From its founding in 1916 in Parma by Carlo Magnani, Acqua di Parma has been identifiable with all things elegantly and luxuriously Italian.
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Signor Magnani set the stylish tone by spraying a handkerchief with his debut fragrance Colonia and then slipping it into his pocket. It doesn’t get more “la dolce vita” than that.
It wasn’t always sunny skies, though. Although admired by Hollywood stars such as Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, the company had to be rescued by prominent Italian businessmen Diego Della Valle (Tod’s), Luca Cordero Di Montezemolo (Ferrari) and Paolo Borgomanero (La Perla) in the 1990s.
Now part of the LVMH luxury group, Acqua di Parma is a thriving business with fragrance, bath, body, candle and barber ranges.
The fragrance lines – Colonia, Blu Mediterraneo, Signatures of the Sun, Le Nobili and Note di Colonia – mostly feature high-quality variations on the citrus theme. All are infused with the brand’s classic and chic style.
There’s more to the luxury brand than Colonia. From this all-time Acqua di Parma classic to lesser-known releases, we take you through this quintessential Italian company.
All the choices on this list are unisex, except for Acqua di Parma Peonia Nobile EDP (officially for women), but don’t let that stop you from trying it.
Our only complaint about this remarkably consistent brand is that it often doesn’t divulge its perfumers.
Our Top Picks of Acqua Di Parma Fragrances
More than a century after its launch in 1916, Colonia is still one of the best-sophisticated fragrances on the market. A lot of that has to do with the way this Acqua di Parma cologne conjures up all sorts of images of the good life, Italian style.
It begins with a deliciously sharp-ish flourish of Sicilian citrus notes (lemon, orange, bergamot). A distinctive opening that’s impossible to resist.
The heart goes into more herbal territory with lavender, verbena and rosemary notes, while Bulgarian rose enhances the overall freshness.
These eventually give way to a base of subtle, yet uplifting vetiver, sandalwood and patchouli notes.
An essential part of any fragrance wardrobe.
A gourmand-ish Acqua di Parma? And before I get carried away with myself, this is not a full-on gourmand as we know it, or even as my nose experiences it.
After all, the Italian niche brand that’s known for its timeless scents wouldn’t indulge in such trends in a tacky manner.
Launched in 1999 and from the always-rewarding Blu Mediterraneo range, Mandorlo di Sicilia celebrates the Sicilian way of life.
Of course, it opens with sunny, citrus-centric notes, but in a subtler style than usual, while star anise introduces the “edible” factor. This EDT is headlined by softly sweet green almonds, and ylang-ylang brings floral fruitiness.
The other big character in this composition is vanilla. Only the best Madagascan creaminess is partnered with musk in the drydown.
It’s all done in seemingly effortless ADP style. Superba!
3. Blu Mediterraneo – Cipresso Di Toscana EDT (Bertrand Duchaufour)
This 2005 release must be one of the most distinctive scents I’ve smelled from the Blu Mediterraneo collection. Some might even call it “challenging”.
An Italian take on the fougère, this 2005 release opens with rich notes of star anise and elemi, with the brand’s trademark citrus notes in the background.
The heart is herbal and aromatic, with lavender and clary sage taking the lead. I’m sure I detect a big dose of basil, although it’s not officially listed.
Notes of cypress and pine in the dry down add to the overall multi-faceted and evocative celebration of Tuscany.
There are highly rated fig perfumes, from L’Artisan Parfumeur Premier Figuier to Diptyque Philosykos. This 2006 release deserves its place among the best.
In customary Acqua di Parma style, it opens with fresh citrus bursts of bergamot, lemon, grapefruit and orange notes. They all make for an alluringly bittersweet, albeit brief, intro.
The delicately sweet fig nectar note weaves its elegantly authentic way throughout this EDT, with a smattering of jasmine and pink pepper in the background providing floral and spicy nuances.
Grounded by cedar and musk notes in the dry down, it’s the olfactory equivalent of a drive along the spectacular Amalfi Coast.
Launched in 2010 and billed as a modern interpretation of the classic original, Essenza isn’t a radical reworking, but rather a case of different emphases.
Neroli and grapefruit are more pronounced in the opening, and the aromatic aspect has been toned down slightly.
This version feels fuller than the original while losing none of its uplifting freshness.
It’s seriously good stuff. Many of its fans think it’s even better than its illustrious ancestor.
6. Oud EDP
This intriguing scent, with its contrasts of refreshing citrus and deep oud, was originally launched in 2012 as Acqua di Parma Colonia Oud Eau de Cologne Concentrée in the Ingredient Collection. It’s now part of the Signatures of the Sun Collection.
The citrus notes of bergamot and orange are followed quickly by the oud. Warm, sensual and smooth, it’s a refined take on the theme. It’s complemented by a strong and silky leather accord. The coriander note adds a nice spicy touch.
The base adds to the feeling of warmth, with the notes of cedarwood, Indonesian patchouli and sandalwood in perfect harmony.
You might think the combination of citrus and oud will be a total mess, but if you want a smart oud fragrance with a difference and that’s not too in your face, this is the ideal choice.
Leather, from the same collection, is also superb.
Launched in 2015, Club is the most barbershop-ish of all the Colonia flankers so far.
There’s plenty of sunny citrus in the opening, including bergamot, neroli and Sicilian lemon notes. But what really stands out is the mint. Cool and fresh, it gives this scent a green profile.
A note of galbanum brings pleasing sharpness to the mix, while lavender and vetiver keep it green and clean.
I wouldn’t have said peony is one of my favourite notes. Until I came across Acqua di Parma Peonia Nobile. It’s from the brand’s Le Nobili Collection, including highly recommended Rose and Magnolia perfumes.
Launched in 2016, it opens with the fruity rosiness of raspberry spiced with black pepper. It’s unusual for an EDP not to open with citrus notes. But there’s lots of freshness to go around in the form of peony, Turkish rose and freesia notes.
Clean musk and an amber accord complete this floral-fantastic scent that’s sweet in a sophisticated way.
Look out for Iris Nobile EDP, which was unfortunately discontinued.
This 2016 release is from the lesser-known Note di Colonia range, which is inspired by various Italian operas.
A celebration of Giuseppe Verdi La Traviata’s opera, it starts off in recognizable Acqua di Parma territory with citrus notes of bergamot and neroli.
Florals come through next, with notes of damask rose and violet bringing powderiness, while lavender adds a touch of aromatic appeal.
Classic woodiness is provided by the notes of cedar and patchouli in the drydown.
There’s a slight bitterness throughout this scent, which gives it complexity.
Yes, it’s substantially more expensive than the average Acqua di Parma, but the quality is top-notch, plus it comes in a 150ml bottle.
10. Sandalo EDP
Smoother than an Italian pick-up line and ultra-wearable, this 2019 release from the Signatures of the Sun Collection is a beauty, whether you’re a sandalwood aficionado or not.
Notes of bergamot, lemon, orange and petitgrain create an appropriately radiant Mediterranean ambience.
A heart of lavender keeps the scent clean, relaxing and aromatic, with a hint of cardamom in the background providing light spiciness.
This EDP is all about its chief ingredient sandalwood, and it maximises its inherent creaminess with seductive results. Sandalwood experts will be pleased to know that the best variety, Mysore, has been sourced from India.
It’s skilfully partnered with vanilla-ish tonka bean and an amber accord in the base for a gratifying soupçon of sweetness.
11. Vaniglia EDP
Vanilla fragrances are all too often icky-sweet, reminding one of cheap candles. But Acqua di Parma Vaniglia (from the Signatures of the Sun Collection) is not your ordinary vanilla scent.
This 2019 EDP opens with the warmth of citrus notes, in particular bergamot, mandarin and neroli. They are given a light and airy treatment. The floral heliotrope brings a nutty quality.
The vanilla makes itself known early in the fragrance’s progression. The best variety from Madagascar has clearly been used. It’s creamy and dreamy. There’s a slight hint of jasmine sambac too, which adds to the soft sweetness.
Notes of cedarwood and musk in the drydown conclude a deliciously suave experience.
12. Quercia EDP
Acqua di Parma does some of the best citrus openings in the biz. That’s been a given since its founding in 1916 with Colonia. So Quercia might be a surprise to those who associate the brand only with sunny Italian skies.
Sure, this 2019 EDP begins in typically bright mode, with notes of lemon, bergamot and petitgrain. It starts to change with the appearance of the spice of pink pepper and cardamom notes.
And then takes on a darker character that’s true to its inspiration of walking through an oak-tree forest (“quercia” = oak tree in Italian).
Notes of oakmoss, cedar and patchouli create a suitably damp, earthy and woody feel in the drydown.
13. Osmanthus EDP
Launched in 2019, this Osmanthus EDP is fabulously floral and unisex at the same time. Promise.
Slightly bitter neroli meets sweet green mandarin in the intro. Both have honeyed citrus undertones.
Peony maintains the sunny freshness, while silky ambrette gives it a natural musky vibe. Pink pepper, with a hint of rosiness, accentuates the floral vibe in a fresh and spicy way.
The osmanthus is richly fruity, with milky accents of apricot and peach. Its sensual character is complemented by a tinge of earthy patchouli, without becoming unbearably sweet.
14. Blu Mediterraneo – Bergamotto Di Calabria La Spugnatura EDT
The latest addition to the Blu Mediterraneo range doesn’t come cheap partly because it’s a limited edition. Which, as intelligent consumers, we often know means diddly-squat. But in the case of this Aqua di Parma fragrance, it is something special.
Firstly, the bottle is made from porcelain and it’s beautifully hand-decorated with white and gold bergamot patterns.
And then there’s the scent, which uses the artisanal Italian tradition, la spugnatura, to take the original 2010 release to a new level of authentic excellence. According to the brand website, this means “the bergamot essence is extracted entirely by hand, with the peel being pressed into sea-sponges using a precise technique”.
This attention to detail is evident right from the start with bergamot –crisp, spicy, and tart – supported by other citrus notes (bitter orange, mandarin, grapefruit) and their bittersweet freshness.
The combo of herbal fennel and rosy geranium accentuates the aromatics.
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Richard Goller is a fragrance and grooming blogger. His blog is called Fragroom. A senior editor with 20 years' experience, his blog allows him to combine two of his passions: engaging content and the always-intriguing world of fragrances. When he isn't blogging, you'll find Richard indulging in his newly found passion for balcony gardening.