It’s time to commend Turkey’s cologne culture
Anyone who has ever spent time or simply visited Turkey could easily attest to the Turks affinity for cologne, aka "kolonya." Not to be mistaken for the fancy male perfumes regularly purchased at duty-free or designer shops, what I am referring to is kolonya, which in English is best translated as eau de cologne, but in Turkey, it truly is a whole different cultural entity.
The main difference between perfume and kolonya, which is widely popular in Turkey, is its ratio of essential oils to alcohol of which the latter can reach up to 80%. Experts these days are saying that kolonya with a rate of even 50% or more of alcohol content could serve as an excellent preventative measure in spreading viruses and bacteria. In fact, it could very well be Turkey’s affinity for kolonya that may have ensured the country remained immune to the virus crisis for so long as using this refreshing and disinfecting product has always been a prevailing tradition in this country.
The kolonya as we know it has been prevalent in Turkey since the Ottoman Empire and the reign of Abdülhamit II. While kolonya gets its name from the German town of Cologne, it’s usage in Turkish culture has always been quite unique. Though it may seem to simply be a personal care product due to its aromatics, it is so much more to the Turks who have historically also used it as a sterilizing agent and antiseptic and regularly as a medicinal product that is even dribbled on sugar cubes to aid in digestion. In practice, it is drizzled onto the hands of guests upon entering a home or restaurant, or after finishing a meal. It is offered to customers as they enter shops and especially barbershops. Even on long-distance buses in Turkey, every single person seated is given a drizzle of the ever-so-refreshing kolonya to wipe their hands and face.
With its vast popularity and current high demand, it can be difficult to choose amongst the wide number of reputable brands and thus let this serve as a guide to the variety of kolonya available in Turkey.
Atelier Rebul: One of the oldest cologne brands in Turkey was actually started by a French expat by the name of Jean Cesar Reboul at his Grande Pharmacie Parisienne, which he opened in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu in 1895. Their name became synonymous with the lavender kolonya they brought to the market in 1938 and the brand, now called Atelier Rebul, remains one of the most established purveyors of kolonya in Turkey. These days, there are dozens of shops by the name of Atelier Rebul throughout Turkey and a website online from which you can purchase from a vast selection of their aromatic kolonya.
Eyüp Sabri Tuncer: Founded in 1923 in Ankara, the Eyüp Sabri Tuncer brand is considered to have created the lemon kolonya version we are most familiar with even today. These days, however, their brand is located in hundreds of shops throughout Turkey and has an impressive cologne selection which in addition to aromas such as Rain Forest, Paris Nights and Memories, the latter of which refers to Turkey’s cinematic Yeşilçam legacy, there is also a wide spectrum of aromas devoted to specific spots in Istanbul such as the Basilica Cisterns, the Grand Bazaar, Hagia Sophia, the Bosphorus, the Spice Market and so forth. The Eyüp Sabri Tuncer websites boast nearly 700 different personal care products, including wet tissues and incense in their fragrance varieties, and there is also a vegan line that includes toothpaste.
Selin: Said to be the first brand to produce kolonya in Turkish history, Selin first hit the market in 1912 in Izmir as Altın Damlası Kolonyası (Golden Drop Cologne), which was made at the historical Şifa Eczanesi in Kemeraltı by none other than Süleyman Ferit Eczacıbaşı. The cologne became a prestigious gift given by anyone visiting Izmir.
Pereja: Yet another nostalgic brand of cologne is Pereja, which was made at a huge factory, which had a grand opening when it was established in Bahçelievler in 1967 which was even attended by the prime minister at the time Süleyman Demirel. Their lemon fragranced kolonya remains one of the most symbolic icons of Turkey from the '70s and beyond.
Duru: Established in 1927 in Erzurum, Duru is yet another well-known kolonya brand in Turkey that has stood the test of time. Operating today from a 350,000 square-meter facility in Istanbul, Duru has branched out into a variety of personal care products and brands, including the Arko brand and produces 300 tons of soap each year in addition to a wide variety and sizes of their classic kolonya.
Tariş: One of the most reputable brands for olive oil in Turkey also has a respected personal care line that includes over half a dozen kolonya varieties including the more rare fig, olive blossom and green tea aromas and also offers spray bottle options.
Vakko: For the utmost elegance in kolonya, Vakko is your go-to brand. With fragrances such as Retro Gardenia, White Suede Musk, White Tea and Cedar Atlas, this luxurious Turkish brand offers the utmost in fancy kolonya fragrances with the price tag to boot. However, it is admittedly the most upscale of kolonyas out there and to gift to others.
If it is the scent you seek...
While the aforementioned brands are definitely the most well-known and widely available kolonya purveyors, there are also a wide number of regional vendors that sell kolonya produced from the local products they are known for. In Bodrum, there is the mandarin kolonya, while Antalya is famed for its orange blossom variations. The tobacco cologne of Düzce is a favorite fragrance for many, while Amasya’s apple kolonya is also favored for being so refreshing. From Malatya, there hails apricot kolonya, while Ayvalık is famed for its olive blossom kolonya and the tea-fragranted kolonya from Rize is also a popular regional product.