How Acqua di Parma Created a Scent That Defies the Zeitgeist


The fragrance world may be steeped in tradition, but it hasn't proved immune to the vibe shifts that living in today's rampantly pop-culture driven world entails. From the saccharine celebrity-as-perfumer era—brace yourself, it's making a comeback—to the entrenched Big Fashion belief that associating a pouty Marvel star with your fragrance will make us all instinctively want it, it all seems to have become rather about the lifestyle a cologne connotes, rather than what it actually smells like.

But there's one brand that trusts the value of its heritage so weightily, it has never diverted from its artisanal focus, instead banking on the belief that good smells aren't dependent on the whims of the zeitgeist. Classic is always current, if you're doing it right. Acqua di Parma's name has always been synonymous with the distinguished citrus-woody Colonia, and has no plans to lure in a wider base of wearers with a hammy telly ad or Gen Z-baiting social campaign.


There is no face of Acqua di Parma reclining on the Italian coastline in the ad break, nor is there a roster of celebs stealthily placed to faux-candidly endorse the brand. Colonia, instead, is given weight by the century of people that have worn it, regardless of whatever the whims of the trend cycle are dictating. And really, when those people include Cary Grant, Gregory Peck, and Ava Gardner, there's little need for new approval.

Acqua di Parma isn't asking you to wear Colonia. The brand lives by the 'build it, and they will come' ethos—in fact, for six decades it was produced exclusively for tailors, who would use it to spritz their suiting. "Acqua di Parma was never conceived as a brand to be marketed: Carlo Magnani created it for himself and his inner circle of friends and family," says product development and innovation director, Paola Paganini. "It was meant to be something personal and, in time, grew into an authentic and genuine brand." (Speaking of personal, you can now create your own one-of-a-kind bottle in collaboration with one of Italy's emerging art-world talents via the brand's collab project.)

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Acqua di Parma

Today, the brand is perhaps the best example of niche, truly artisanal perfumery not just surviving, but thriving in a manically commercial fragrance world, where star—not scent—comes first.

But that's not to suggest that Colonia is above competition: every fragrance house (and fashion house imitating a fragrance house) boasts a summer scent that smells like Amalfi lemon groves, but it's Colonia that truly captures the essence.


The appeal of Colonia doesn't lie simply in the poetic history—which admittedly, at a time when we're yearning for consumerism with a side of consideration, is weighty—but also, obviously, in the scent. A masterful balance of citrus and woods, it's energizing without feeling ephemeral, and woody without being too weighty for the summer heat. Twisted with steely lavender and rosemary, it's a clean, crisp, and versatile player: wear it with everything on the spectrum from smart-casual separates to tailoring.

The original Colonia has remained unchanged since 1916—right down to the hand-distilled production process—yet for those who want newness, there are now several iterations. It's a tricky thing to riff on the popularity of an iconic creation without diluting its essence, but as Paganini explains "it's never about creating a new version of an original scent, but instead, providing a passage into a unique point of view. It's the exact opposite of diluting the brand's prestige; the fragrances together strengthen the relevance of the collection's ode to the Italian way of life."


Each fragrance in the Colonia compendium is designed to "accompany the wearer across different emotions", staying true to the tradition while being tweaked for certain feelings, or situations. "Just as life has its different moments, for example, a simple moment of pure joy as captured by Colonia Pura, or when you need to walk out in confidence with Colonia Intensa," says Paganini.

The latest addition to the line-up, Colonia C.L.U.B is the most inclusive, genderless iteration of the original, with a light, sparkling trail hinting at herbal shiso and rosemary. At the other end of the scent spectrum, Colonia Essenza is heavier and headier, with citrus zing softened by petitgrain and deepened by a lingering patchouli base: the one for those who like their citrus with a deeper slant. Colonia Futura is as close as the brand will likely ever get to courting Gen Z: a lighter, more ephemeral version of the original, it's a sparkling take with vetiver and clary sage lending a crowd-pleasing, current spin.


Celebrity backings and viral campaigns will always bring buzz to a fragrance launch, but for those who don't want to smell like the next big thing, Colonia will always win.

FromEsquire UK

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Roberta Schroeder
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