The secret history of Istanbul's oldest pharmacy © Atelier Rebul

The secret history of Istanbul's oldest pharmacy

Istanbul's first pharmacy reinvents itself as a luscious cosmetics brand with a 19th century soul

by

Turkey Editor

13 November 2014

It was a time when you had to wear a hat and gloves to go shopping on Istanbul's main pedestrian artery, Istiklal Street. It was impolite not to greet shopkeepers by their name, and the air of modernization was running high. It was also a time when all gentlemen smelled of Rebul Lavender Eau de Cologne.

The staff at Rebul pharmacy in its heyday in the early 1930s

Rebul Pharmacy was established by Jean Cesar Reboul in 1895 in 'Rue de Pera' as one of Turkey's first pharmacies. Reboul himself was a young Parisian pharmacist who came to visit his father, one of the engineers building the first road infrastructure of the Ottoman Empire. He fell in love with Istanbul and decided to build his practice in this enchanting city. Thus began the story of the Grande Pharmacie Parisienne.

In 1935, another young pharmacist Kemal Müderrisoğlu started working as an intern with Reboul, who had to change the name of his business to Rebul Pharmacy under the new laws of the newly founded Turkish Republic. This fruitful collaboration between two like-minded individuals gave rise to the phenomenon of Rebul Lavender Eau de Cologne in 1938. They produced a cologne from the essential oils of heavenly lavender flowers cultivated first in Mr Reboul's garden, later in the meadows of Grasse in South France. It was all the rage among the chic male Istanbulites of the time. The rumour is they used to keep their bottle in their steel vaults. Fathers used to gift their sons a bottle of Rebul Lavanda when they deemed it time for them to shave. For years, it was the cologne of choice for generations of Turkish men.

Rebul's Cologne then and now

Today the next generation in the Müderrisoğlu family is taking the Rebul heritage further. While Rebul Pharmacy is still operating on Istiklal Street (albeit in a different location), their new brand Atelier Rebul is introducing its own cosmetics and perfume stores in the high-end shopping areas of the city. They are bringing together the knowledge and formulas inherited from their founder with French elegance and pharmaceutical expertise.

In their new cologne collection, one fragrance stands out as a specialty of Istanbul fauna: erguvan. Known as the Judas tree or the Mediterranean redbud, these magnificent pink and white flowers are specific to the hills that run along the Bosphorus. All the bottles in the collection feature handmade wooden caps and recyclable packaging as well as personalized name tags - perfect for an authentic gift from Istanbul. Other products made in the Atelier include home cosmetics, skincare and haircare products, skincare for men and perfumes.

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