Home » Lifestyle » The story of Álvarez Gómez, the “grandmother’s colony” that was born in a gathering and arrived in Japan | Fashion

The story of Álvarez Gómez, the “grandmother’s colony” that was born in a gathering and arrived in Japan | Fashion

The story of Álvarez Gómez, the "grandmother's colony" that was born in a gathering and arrived in Japan |  Fashion

The last years of the 19th century were as fateful for Spain as they were hopeful. On the one hand, political instability and social conflicts plagued our country; Anarchist bombs terrorized Barcelona. In the middle of the summer of 1897, the president of the government, Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, was shot three times in the Santa Águeda de Mondragón spa while he was reading the newspaper; the following year, our country lost its last remaining American colony, Cuba, which made clear our decline as a world power and spread a pessimism throughout the country that would mark a famous group of writers that history would end up grouping under the name of Generation of 98.

Despite everything, there was not only bad news. Modernity stumbled its way through all that tumult. During the last years of the 19th century, the use of electricity for public lighting in large cities was extended; the first film in our history was shot Departure from twelve o’clock mass from Pilar de Zaragoza (1896); the discovery of the Lady of Elche created new theories about our ancestors; Barça and Real Madrid were founded; the first car was registered; the Fabra Astronomical Observatory was inaugurated; newspapers and political parties were founded; Ramón y Cajal discovered neurons and won the Nobel Prize…

It is also in this turbulent time when three Leonese cousins ​​from the Babia region, Herminio Álvarez Gómez, Belarmino Gómez and Emilio Vuelta Gómez, left their homeland to seek their fortune in Madrid. It was unlikely that then they imagined that more than 120 years later their surnames and the colony to which they give their name would perfume and form part of the emotional heritage of an entire country. When people smell Álvarez Gómez’s concentrated eau de cologne they usually pronounce the phrase “It’s my grandmother’s cologne”. From the firm they presume that that was precisely what his grandmothers already said about him.

When Herminio, Belarmino and Emilio arrived in that Madrid at the end of the century, the only job they found was as apprentices in the drugstore that an acquaintance ran on Calle Virgen de los Peligros, a few meters from Puerta del Sol. A place that , in addition to his workplace, it also became his residence, because the bed in the back room was part of his salary. After learning how the business worked for some time, the owner informed them that he had decided to retire, and the Leonese, led by Herminio, who was the most enterprising, proposed that he keep the business.

Alvarez Gomez drugstore

A drugstore of the time bore little resemblance to those that exist today. Instead of drills, light bulbs and power strips, drugstores at the end of the 19th century sold and manufactured all kinds of chemical compounds, including perfumes and cosmetic products with “miraculous” properties. And the one that the Álvarez began to run in 1899 with some success was no exception. With the turn of the century and thanks to the relative economic prosperity of some layers of society that increasingly demanded more creams and perfumes cited by the French romantics, the business was booming. “Smelling good” was no longer only within the reach of the richest, and businessmen like the Álvarezes placed themselves in the first position to satisfy these new needs.

After a few years of growth, the business moved to Calle Sevilla nº 2, located in what was then the very heart of the capital’s cultural life. The area boiled every night thanks to the theaters, the cabarets and other more or less respectable places, and the artists, actors, singers and other fauna of the neighborhood became regular customers of the store whose back room was made from cosmetics to pastes of teeth, passing through hair elixirs or the famous “cold cream”: a cream made from vegetable fats, beeswax and various aromatic ingredients, which was used as a cleanser and moisturizer, and which was portrayed for posterity in some famous verses of the famous chotis pichiincluded in the Spanish music magazine the leandraspremiered in Madrid in 1931.

Go and let them undulate you with the permanen

And to soften you they give you cold cream!

The latter pronounced in the purest Madrid chulapo style, as “colcrén”.

The colony that was born from a gathering

As we said, due to the location of the store, the Álvarez maintained a very close contact with the show business of the time. The family, which is still in control of the company, found dozens of photos with dedications by artists from the beginning of the century among Herminio’s papers. As if this were not enough, the proximity of Álvarez Gómez to Calle de la Victoria, where many activities in the world of bullfighting were concentrated, meant that matadors, but also banderilleros and attorneys, became regular customers of the establishment.

The role of social connector of the Álvarez reached such importance that a well-known gathering ended up being held in the back room in which the aromas of coffee were mixed with those of perfumes. In it, characters such as Eduardo Dato or Pedro Muñoz Seca mixed with artists, bullfighters, politicians and also with traveling salesmen who passed by.

The latter, in a world where information was scarce, were especially appreciated after dinner, since they could spend hours telling stories of their travels, fresh news and rumors from far away places. It was at one of those gatherings, held in 1912, in which a German traveler explained to the Álvarezes that he had a Central European formula to create an eau de cologne that could be a success in Spain, since in our country they were very good it’s components.

The formula contained, among other ingredients, essence of lemon, lavender, eucalyptus, lavender, rosemary, bergamot, geranium or clove and, after being acquired by the people of León, it ended up becoming Álvarez Gómez concentrated eau de cologne, which still today, 120 years later, it can be found in many perfumeries, department stores and pharmacies in Spain and around the world.

a commercial success

The product was a real commercial success, and not only because of its rich aroma. The use of colognes had been democratized in our country and the new fragrance had almost no competitors. The colony in question was for many a very affordable passport to a certain feeling of luxury and also the Álvarez’s packaged the product like a jewel, taking care of the design of the box and taking inspiration for the bottle from the Molanus bottle, designed in 1820 by Peter Heinrich Molanus for 4711, another dinosaur still alive in international perfumery.

During the 1920s and 1930s, sales grew steadily, reaching sales of 30,000 bottles a year just before the Civil War, according to data kept by the family itself.

Post-war expansion

Despite the difficulties of the conflict, in the postwar period, Álvarez Gómez continued to sell its products, although it made a change in strategy: production was outsourced and the company opted to create its own extensive commercial network. During the 1940s, they opened stores in Madrid (they would have 10) and, in 1951, already managed by the descendants of the founders, they opened what would be their emblematic store, the one on Calle de Serrano, 14 in which, In addition to Álvarez Gómez products, products from other brands such as Dior or Guerlain were sold.

That everything changes so that everything remains the same

After consolidating itself during the second half of the 20th century as one of the references among the classic fragrances of our country, the economic crisis and the urban pressure of the capital, caused a drastic change in the strategy of the company’s management, already with the third generation at the helm. Álvarez Gómez recovered its own production in 1989 when it faced the challenge of building its own factory. and he was closing all his stores one by one. The last to fall was the best known, that of Serrano, who closed down forever in 2013 after spending the monthly rent for the premises from 4,000 euros to 30,000. All this occurred just at the moment the pandemic began, which they took advantage of to turn the colony into a hydroalcoholic gel that was very well received.

Currently, the brand’s diversification strategy is the same as it began in 2012, when they celebrated their centenary and created a barbershop line: add a version of the original cologne with specific nuances for certain audiences each new season. Thus, they continue to sell their products in stores throughout the country, but also in Japan, the United Kingdom or the United States, where they continue to have a presence. A unique case.

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– Article Written By @Juanjo Villalba from https://smoda.elpais.com/moda/la-historia-de-alvarez-gomez-la-colonia-de-abuela-que-nacio-en-una-tertulia-y-llego-a-japon/

Nicole Aniston