Calabrian Bergamot. Were you truly the secret ingredient of the tea offered by a wealthy Mandarin of Fujian to the Prime Minister Charles Grey, or more realistically a convenient flavoring to enhance the aroma of a stale black pekoe that the Earl particularly appreciated? Legends abound around the origin of one of the most popular tea in the world, flavored by your essential oil. You are originated from the toes of the Boot, Calabria, and not from the Province of Bergamo. Your name comes in fact from the Turkish language term bey armut meaning the “prince of pears”. Pear you are not, as appearances are sometimes deceiving, but your scent is undeniably the one of a Prince.
The bergamot orange, or citrus bergamia, is the hybrid of sweet lime (Citrus limetta) and bigarade orange (Citrus aurantium). Nobody knows exactly how this particular citrus took root in South Italy, more precisely in the coastal region of Calabria, where it is widely cultivated. The fruit looks like a big yellow lemon, with a pear-like shape, very juicy and bitter because of its content of naringenin, a powerful and beneficial antioxidant. Rather than for its juice, this citrus is beloved for the fragrance of its rind from where its precious essential oil is extracted, using either the traditional slow-folding process or the more efficient use of peeling machines.
The dried peel and essential oil of bergamot are famous to scent Earl Grey and Lady Grey teas. Bergamot oil is also known to be antibacterial, analgesic, antiseptic, antispasmodic, tonic and digestive. The oil was used in folk medicine to cool fevers and expel intestinal worms and also as a natural deodorant. Like all citrus oils, bergamot essential oil contains furocoumarins which may cause photosensitization of the human skin. Avoidance of sunlight for twelve hours after application on the skin is essential.
The first record of bergamot oil used as a fragrance ingredient can be traced back to the early eighteenth century, in the archives of the house of Farina in Cologne, Germany. Giovanni Maria Farina, born in 1685 in Italy near the Swiss border, created the first alcohol-based fresh fragrance in history, macerating in pure ethanol a blend of bergamot unripe-dried peel and aromatic herbs. The young genius joined his brother in his newly created company in Cologne, which was a major trading center in Europe at that time. The company incorporated in 1709 started to sell the fragrant splash for the first time in 1716 to a local noblewoman who contributed to its early fame. By 1740, the fragrance was such a success that it was sold in more than twenty-five cities in Europe and became known as Eau de Cologne (Cologne Water). Amazingly, the house of Farina still exists today and continues to sell the exquisite cologne. (farina1709.com)
Lots of perfume houses have imitated the legendary eau de cologne from Farina and one can find today a large choice of these ancestral perfumes. Try Classica from the legendary house of Santa Maria Novella of Florence or the similar and far more reasonably priced 4711 line of colognes from the new German owner Maurer and Wirtz.
My pick of the week go for more sophisticated fragrances which however keep a beautiful bergamot note at the center of their composition:
I can’t avoid having Eau Sauvage in my pick list, as this perfume from Christian Dior is a classic and a landmark among fresh modern fragrances. It was initially created by the illustrious perfumer Edmond Roudnistska, more than fifty years ago, and reinterpreted by the current Dior master perfumer François Demachy. Eau Sauvage was the first fragrance in my collection, long time ago, just to tell how much I am emotionally attached to it. Vetiver and Myrrh build a suave base for the bergamot note which remains present from the opening till the dry down. I believe that Eau Sauvage is a unisex fragrance even if it was often classified as a gentleman’s juice.
Jacarandá by Fueguia 1833 seduced me by the scarcity of the notes yet the quality and the complexity of the scent. Julian Bedel uses self-extracted materials from his large domain to produce unforgettable tones of cedar moss and patchouli. The bergamot oil comes on the top of it, in a delicious manner, making this chypre a long-lasting and unforgettable experience.
Jean-Claude Ellena, one of my most revered perfumer, gave us a wonderful gift in creating Bergamote for The Different Company. I can only invite you to read his book called The Diary of a Nose, to put you in the right mindset and atmosphere to savor this unique fragrance. There, Jean-Claude tells us about his intense olfactory experiences when visiting some Calabrian producers of bergamot. The Different Company mentions that in this fragrance, Bergamot is mixed with Ginger, which delivers a spicy and luscious note. Orange blossom is added to delicately underline the floral note of this Citrus, the green leaf enhances the freshness, while the Rhubarb wood and Musk prolong the pleasure. What can we ask for more?
Bergamotto di Calabria, by Acqua di Parma in the Blu Mediterraneo “light” collection, is a superb citrusy-spicy wood from this excellent Italian house, brought to fame since its acquisition by LVMH. I believe that the Italians have a different, though genuine, understanding of Bergamot and transcribe it in a different way than others in their perfumes. This is the case for this fragrance where bergamot is in perfect harmony with lemon, ginger, flowery notes, on a bed of woods, resins, and musks. That is the right fragrance for an afternoon at the beach. Can’t wait for Summer, guys!
Why not also give a chance to the excellent Eau de Cedrat from L’Occitane. This is a light Eau de Toilette which is affordable and deserves some respect. Even if “cédrat” is supposed to be the citrus medica or true lemon, the fragrance is made out of a bergamot top note, spiced by a ginger-nutmeg cooperation, on a soft base of cedar and velvety cashmere wood. I simply like it and do not believe it is restricted to men, like most fragrances anyway!
My dear bergamot, so much to say about your fresh and enlightening scent. I am going right now to drink a fine Earl Grey from Kushmi, just to conclude the day with the taste of your voluptuous skin.
I wish you all a fragrant week. Cheers!