Numbers are notoriously commemorative.
From birthdays to battles, a few digits have the capacity to trigger a host of memories and associated emotions. We spend our lives counting and we assign meaning to otherwise purely objective measurements. One is the loneliest number. 13 is foreboding. 10 is the top.
That is one reason Eau d’Italie’s 10th fragrance Acqua Decima feels like a triumph of sorts—an occasion to celebrate and an invitation to reflect. Like the turning of the decade it both caps and encapsulates an era.
Their first scent, Eau d’Italie signature, launched just over 10 years ago as an homage to Positano and their family’s cherished hotel, Le Sirenuse. From the very beginning, nostalgia and a strong sense of place have guided creators Marina Sersale and Sebastian Alvarez-Mureña. They find inspiration in the memory of sun-warmed terracotta underfoot, Roman magnolias in full bloom, Umbrian forests, hearth smoke in Tuscany, and history. Their ode to Venice, Baume du Doge, plays on the notion of essence-soaked amulets meant to ward off demons and disease during the height of the Republic as a commercial capital along the spice route.
Having traversed time and place, it is fitting that Eau d’Italie return to the scene of their original inspiration for their tenth scent. The so-called Path of the Gods is a trail that winds along the Amalfi coastline reaching heights of nearly 600 meters above the sea. Along the way lie ancient churches, crumbling stone villages and lush Mediterranean foliage. Craggy rock walls and the views of the islands on the horizon evoke mythological scenescapes. A view of paradise, from paradise.
Aqua Decima floats first. Notes of lemon, mandarin, and mint hover ethereally, a perfect suggestion based on the best of nature. At the heart a sparkling neroli, the sting of petitgrain and luminous Hedione evocative of small white petals cause a fluttery effect. Finally warm white wood and vetiver settle on the skin. An ever so delicate return to earth.
Acqua Decima is fantasy grounded. You have to stand before you can soar. It is a tribute to both past and present, a solid foundation from which Eau d’Italie will most certainly continue to grow.
I acquired my first bottle of 4711 in 1987 at neighbor’s garage sale. It was about an inch and a half long and lay among other half-used sample vials of perfume in a bowl labeled 25 Cents or Best Offer in black Sharpie.
The label caught my eye—as ornate as you could get on glossy cardstock. The shape of the bottle reminded me of fancy bourbon. The smell was more like gin—it had mostly decomposed—the only remnant a sharp resin-y note. Bottle-aged bergamot. 4711 made frequent appearances at my Barbie’s banquet table.
I found 4711 for the second time in my grandfather Dave’s medicine cabinet, and for the third time in my grandfather Bill’s. It showed up in different sizes at antique stores and under the sink at my family’s Florida beach house, still in its original packaging. Likely a long since forgotten birthday gift, the colors on the box had since faded, but something majestic remained. 4711 felt like a relic from a distant gilded era, something be cherished. The orange oil and bergamot blend struck me as the dark side of citrus, bitter and unapproachable on my own young skin, but undeniably precious, for reasons I couldn’t explain.
Years later I would crush magnolia blossoms and orange peels between my palms and marvel at the purity of those scents and how far they were from my candied preconceptions.
Named after the historic house number of perfumer Wilhelm Mülhens, who first released it, 4711 derives from the French invasion of Cologne and the government mandate accounting for all homes and occupants. While not directly referential to the fragrance itself, over the years 4711 has come to represent a style of perfume— eau de cologne.
The popular tale recounts a homesick Italian expatriate living in Cologne who drew on his memories of an Italian morning and laced the scent with heady bergamot, orange and lemon notes. Eau de Cologne would go on to influence an entire category of fragrance – built around citrus and herbs than flowers. It still inspires contemporary perfumers like Atelier Cologne, whose creations all contain intense top notes of concentrated extracts of citrus.
As a number, 4711 represents both history and progress. It began with one man’s olfactory recollections of home. It influenced mine and many others’ concept of an other elegant age of perfumery, and at the same time set into motion an herbaceous and effervescent approach to fragrance that is still evolving today.