléo recreated the cologne. I love Arancia Di Capri, pretty much all the Blu Mediterraneo line is uplifting. December 7, 2023 at 2:00pm Reply

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