Monday, 9 December 2013

4711, the gift that kept on giving

The run up to Christmas: the busiest time of the year for the fragrance industry. What exactly is it that makes us reaching for nice smelling things as presents for loved ones and not so loved ones in equal and enormous quantities? Is it the lack of fragrant flowers and plants during the winter? (works only in the Northern hemisphere...) Are perfumes and soaps just conveniently universal and independent of tricky matters like clothes sizes? Is it the way the bottles and boxes look luxurious and presentable? Can it be that many perfume get bought simply because they are usually located at the ground floor of massive department stores, close to the entrance, making it easy to get in, buy and get out in less than 5 minutes? Perfumes certainly make very good last minute presents, and I did read in an article not long ago that it's not uncommon for panic stricken husbands to buy entire perfume ranges because they have forgotten the name of their wives' favourite perfume. In these cases I wish that the wive wears a Roja Dove or Bond No.9 to make that lack of attention and respect at least painfully expensive. I wonder what the women who get gifted in that way do with the unwanted scents. Ebay? The Tory party's xmas raffle?

I certainly know what happened to Undesirables in our family. They went into the Christmas tombola held by my parent's local choir. Every year at the beginning of December choir members and local shopkeepers would drop packages and gift vouchers at our house. My mum would then pack them up nicely and sometimes make gift bundles if the objects in question were just too embarrassingly cheap. For that reason we had a very good idea of what horrors were lurking behind the shimmery paper and lovely ribbons when all the boxes were laid out at the table reading for the new owners with the lucky numbers. It was a 4711 gift set that we aptly named the Wanderpokal, because it got donated again and again and again, over years and years without exception. We knew it was the always the same one because of a characteristic scratch mark on the box. 
In my youth 4711 Eau de Cologne was a regarded as a traditional cheap smelling scent that could be found in every German household, collecting dust on the bathroom shelf. For me it never registered as a fragrance that should and could be worn, more like a medicinal all round "thing" that grandmothers would spray on a handkerchief and dab on their temples when they felt a bit faint and nauseous. Why that vile smelling stuff would be any good in these instances I never understood. But some things , like spinach, just need time to get appreciated.

My interpretation of 4711 Eau de Cologne

Fast forward some 20 odd years, the house of 4711 had undergone a miraculous transformation. Like other weird and old fashioned icons of Germanity, the herb liqueur Jaegermeister for example, the brand had started to regain a certain cult status and sales had started to rise accordingly. It was then that I took my first unbiased sniff. And surprise, surprise, I actually liked it. The freshness was not as medicinal as I remembered and all in all it was nicely balanced and totally wearable. An orange, bergamot and lemon layer over a floral, and slightly woody base. It's not only not offensive, it actually does give you a wake me up moment, so my grandmothers had a point with their fragrant handkerchiefs. It's also a good dupe for Tom Ford's Neroli Portofino
I smell clean and proper when I wear it and that's usually not something I aim for when reaching for a perfume, but there are moments when this scent is just right. It's a bit like a watercolour, sparkly and transparent, but with a solid geometrical structure. I haven't tried to layer it with something else and have the feeling that might go horribly wrong, but if any of you have done so with success, let me know. These days a 4711 gift set would not get re-wrapped and thrown into the next tombola. I'd rather keep it for myself.

How and where to wear:

Walk the walk of shame with an air of innocence (but still have that shower...) 


  1. You saved 4711! Because there would have been a person in the chain who would have just thrown it away being too embarrassed to re-gift.

  2. I like your thinking, Undina. May be my mum should ask for shares.....