Light refreshments.

Google the words "eau de cologne". In thirty seconds, almost six million results await your perusal. It tickles me to think that if computers had existed in 1709, the same search would have generated only one result (but millions of page views) as Giovanni Maria Farina's revolutionary magic potion became a runaway hit.

By now familiar almost to the point of negligibility, the structure and character of eau de cologne are instantly recognizable-- and endlessly replicable. One spray of Farina Echt Kölnisch Wasser, and a hundred thousand younger fragrances sit up and say "Mama!" Yet this mater familias is the self-sacrificing type, content to let her progeny improve upon her fine example. Chalk it up to proper home training-- most of them do her right proud (hence the photo above of the Bennet girls, whose mother ONLY wanted what was BEST for them...)

Cologne à la Française (Institut Très Bien)
Cologne à la Française is one of a trio of geographically-themed EdC produced in 2007 by a now-sadly-defunct perfume house called Institut Très Bien. With its emphasis on lavender, Cologne à la Française comes dangerously close to Jickyhood but is rescued by the pairing of grapefruit with magnolia-- the bitter and bright juxtaposed against the sticky and sweet. It's not the most original cologne in the triad; nonetheless, it smells pretty and should serve to attract attention to its more interesting siblings.

Scent Elements: Magnolia, grapefruit, lemon, citron, bergamot, lime, lavender, rosemary, verbena, neroli, benzoin, iris

Cologne à la Russe (Institut Très Bien)
Indolence, insolence, elegance-- basically, Cologne à la Russe is Felix Yusupov in a bottle. Possibly the twentieth century's first (and most unapologetic) metrosexual, this infamous Slavic princeling combined a dandy's sense of style with the dedicated misbehavior of an entire Brat Pack, condensed and multiplied. More darkly floral than its siblings, with touches of masculine herbs and a rich note of ambrette in the base, Cologne à la Russe faithfully recreates the sullen sensuality that was Yusupov's stock-in-trade during his charmed and misspent youth. Perfect for the enfant terrible in your life.

Scent Elements: Bergamot, citron, lime, orange blossom, rosemary, verbena, lavender, neroli, amber, benzoin, iris, ambrette

Cologne à l’Italienne (Institut Très Bien)
In America as in the old country, different levels of formality distinguish Italian dining establishments, starting with the casual pizzeria (where paper plates and hand-held food are customary) and culminating with the ristorante, where old-world etiquette reigns supreme. Only once have I dined 'at the top', and I will never forget a digestivo of chilled limoncello di Sorrento served in tiny cordial flutes so deeply chilled my fingertips adhered to the crystal. The understated elegance and simplicity of this offering made a deep impression on me. Ever since, when I wear any lemon fragrance, I want it to evoke that precise moment. Cologne à l’Italienne does so as if it had been there, taking notes in busy (and bilingual) shorthand. With a cool, rooty iris chaser built in, Cologne à l’Italienne is wondrous indeed. It makes me weep that what I have on hand is likely all I'm ever going to get, since Institut Très Bien seems to have cut its product line down to two -- literally, two! -- scented candles. (But I have a suspicion those two candles are extraordinary!)

Scent Elements: Lemon, bigarade, citron, orange blossom, neroli, iris, benzoin