4711 Echt Kölnisch Wasser (Mäurer & Wirtz)

At age eleven, I purchased a 4711 gift set for my great-aunt, a sour old biddy with never a good word to say. She and I didn't exactly adore one another -- the last present I'd given her (a "handmade" utensil canister made from a coffee can wrapped in contact paper) had met with an acid sneer -- but hers was the name I'd drawn at random from the Secret Santa hat. So off I went to McCrory's with a month's allowance in my pocket and the sinking heart of a gallows-bound convict.

Though I knew nothing whatsoever about 4711's illustrious history, it smelled really nice, and I felt drawn to its beautiful, old-timey gold-and-turquoise label. The gift box, mock-satin-lined and touched with gold foil, included a spray bottle of the original eau de cologne and a fancy wrapped soap. Easy, right? But would it be good enough for Her Highness? After all, her dressing table was strewn with costly old bottles of Shalimar and Arpège, and you sure couldn't get those at McCrory's. I didn't feel particularly hopeful as I brought it up to the cash register.

On Christmas morning, as my great-aunt tore off the wrapping paper, I sat waiting for the axe to fall. But the moment her eyes fell on the gold-and-turquoise label, her entire face lit up. For a moment, I caught a glimpse of what she must have been like as a child on Christmas mornings long past.

"OH!" she exclaimed. "This is GOOD!"

Somehow -- by spending a few dollars at the local five-and-dime -- I'd managed to give this hardened woman-of-the-world something she didn't already have. Happiness.

Today, in the aftermath of what we are now terming our Weekend Watergate, I have liberally sprayed myself with 4711... for medicinal purposes, you understand. I believe that this blend of hesperidic, anisic, and heliotropic notes possesses apothecary as well as artistic merit. Nearly three centuries of continuous use can't be wrong: apply directly where it hurts.

That I can afford to do so in abundance is something I owe entirely to an unknown shopper who (unlike the eleven-year-old me) made a terrible, terrible mistake. Spying a 400ml. bottle of 4711 Echt Kölnisch Wasser at the local Bed Bath & Beyond (and perhaps mistaking it for a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin, which it vaguely resembles in both shape and size), said shopper gave in to an ungovernable urge to snatch it down from the shelf and twist off its factory-sealed cap. (Please note: it was not me.) Three months later, this act of mercantile roguery worked in my favor, as I purchased the result of their poor impulse control at an obscene markdown.

4711 is the original cologne, a fine citrus-and-herb formula unchanged over the centuries. It comes in a beautiful bottle, priced dirt-cheap, and is as perfect as I remember it. I recently described its effect to a friend as a 'chilly, refreshing, spring-rain feeling'-- and that last word captures the soul of 4711's allure. It IS a feeling, as well as a perfume-- a sort of emotional/olfactory baseline to which it is beneficial to return whenever life (or other perfumes) have unsettled you. If 4711 were the norm, I'd be the happiest conformist around. To me, as to my great-aunt, it's truly the scent of joy itself-- pure, simple, surprising, like sunlight on a day when nothing but rain was expected.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, lemon, orange, petitgrain, neroli, rosemary, rose, musk, woods