Two Legends of Perfume History: François Coty and L'Origan de Coty
Star rating: 5 stars--outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars--very good, 3 stars--adequate, 2 stars--disappointing, 1 star--poor.
If one were to enumerate perfumers who wielded great influence over the course of perfume history, François Coty is among them. A person of great talent and creativity, he gave the world fragrances that would serve as inspirations for many perfumers, despite the fact that he did not have formal perfumery training. Born in Ajaccio, Corsica in 1874, Coty realized that in order to expand the perfume market, the high quality product must be presented in beautiful packaging and at a reasonable price. While marketed as luxury, he deemed that perfume had to be affordable for people of every socio-economic class. While La Rose Jacqueminot (1904) was his first fragrance, incorporating new floral bases, L'Origan (1905) and Chypre (1917) would initiate two new genres of perfumery: soft sweet floral and chypre.
L’Origan (1905) cannot be mistaken for anything but a child of its times. Its soft powdery veil embellished with carnation, violet and heliotrope calls to mind gloves and Edwardian silhouettes. A precursor of Guerlain L’Heure Bleue (1912), L’Origan reveals the same bittersweet anisic top notes that sparkle like diamond dust in its powdery cloud. ...
The voluptuous richness of the sweet floral heart underscored by the woody spiciness of clove flows into the sensual darkness of the musky base. Like honey dissolving in hot tea, orange blossom and jasmine lose their radiant form amid the vanillic sweetness of coumarin and the leathery duskiness of musk.
While the first decade of the twentieth century saw the introduction of numerous new aroma-chemicals to the perfumer’s palette as well as the readymade floral bases, perfumers were cautious in using them, given their strong and aggressive odour profiles. However, Coty saw great potential in the new materials. The originality of L’Origan indeed resides in its combination of traditional essences such as bergamot, orange, neroli and ylang ylang with new floral bases and synthetics such as methyl ionone, heliotropin, vanillin, coumarin, civet, vetiveryl acetate, and nitromusks.*
Neither floral nor oriental, L’Origan can claim fragrances like Oscar de la Renta (1976), Vanderbuilt (1981), Poison (1985), and Cacharel Loulou (1987) as its offspring. Playing upon the sweet floral theme, it is a fragrance marked by time, especially in the context of modern trends. Yet, the legendary status notwithstanding, the composition is not without appeal, especially if one enjoys rich powdery compositions.
L’Origan is still available quite inexpensively at various discount stores such as Perfumebay, however the modern composition does not compare to the vintage. While still transporting one to another era, the vistas it displays are somewhat blanched. It seems to lack both the rich powdery sillage of the vintage version and its dark musky sensuality. Nevertheless, in its pale folds, there lies a whisper of L’Origan’s past glory.
Coty himself turned toward politics in 1920s, entering the arena as French Senator-elect from Corsica in 1923. However, the bid was short-lived, as his election was deemed to be marked by fraud and the results nullified. The next unfortunate venture was the founding of L'Ami du Peuple, a newspaper that suffered one loss after another. In addition, the burden of an expensive divorce caused Coty’s empire to slowly crumble. Yet, whenever I take out my bottles of the Coty classics like Chypre and L’Origan, I cannot but wonder at the genius of the man who created them.
Photos: Francois Coty. L’Origan advertisement from psine.net. Coty Fifth Avenue store photo (thank you, Evan).
*Calkin, Robert and J. Stephan Jellinek. Perfumery: Practice and Principles. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1994.