The birth of Coty perfumes; how an up-start Corsican invented a bran

One of the many visitors to the Paris exposition was twenty-five-year-old François Spoturno (known to history as the more gentrified François Coty), a native of Corsica who had come to Paris to make his fortune. A born charmer, he already had proved his skills as a salesman in Marseilles. Now, using a connection he had cultivated during his military service, he found a position as attaché to the senator and playwright Emmanuel Arène. It was a tremendous coup.

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Spoturno was born on 3 May 1874 in Ajaccio, Corsica. He was a descendant of Isabelle Bonaparte, an aunt of Napoleon Bonaparte. His parents were Jean-Baptiste Spoturno and Marie-Adolphine-Françoise Coti, both descendants of Genoese settlers who founded Ajaccio in the 15th century. His parents died when he was a child and the young François was raised by his great-grandmother, Marie Josephe Spoturno, and. after her death, by his grandmother, Anna Maria Belone Spoturno. Grandmother and grandson lived in Marseille.

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Coty and his wife.

Young Spoturno may not have had money, but he now had access to the glittering upper reaches of 1900 Paris, with its salons, clubs, and fashionable gatherings. As he quickly realized, it was a world in which women played a key role, from the most elegant aristocrats to the grandest courtesans—a fact of great importance, as it turned out, since women would soon make Spoturno’s fortune.

Spoturno’s interest was not in clothing but in perfume. At the opening of the new century, the perfect perfume was as essential to the well-dressed Parisian woman as was the latest fashion in dresses, and the French perfume industry was booming, with nearly three hundred manufacturers, twenty thousand employees, and a profitable domestic as well as export business.4 Naturally, perfume makers took the opportunity to display their wares at the 1900 Paris exposition, and Spoturno took the time to wander among their displays, including those of leading names such as Houbigant and Guerlain.

Spoturno was not yet sufficiently knowledgeable to judge a perfume’s quality, but he did note that the bottles containing these perfumes were old-fashioned and uninspired. It would not be long before it would occur to him that perhaps their contents were also a trifle outdated.

But first he had to find his way into the perfume business. After getting a job as a fashion accessories salesman and marrying a sophisticated young Parisian, Spoturno became acquainted with a pharmacist who, like other chemists at the time, made his own eau de cologne, which he sold in plain glass bottles. He also met Raymond Goery, a pharmacist who made and sold perfume at his Paris shop. Coty began to learn about perfumery from Goery and created his first fragrance, Cologne Coty.

One memorable evening, Spoturno sniffed a sample of his friend’s wares and turned up his nose. The friend then dared him to make something better, and Spoturno went to work.

He hadn’t the slightest idea of how to proceed, but in the end he managed so well that his friend had to admit that he was gifted. Yet natural gifts were not enough in the perfume business, and soon Spoturno decided to go to Grasse, the center of France’s perfume industry, to learn perfume-making from the experts. Along the way he would change his name to his mother’s maiden name. Only he would spell it “Coty.”

The brand’s first fragrance, La Rose Jacqueminot, was launched the same year and was packaged in a bottle designed by Baccarat.

L’Origan was launched in 1905; according to The Week, the perfume “started a sweeping trend throughout Paris” and was the first example of “a fine but affordable fragrance that would appeal both to the upper classes and to the less affluent, changing the way scents were sold forever.”

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Following its early successes, Coty was able to open its first store in 1908 in Paris’ Place Vendôme. Soon after, Coty began collaborating with French glass designer René Lalique to create custom fragrance bottles, labels, and other packaging materials, launching a new trend in mass-produced fragrance packaging.

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Coty also established a “Perfume City” in the suburbs of Paris during the early 1910s to handle administration and fragrance production; the site was an early business supporter of female employees and offered benefits including child care.

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The year was 1904, and François Coty was about to engage in his own act of rebellion. Or was it simply a superb marketing tactic? We do not know. What we do know is that on one fateful day, on the ground floor of the Louvre department store, Coty smashed a bottle of perfume on the counter—with momentous results. Following his decision to learn more about the perfume business, Coty had indeed gone to Grasse, which was the long-established center for cultivating the flowers essential for making perfume. It was also the research center for the entire perfume industry. There, he applied for training at the esteemed Chiris company, which represented the cutting edge of current perfume technology. Fortunately, the head of the firm, now a senator, was a friend of Coty’s patron, Senator Arène, which eased Coty’s way. Coty then worked diligently for a year to learn all that he could, from flower cultivation to essential oils, spending much of his time in the laboratory. He analyzed, he synthesized, and he learned how to blend. During his apprenticeship, Coty learned about two new tools that the established perfumers had for the most part neglected in favor of more traditional methods. The first of these was the discovery of extraction by volatile solvents, a technique that made extraction of large quantities of fragrance possible and could even be used with nonfloral substances such as leaves, mosses, and resins. Shortly before the turn of the century, Louis Chiris secured a patent on this technique and set up the first workshop based on solvent extraction. Coty was an early student of this pioneering work.

The second and even more revolutionary discovery was that of synthetic fragrances. Earlier in the nineteenth century, French and German scientists had discovered synthetic fragrance molecules in organic compounds such as coal and petroleum that allowed perfumers to approximate scents that could not otherwise be easily extracted. It was an amazing breakthrough, and a few perfumers experimented briefly with the artificial scents of sweet grass, vanilla (from conifer sap), violet, heliotrope, and musk. A few also explored the possibilities of the first aldehydes, which gave perfumes a far greater strength than ever before. Yet with only a few exceptions, established perfumers in the early 1900s avoided these synthetic molecules. In studying the successful perfumes of the day, Coty

concluded that most were limited in range and old-fashioned, pandering to conservative tastes with heavy, overly complex floral scents that were almost interchangeable. He had educated his nose and learned his trade, and although he never would become a perfumer per se, he had an extraordinary imagination and a gift for using it to explore new realms. It was with this gift, newly honed, that he returned to Paris, and with ten thousand borrowed francs set up a makeshift laboratory in the small apartment where he and his wife lived. He was willing—even eager—to break with convention, aiming to create a perfume that combined subtlety with simplicity. Even at the beginning, his formulas were simple but brilliant, using synthetics to enhance natural scents. Coty also revolutionized the

bottles containing his perfumes. Remembering the beauty of the antique perfume bottles at the 1900 Paris exposition, which made the virtually standardized perfume bottles of the day look boring, Coty unhesitatingly went to the top and hired Baccarat to produce the lovely, slim bottle for La Rose Jacqueminot, his first perfume. As he later remarked, “A perfume needs to attract the eye as much as the nose.”16 Coty’s wife sewed and embroidered the silk pouches with velvet ribbons and satin trim that contained the bottles, and Coty now drew on his sales skills—this time selling his own rather than someone else’s product. Much to his dismay, it proved almost impossible to break through the established perfumers’ stranglehold on the market. Coty went from rejection to rejection, until one day he lost his composure. He was on the

ground floor of the Louvre department store trying to sell La Rose Jacqueminot, and the buyer was about to show him the door. In anger—or in what perhaps was a supreme act of showmanship—Coty smashed one of the beautiful Baccarat bottles on the counter, and a revolution began. According to legend, women shoppers smelled the perfume and flocked to the source, buying up Coty’s entire supply. The buyer took note, became suddenly cooperative, and Coty was on his way. After the fact, some groused that Coty had staged the entire stunt, including hiring actresses to play the part of shoppers entranced by his perfume. Yet by this time it didn’t matter. Coty had made his first publicity coup, whether or not it was intentional, and he and his perfumes were launched.

 

François Coty was also doing well in new quarters, which he had shrewdly taken in an affluent part of town, just north of the Champs-Elysées. Space there was limited, but the address (on Rue La Boétie) was a good one and worth the effort to cram showroom, shop, laboratory, and packaging department under one small roof. Much as Coty expected and desired, his perfume business continued to surge. The year 1905 was a big one for him, during which he presented two new hits: Ambre Antique and, especially, L’Origan, which according to perfume aficionados was an exceptionally daring blend, suitable for those daring Fauvist times. It was while Coty was launching his seductive new perfumes that an ambitious young woman by the name of Helena Rubinstein was studying dermatology

McAuliffe PhD, Mary. Twilight of the Belle Epoque . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

McAuliffe PhD, Mary. Twilight of the Belle Epoque . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

McAuliffe PhD, Mary. Twilight of the Belle Epoque . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

McAuliffe PhD, Mary. Twilight of the Belle Epoque . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

McAuliffe PhD, Mary. Twilight of the Belle Epoque . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

 

McAuliffe PhD, Mary. Twilight of the Belle Epoque . Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

McAuliffe PhD, Mary. Twilight of the Belle Epoque. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/François_Coty

The Wallace Collection, London. Wow! …and Manolo Blanik too.

 

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If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I rarely post images of the decorative arts.  I am typically not a fan of fussy porcelains or fine cabinetry.  I just don’t seem to have the gene that lets me appreciate that stuff.

But, today in London, I visited the Wallace Collection and it knocked my socks off.  I mean, this place is crazy!  The former mansion of the Wallace family was gifted to the country of Britain in the last years of the 19th century, and is still set up in a similar manner to the way in which the family lived.

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As you might know, I’ve been to a few museums and house museums in my day, but this place is more opulent than any other.

All I can say is WOW!  And then show you some (a lot, probably too many) pictures of this amazing place.

Oh, and p.s….Manolo Blanik shoes were also on display.  I’ve never owned a pair and never will.  But, to see the shoes interspersed with the collections added an element I’d not thought of before.  My guide at the Wallace Collection told me that Blanik was an Anglophile and was particularly interested in the Wallace Collection.  This is a new point of approach for me, and I could dig it!

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Let’s go!

The first thing I heard in the excellent tour I joined, is that when this Japanese chest (and its matching partner) arrived in Europe, it absolutely blew the minds of connoisseurs.  They were obsessed with the black lacquer and wanted to emulate it.  They couldn’t, it turned out, because the plant that produces the lacquer did’t grow in the west.

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Here’s my guide, standing in front of the Japanese chest.

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That didn’t daunt them.  The king of France set up a artisanal workshop, patronizing the best of the artistic producers known to France, and they experimented and experimented, trying to produce–if not lacquer itself–at least something that looked very close to it.

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Above, King Louis XV, the king who developed the French fine arts.

This is the time period in which France is lifted by the decorative arts.  France would no longer import fine luxury goods–they would produce them.  It started then and is still going strong today.

The wardrobe below was produced in this workshop.

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Before having a gander at the million photos I took today, introduce yourself to the Wallace Collection here with the director:

 

 

Now, please join me as I wander through the collection:

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Can you say “opulence?”

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Also, the Wallace Collection has a lovely restaurant!

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And then, on to the armor!

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And to a Gothic crown.  Because, why not?

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Check out the line of matching armor head pieces and shields.

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Below: a portrait of Madame de Pompadour, commissioned by herself.  My guide told the fascinating story of this woman and her involvement with the French king, and discussed the fascinating iconography of this portrait.  Please note her tiny shoe peeking out from under her “Pompadour pink” gown, for which she set the fashion of the day.  This is the type of detail by which Blanik was inspired.  Looking at his shoes today, I could see it.

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And, then there is this Jean-Honoré Fragonard masterwork: The Swing (1767).

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Sainte-Chapelle de Paris

If there is a more beautifully constructed space on earth than Sainte-Chapelle, then I have yet to find it!  Glass and color and stone have never been more masterfully combined than in this place. It’s alchemy.

Feast your eyes!

 

 

The Sainte-Chapelle, an architectural gem set within the Palais de la Cité, was founded by King Louis IX (later to become Saint Louis) in the mid-13th century to house the relics of the Passion.

Originally at the service of the monarchy, the building is composed of the lower chapel, used by the Palace staff, and the upper chapel, reserved to the King and his entourage, where the relics were kept. The stained glass windows, set in the Flamboyant Gothic architecture, are one of a kind.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERASainte-Chapelle (Holy Chapel) – Upper Chapel, Paris, France

First, I take you on a guided tour starting at the facade and going into the upper and lower chapels, ending with a video of the exterior work that is going on now.  For you history buffs, my usual spiel is at the end. :-)

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The Sainte-Chapelle (holy chapel) is the royal chapel in the Gothic style, within the medieval Palais de la Cité, the residence of the Kings of France until the 14th century, on the Île de la Cité in the River Seine in Paris.

Construction began after 1238; the chapel was consecrated on 26 April 1248. The Sainte-Chapelle is considered among the highest achievements of the Rayonnant period of Gothic architecture. It was commissioned by King Louis IX of France to house his collection of Passion relics, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns – one of the most important relics in medieval Christendom, later hosted in the nearby Notre-Dame Cathedral until the 2019 fire, which it survived.

Along with the Conciergerie, the Sainte-Chapelle is one of the earliest surviving buildings of the Capetian royal palace on the Île de la Cité. Although damaged during the French Revolution, and restored in the 19th century, it has one of the most extensive 13th-century stained glass collections anywhere in the world.

The royal chapel is a prime example of the phase of Gothic architectural style called “Rayonnant,” marked by the feeling of weightlessness and strong vertical emphasis. It stands squarely upon a lower chapel, which served as parish church for all the inhabitants of the palace, which was the seat of government. The King Louis IX was later recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church. His title became Saint Louis.

The Sainte-Chapelle, in the courtyard of the royal palace on the Île de la Cité (now part of a later administrative complex known as La Conciergerie), was specifically built to house Louis IX’s collection of relics of Christ, which included the Crown of Thorns, the Image of Edessa and some thirty other items.

Louis purchased his Passion relics from Baldwin II, the Latin emperor at Constantinople, for the sum of 135,000 livres, though this money was actually paid to the Venetians, to whom the relics had been pawned. The relics arrived in Paris in August 1239, carried from Venice by two Dominican friars.

Upon arrival, King Louis hosted a week-long celebratory reception for the relics. For the final stage of their journey they were carried by the King himself, barefoot and dressed as a penitent, a scene depicted in the Relics of the Passion window on the south side of the chapel.

The relics were stored in a large and elaborate silver chest, the Grand-Chasse, on which Louis spent a further 100,000 livres.

The entire chapel, by contrast, cost 40,000 livres to build.  In 1246, fragments of the True Cross and the Holy Lance were added to Louis’ collection, along with other relics. The chapel was consecrated on 26 April 1248 and Louis’ relics were moved to their new home with great ceremony.

As well as serving as a place of worship, the Sainte-Chapelle played an important role in the political and cultural ambitions of King Louis and his successors. With the imperial throne at Constantinople occupied by a mere Count of Flanders, and with the Holy Roman Empire in uneasy disarray, Louis’ artistic and architectural patronage helped to position him as the central monarch of western Christendom. In this way, the Sainte-Chapelle fit into a long tradition of prestigious palace chapels.

Just as the Emperor could pass privately from his palace into the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, so now Louis could pass directly from his palace into the Sainte-Chapelle.

More importantly, the two-story palace chapel had obvious similarities to Charlemagne’s palatine chapel at Aachen (built 792–805)—a parallel that Louis was keen to exploit in presenting himself as a worthy successor to the first Holy Roman Emperor.

The contemporary visitor entering the courtyard of the Royal Palace would have been met by the sight of a grand ceremonial staircase (Grands Degres) to their right and the north flank and eastern apse of the Sainte-Chapelle to their left.

The chapel exterior shows many of the typical characteristics of Rayonnant architecture—deep buttresses surmounted by pinnacles, crocketted gables around the roof-line and vast windows subdivided by bar tracery.

The internal division into upper and lower chapels is clearly marked on the outside by a string-course, the lower walls pierced by smaller windows with a distinctive spherical triangle shape. Despite its decoration, the exterior is relatively simple and austere, devoid of flying buttresses or major sculpture and giving little hint of the richness within.

No designer-builder is named in the archives concerned with the construction. In the 19th century it was assumed (as with so many buildings of medieval Paris) to be the work of the master mason Pierre de Montreuil, who worked on the remodelling of the Royal Abbey of Saint-Denis and completed the south transept façade of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Modern scholarship rejects this attribution in favor of Jean de Chelles or Thomas de Cormont, and the hand of an unidentified master mason from Amiens.

The Sainte-Chapelle’s most obvious architectural precursors include the apsidal chapels of Amiens Cathedral, which it resembles in its general form, and the Bishop’s Chapel (c. 1180s) of Noyon Cathedral, from which it borrowed the two-story design. As has often been argued, however, the major influence on its overall design seems to have come from contemporary metalwork, particularly the precious shrines and reliquaries made by Mosan goldsmiths.

The Parisian palatine chapel, built to house a reliquary, was itself like a precious reliquary turned inside out (with the richest decoration on the inside). Although the interior is dominated by the stained glass, every inch of the remaining wall surface and the vault was also richly colored and decorated. Analysis of remaining paint fragments reveals that the original colours were much brighter than those favoured by the 19th-century restorers and would have been close to the colors of the stained glass. The quatrefoils of the dado arcade were painted with scenes of saints and martyrs and inset with painted and gilded glass, emulating Limoges enamels, while simulated rich textiles hangings added to the richness of the interior.

Above the dado level, mounted on the clustered shafts that separate the great windows, are 12 larger-than-life-sized sculpted stone figures representing the 12 Apostles (six of these are replicas—the damaged originals are now in the Musée du Moyen Age). Each carries a disk marked with the consecration crosses that were traditionally marked on the pillars of a church at its consecration. Niches on the north and south sides of the chapel are the private oratories of the king and of his mother, Blanche of Castile.

The most famous features of the chapel, among the finest of their type in the world, are the great stained-glass windows, for whose benefit the stone wall surface is reduced to little more than a delicate framework. Fifteen huge mid-13th-century windows fill the nave and apse, while a large rose window with Flamboyant tracery (added to the upper chapel c. 1490) dominates the western wall.

Arranged across 15 windows, each 15 metres high, the stained glass panes depict 1,113 scenes from the Old and New Testaments recounting the history of the world until the arrival of the relics in Paris.

Despite some damage, the windows display a clear iconographical program. The three windows of the eastern apse illustrate the New Testament, featuring scenes of The Passion (center) with the Infancy of Christ (left) and the Life of John the Evangelist (right). By contrast, the windows of the nave are dominated by Old Testament exemplars of ideal kingship/queenship in an obvious nod to their royal patrons. The cycle starts at the western bay of the north wall with scenes from the Book of Genesis (heavily restored).

The next ten windows of the nave follow clockwise with scenes from Exodus, Joseph, Numbers/Leviticus, Joshua/Deuteronomy, Judges, (moving to the south wall) Jeremiah/Tobias, Judith/Job, Esther, David and the Book of Kings.

The final window, occupying the westernmost bay of the south wall brings this narrative of sacral kingship right up to date with a series of scenes showing the rediscovery of Christ’s relics, the miracles they performed, and their relocation to Paris in the hands of King Louis himself.

 

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Above, the Sainte-Chapelle rises above the rooflines of the royal palace. Miniature by the Limbourg brothers, c. 1400

Much of the chapel as it appears today is a re-creation, although nearly two-thirds of the windows are authentic. The chapel suffered its most grievous destruction in the late eighteenth century during the French Revolution, when the steeple and baldachin were removed, the relics dispersed (although some survive as the “relics of Sainte-Chapelle” in the treasury of Notre Dame de Paris), and various reliquaries, including the grande châsse, were melted down.

The Sainte-Chapelle was requisitioned as an archival depository in 1803. Two metres’ worth of glass was removed to facilitate working light and destroyed or put on the market. Its well-documented restoration, completed under the direction of Félix Duban in 1855, was regarded as exemplary by contemporaries and is faithful to the original drawings and descriptions of the chapel that survive.

The Sainte-Chapelle has had various stages of restoration from the 1970s onwards. Air pollution, the elements, and the large number of visitors all cause damage to the stained glass windows. Also, in 1945 a layer of external varnish had been applied to protect the glass from the dust and scratches of wartime bombing. This had gradually darkened, making the already fading images even harder to see.

In 2008, a more comprehensive seven-year programme of restoration was begun, costing some €10 million to clean and preserve all the stained glass, clean the facade stonework and conserve and repair some of the sculptures. Half of the funding was provided by private donors, the other half coming from the Villum Foundation.

Included in the restoration was an innovative thermoformed glass layer applied outside the stained glass windows for added protection. The project was completed in 2015 in time for the 800th anniversary of the birth of St. Louis, who had ordered the construction of the chapel.

https://www.monuments-nationaux.fr/en/Discovery-area/Sainte-Chapelle-Paris