For Acqua di Parma, what started out with just a single fragrance has grown into a multinational fragrance house that has become synonymous with Italian style. Experts in niche perfumery, Acqua di Parma is known for pairing Italian luxury with traditional craftsmanship.
Over the years, it’s expanded its portfolio to not just include signature scents that honour the rich natural aromas of the Italian landscape, but to also offer luxury men’s skincare, unisex body care and home fragrance that royalty would approve of.
So, for the next instalment in my ‘histories‘ series, we’ll be travelling back to 1916 to where it all began as we explore the history of Acqua di Parma…
1910s-30s: The Early Days Of Acqua di Parma
Acqua di Parma was founded by Italian Baron, Carlo Magnani, in 1916 in the northern Italian city of Parma. And as the most avid Acqua di Parma fans might already know, it all started with one fragrance: Colonia. Originally created by Magnani as his own signature scent, it’s deemed the first Italian Eau de Cologne. It’s quite literally a fragrance that’s made history.
A fresh, new and exciting take on fragrance, Colonia was built around natural ingredients, honouring the gorgeously vibrant, joyous and zesty citrus fruits that grow in Italy. The fragrance went on to become emblematic of the brand. It’s still a top-seller to this day.
So, it’s no surprise that Magnani couldn’t keep Colonia to himself for long. The fragrance’s popularity quickly blossomed, becoming a fashion staple during the 1920s. It became a symbol of Italian style; it was introduced to gentlemen in tailor shops, who would adorn their pocket squares with a spritz of Colonia as the finishing touch.
The link between fragrance and men’s fashion is still apparent to this day through Acqua di Parma’s iconic hatboxes, which hold their fragrances. The hatbox design recalls these early tailor shops, which would be lined with elaborate headwear ready for purchase. But there’s a lot more to the Acqua di Parma hatbox than meets the eye; to start with, it has a tangible, tactile texture that’s reminiscent of a suit – the finest Italian tuxedo, of course – but its cylindrical shape is purposeful too. It’s a nod to the architectural style of the city of Parma. Each hatbox symbolises Acqua di Parma’s meticulous eye for detail; the label is applied individually by hand, maintaining Acqua di Parma’s artisanal heritage over a century on. And I personally wouldn’t be able to look at that sunshine yellow shade without instantly thinking of Acqua di Parma – again, the colour was carefully chosen to honour the tones of local palaces in Parma.
As we move into the 1930s, it’s clear to see how the Art Deco movement inspired the development of Colonia’s bottle; the instantly-recognisable glass bottle is still honoured across the Acqua di Parma fragrance line to this day. The label also features the crest of the Duchy of Parma to celebrate Magnani’s – and his niche fragrance brand’s – longstanding Italian heritage.
1940s & 50s: Acqua di Parma and Hollywood
During the 40s and the 50s, Colonia’s fame really started to take off as it was introduced to stars of the silver screen, giving Hollywood an insatiable taste of Mediterranean life. As Hollywood stars visited Italy for a show on the masters of cinema, they became enamoured with the fragrance house; the likes of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn were instantly charmed by the sunny, joyous citrus scents of Acqua di Parma.
But now we need to jump ahead in time to discover the next key moment for the brand. Why? Because the house took a new direction in 1993 as three entrepreneurs joined Acqua di Parma: Luca Cordero di Montezemolo (of Ferrari), Diego della Valle (of Tod’s) and Paolo Borgomanero (of La Perla).
They moved the brand’s headquarters to Milan and opened the first-ever Acqua di Parma boutique in Via Gesù in 1998. For a brand that’s since created an iconic men’s skincare line, this was the perfect move. Via Gesù is nicknamed “Men’s Street” as it’s home to some of the finest male boutiques, barbershops and tailors in the city.
Today, there are 15 Acqua di Parma boutiques worldwide. What’s more, they have four dedicated barber shops in Milan, Rome, Dubai and London; they all offer premium yet artisanal grooming experiences, like the traditional Italian shave. And yes, you can expect their carefully-designed Florence-made shaving brushes and razors to make an appearance.
Towards the end of the 90s, Acqua di Parma also ventured into the world of female fragrance as 1999 saw the release of Profumo Eau de Parfum. And just one year after, Acqua di Parma also released its very first Blu Mediterraneo fragrances. Designed to transport you to the Italian Mediterranean coast, the Blu Mediterraneo perfume line was kickstarted with the juicy orange scent of Arancia di Capri in 2000. This line reignited the world’s love of the brand, and is now home to some of their most beloved best-sellers.
In 2001, Acqua di Parma joined the LVMH Group, which continues to respect the heritage, values and traditions of the brand.
In 2003, Colonia Assoluta joined the original Colonia fragrance to mark the start of the Colonia collection. Iris Nobile was launched just one year later, making it the first signature within the Le Nobili collection for women.
In 2006, Acqua di Parma launched its men’s grooming line, which consisted of six products to encourage customers to care for their skin outside of the barber’s.
2010-20 and Beyond: The Future of Acqua di Parma
In more recent years, Acqua di Parma have launched a collection of premium fragrances inspired by the cultural heritage of Parma: Note di Colonia. This collection was directly inspired by the Italian opera, and it was presented in the original Colonia bottle of 1916 to celebrate 100 years of Acqua di Parma.
As Acqua di Parma’s perfumes continued to reign supreme, it was only a matter of time before the house would venture into the increasingly-popular world of home fragrance. It was in this decade that the brand allowed fans to indulge in their expert aromas in the comfort of their own homes with the Italian Moments collection. This home fragrance range featured candles and reed diffusers inspired by Italian times and destinations, dressed up in the iconic colour and shape of Colonia. Another star of their home fragrance collection is undoubtedly the Acqua di Parma Cuba Candle; crafted in Rimini, Italy, the sunshine yellow candle takes no less than 24 hours to create by hand.
As we reach the end of our time covering the history of Acqua di Parma, we take a look at the last few years and the future. Throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, Acqua di Parma have found ways that they can help those who were acutely affected. They created a Holiday Collection in collaboration with Save the Children, which dedicated to the “Riscriviamo il Futuro” (Rewrite the Future) campaign to help increase access to educational opportunities in Italy. 100% of Colonia Futura e-commerce net revenues went to support the #SupportOurFuture campaign to support the educational rights of children during these challenging times.
To this very day, Acqua di Parma continues to produce every single one of its items in Italy, offering the world a touch of Mediterranean sunshine. While honouring their heritage, they also embark on a journey around the world, sourcing the finest quality natural ingredients and blending them with the citrus DNA of the brand. This is reflected perfectly in the Signatures of the Sun collection, which welcomed-in the emblematic Oud in 2021.
But what can we expect from Acqua di Parma in the future? As is only fitting for a brand that is so deeply connected with the natural environment, Acqua di Parma are passionate about creating more sustainable luxury fragrance. This is apparent in one of their biggest launches in the last few years: Colonia Futura. Taking the heritage of Colonia and mixing it with the ethics of fragrance for today and tomorrow, Colonia Futura is a 99% natural origin signature with a recycled matte black cap, finished with a sage green label created from marble mining waste. Acqua di Parma are also proud to use 100% recyclable FSC-certified material with plant and water-based colourings throughout their iconic hatboxes.
Over to you!
Do you have a question about the history of Acqua di Parma that we haven’t answered? Tweet us @Escentual with your query!