On basenotes, a presumably-German critic who goes by the_good_life writes:
"I can't believe serious perfume lovers like this. To Germans it rightfully embodies the epitome of cheaply synthetic drugstore granny cologne. It's agressively sharp, short-lived and tacky and does not hold a stick to a genuine, natural-ingredient Eau de Cologne by Roger et Gallet, Berdoues, or, to stay in Cologne, the original Kölnisch Wasser by Farina. Btw. if you forget about the 4711 myths for a moment - its originator was a speculator and conman who sold it as a cheap imitation of the original Farina cologne under the same name. After decade-long court battles the company had to give up the name Farina and switched to 4711 in the 1880s. The story about the monk's gift of 4711 at Muehlen's wedding and the French officer writing the house number 4711 on the wall are PR-poppycock. To all connaisseurs of perfume I can only say: next time you're in Cologne, avoid the 4711 tourist trap and check out Farina, who are still in business (since 1709)"
Mr. Good Life's criticism is the perfect distillation of many critiques of this cologne. He has gut checked many 4711 and Creed enthusiasts in the past, and seems to know an awful lot about the history of both brands. I won't delve into the question of how he could possibly know 4711's stories are "PR-poppycock." My problem with his analysis is twofold: (1) it's based on facts according to Farina, and (2) 4711 actually smells good.
Regarding the first point, Farina goes into an extensive historical summary on its vendor site, chronicling the invention of its cologne, its impact on Renaissance Europe, and the rise and fall of its many plagiarists. Regarding the plagiarists, their site states (translated from German):
"In 1804, William Mülhens bought one license of a pseudonym for Farina. Thus began the Farina inflation. Its plagiarists mushroomed from the ground. FARINA and COLOGNE were names forfeited to the obscure copycat practices of insolvent companies. It would take too long to name everyone who has risen and gone. Individuals are singled out here: Wilhelm Mülhens' actions were speculative, and initially sold under "Farina, Franz-business", although it was not clear where he pulled his [trademark] permission. In any case, the inflation caused by "Farina, Franz-company" brought trouble and processes for Mülhens and Farina."
So in short, William Mülhens came along at the turn of the century and stole the names "Farina" and "cologne" (even though cologne is the name of a German city and cannot be stolen). Why he bothered using the Farina name is anyone's guess, but apparently his venture was purely speculative and based on profiting from the success of Farina's cologne. But Farina goes further:
"Mülhens' buyers were quite the opposite of Johann Maria Farina Jülichsplatz's. Modern chemistry made low-cost production possible, and "4711" took over the market when the second World War was underway. Cheap refreshment water took a disastrous turn and Cologne, once a city of fine fragrances, became a synonym for "cheap." The Mülhens family sold their company in 1994, Wella AG in Darmstadt, which was re-acquired in 2004 by the American company Procter & Gamble laundry detergent.
But we come back to the "Farina". . . "
And the eye rolling begins. According to Farina, Mülhens' customers were the hoi polloi, while Farina's were implicitly genteel. 4711's big break happened sometime during WWII, and their success cheapened the entire concept of cologne water, which was disastrous for the city and the industry. Eventually the 4711 brand was sold to Proctor & Gamble's laundry detergent division, which placed the cologne on Tesco's store shelves next to bottles of Tide and Gain. Puh-leese.
It is true that P&G licensed the 4711 brand for a while, and were its sole purveyors until 2006, when it was sold to Mäurer & Wirtz, a subsidiary of the Dalli Group. These are hard facts. The other facts . . . not so hard. Cheesecloth-soft, in fact. Farina overreaches in its account; not content to simply mention the old legal tussle between Mülhens and Farina over the brand name (which was probably not well-protected to begin with), and the labeling of "cologne" (not protected at all), the site goes to the trouble of parsing through which of the two brands was more prestigious, while carefully negating the overwhelming success of its competitor, calling it cheap and disastrous to the industry as a whole.
This logic is incontinent and in pretty bad taste, if you ask me. 4711's success was arguably disastrous for Farina's monopolization of the cologne industry, not the industry itself. There's an obvious difference.
Then there's the_good_life's opinion, quoted here because I've tried Roger & Gallet's eau de cologne, and disagree with his assessment - it's unremarkable at best. In fact, it's much lighter and more evanescent than 4711. I know colognes are light by nature, but I want to get at least thirty minutes out of one, and with Roger & Gallet's I only got five. Both colognes smell nice, but 4711 wins me over.
Germans must be sick of the stuff. I can only imagine being a young German guy and smelling it on every woman over 65. Seeing it in back alley window displays everywhere. The general impression must be that it's commonplace and overrated. It may be commonplace, but that doesn't really mean it's overrated. 4711 opens with a very herbal and spiky citrus arrangement of lemon, bergamot, lime, the tiniest dash of orange, petitgrain, neroli, and basil.
There's a very well-blended rose note supporting the acidic fruitiness, one that trends further green than red. It's like young rose petals were briefly soaked in the tonic and then removed. Rosemary keeps the bitter herbal essence alive well into its clean dry-down. I get nothing sharp, egregiously short-lived, or tacky out of it. But that's just my nose.
My beautifully-massive 27-ounce bottle is almost empty, and I know I'll repurchase when I've used the last of it. It comes in handy during summertime, especially when I'm not feeling aquatic florals and vetivers. It's also useful after work. I teach mentally impaired children, and one in particular has a habit of scratching my arms up. I occasionally douse the cuts in 4711, which eliminates any leftover germs and saliva odors.
4711 doesn't get a fair shake these days, and that's a shame. It is, in my opinion, a victim of its success. It's doing something right, though. There's a reason it's been around this long, and it ain't by smelling like cheap junk.