‘Candy and flowers, dear,’ Ellen had said time and again, ‘and perhaps a book of poetry or an album or a small bottle of Florida water are the only things a lady may accept from a gentleman.’
— Margaret Mitchell, Gone with the Wind
When Scarlett O’Hara received this advice from her mother (during her fictional girlhood, leading up to the outbreak of the Civil War), Florida water had already been a popular variant on Eau de Cologne for several decades. The New York-based company Murray & Lanman first began to produce and sell a trademarked Florida Water in 1808. The firm has undergone a few name changes over the past two centuries, but it still exists; and, now known as Lanman & Kemp, it still offers this classic item.
The Lanman & Kemp website lists multiple uses for its Florida Water, including a treatment for “jangled nerves” and a suggestion for “boudoir daintiness.” I don’t know how long this particular list has been in existence, but it delights my vintage-loving soul, and so does the label on the Florida Water bottle: a rococo arrangement of flower garlands, parrots, a medieval-style troubadour serenading his lady-love, and a cascading fountain. Florida water’s name alludes to Florida as the supposed location of the “Fountain of Youth,” which explains the latter detail.
Traditional recipes for Florida Water combine citrus notes (bergamot, lemon, neroli) with spicy notes (cloves, cinnamon) and an occasional floral accent (jasmine, rose). I doubt that Murray & Lanman still uses any natural ingredients in its Florida Water formula, but this product smells surprisingly good for something so budget-friendly. It starts with a lemon-bergamot note that has a pleasantly astringent bite. In a few minutes, the citrus quiets down a bit, and the clove and cinnamon become evident, but even on the hottest of days, these notes stay comfortably subtle. I notice some neroli peeking out from the clean, spicy dry down, and maybe just a touch of rose or some other soft floral note. It’s a scent that could easily be worn by women or men of all ages. I’ve been splashing it on directly from the bottle, or applying it to my neck and wrists with a cotton ball. It would also give an extra-cooling sensation if it were stored in the refrigerator. It’s a cologne formulation, so its fragrance fades within the hour; but it’s a pleasure while it lasts, and it’s tempting to reapply.
While I was writing this, I remembered Angela’s review of Jean Naté; I suppose Murray & Lanman Florida Water is Jean Naté for someone with an obsession for Victoriana. I like the way it looks on a shelf in the bathroom, and I love the way it feels and smells on a steamy day. Many, many things have changed since the mid-nineteenth century, but the need to stay cool and fresh in the summer hasn’t changed.
I purchased my bottle of Murray & Lanman Florida Water at a local drugstore; it’s also available through Amazon. Prices vary, but you shouldn’t pay more than $5 for a 7.5 oz. bottle.
Note: top center image is a Murray & Lanman trade card (circa 1881) from the Lanman & Kemp website.