Sunday, 2 December 2007

The Pope's Cologne

The Pope's Cologne is a classic Old World cologne made from the private formula of Pope Pius IX (1792-1878). We obtained this formula from descendants of the commander of his Papal Guard and lifelong friend, General Charles Charette.

We have followed this complex, exclusive formula meticulously, using the same essential oils that his perfumers used 150 years ago. We believe that we have succeeded in capturing the same fragrance that he and those around him enjoyed so long ago.

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Review of The Pope's Cologne by Marie-Helene Wagner in TheScented Salamander:
Through some mysterious accidents of history, the recipe of a cologne that was used by Pope Pie IX (1792-1878), the longest reigning pope in the history of the Catholic church after Saint Peter (1846-1878), ended up twelve years ago into the hands of a general physician from San Francisco, Fred Hass, who took it upon himself to resurrect the 19th century perfume. All that is known with some certainty is that the recipe left the Vatican in the luggage of the commander of the Pontifical Zouaves (the Pope’s guard), Colonel Baron Anasthase De Charette, a French Catholic nobleman who had come to the rescue of the papacy in the troubled years of its struggles with Garibaldi. How did this object of toilette and personal grooming item came to be passed on from the Pope to the head of his guard, who it seems recognized the qualities of the scent enough to want to reproduce it, is another pretext for imaginative speculation and could probably be only clarified by descendants of the De Charette family, if anyone remembers anything about it still.......

A young Pie IX or Pio Nono

Colonel De Charette in a Zouave uniform

The recipe at any rate ended up in the printed form in an edition of an American cookbook from Maryland published in 1963, in the tradition of these books that contained all sorts of recipes good to be used on the skin, the hair, the teeth, the bed-sheets and what not, and of course, including for the satisfaction of the household’s appetites. Fred Hass told us that,

“About 12 years ago my sister sent me an old cook book that had been published over and over by a Women's League in Maryland. In the back of this book were formulae for making stain remover, silver polish, for getting fleas off your dog, and a section on fragrances: sachets, pomanders and, it jumped off the page at me, "The Pope's Cologne". So I decided I would make some and it was very nice. I said to myself, "Someday I'll make it and sell it." So a couple years ago I started reading about perfumery, became fascinated with it and started making The Pope's Cologne. I had no background in perfumery but have practiced in general practice as a physician for almost forty years.
I have become so interested that I have acquired many various essential oils and have created other fragrances which I am planning on producing and trying to market.”

A wedding notice in the New York Times from 1909 shows that there was an American connection for the De Charette family as Baron Anasthase de Charette’s wife was presented as the former “Annette Polk of Tennessee” and their son, the Marquis de Charette was to marry in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral his bride of American stock, Susanne Henning. (Anasthase de Charette’s own mother was half-English, being the daughter of the Duc de Berry and Amy Brown.) There is therefore a possibility that the recipe found its way to an American cookbook through family connections since the De Charette linkage seems established. Apart from this, Pie IX would be a well-known pope in this country, as he is also known for his work in developing dioceses in the United States.

Although the future Pope Pie IX born in Senigallia, Giovanni Maria, to Count Mastai Ferreti and Caterina Solazzi from a local noble family, would be elected for his liberal views, he is famously known for having let his deeply conservative tendencies take over later on in life due to the political turmoil in which Italy was then thrown in over its unification attempts. He is in this later period known to be the inventor of the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and Papal Infallibility.

The Pope’s Cologne will probably mostly reveal his aesthetic taste. Judging from the cologne itself, it shows a man of refined taste who obviously valued subtlety, elegance, and even the rare. The scent has an ancient charm about it, especially when the floral notes start being felt, that is quite remarkable. It is a perfume recipe made in a time when flowers in masculine colognes were felt to be perfectly natural hence an absolute lack of showiness and complete sense of maturity and naturalness about the floral notes in this composition. Being a cologne meant to be worn by the Pope, it had to be restrained in principle and it is in fact; there is no unexpected flamboyance or hidden coquetry pointing its nose. Naturally, the animalic notes are extremely discreet. Perhaps we can also imagine that a certain ethereal quality, a lightness and freshness were cultivated as befitting the pope’s image. The citruses and lemon verbena are invigorating, a definite plus for a man in a public function. The fragrance is that of a man of patrician or aristocratic tastes.

The combination of citruses, lemon verbena and violet is enchanting, almost childlike in its softness and innocence. One feels inspired to make a drink that would be scented with these two main notes, violet and lemon. The “visual impression” the colors yellow and mauve suggest next to each other is also appealing.

From the flacon, the first aromas that strike the nose are citruses, woods, and amber. The start of the perfume is very citrus-y, a bit candied evoking lemon drops, like an outburst of freshly squeezed lemon juice with undertones of oceanic ambergris. The cologne then warms up becomes more powdery and vanillic but in a very understated way. Then there is a more vegetal, aromatic impression suggestive of the underbrush which kicks in. One smells a stylized subtle violet with some clove in it, perhaps some carnation since the powdery feel becomes a little bit more accentuated gliding even into a creamy impression. The blend at this point feels very elegant and refined, aristocratic even, showcasing an accord that feels rare and unusual. Very delicate floral nuances arise betraying tinges of rose, peach and then mauve. It smells a little bit of orange-blossom scented mauve guimauve, but in a very elegant manner. The woods then become more apparent and the most finely textured one of them, sandalwood in particular, it seems. There is also a little bit of a birch tar impression, but very discreet as the dry-down evokes a more familiar impression found in Russian leather scents. The longer dry-down smells a bit of the woodiness of orris. All the while the citruses impart their freshness to this elegantissime scent.

The recipe of the 19th century cologne was faithfully followed by Dr. Fred Hass (he happens to be US Poet-Laureate Robert Hass’ brother by the way) therefore the longevity is also authentically that of a perfume from that period. Fred Hass told us that he prefers not to touch the original recipe. It leaves nevertheless a very subtle scent on the skin, which contributes to the overall feeling of authentic old-world elegance.

The recipe remains undisclosed, but main ingredients are: orange blossom, lemon verbena, lavender, violet, clove and sweet orange.

A flacon retails for $25.95 only. If you buy one to eleven dozens, it is available for $156 per dozen, etc. The packaging is gift-worthy so it could potentially be a lovely gift for Christmas. Please note that shipping is free during the Holidays' season.

You can purchase the scent directly from the website The Pope's Cologne