François Coty, the Genius of Perfumery
Coty is often described as a “visionary”, but to me it seems insufficient,
because in reality he was a genius who revolutionized perfumery and laid
the foundations for the success and unstoppable development of perfume
throughout the twentieth century as we enjoy it today
by Juanjo Ruiz Crivillé
BIRTH OF THE GENIUS
As with other great firms of the time, the greatness of Coty comes together in the person of François Marie Joseph Sportuno, born on 3 May 1874 in Ajaccio, Corsica. His mother, Marie Coti, died when he was only four years old; his father, Jean-Baptiste Sportuno, died three years later.
Educated by his grandmother, Anna Maria Sportuno Bellone, who lived in Marseille, François was a brilliant pupil who was forced to abandon his studies because his family lacked the means to pay for them. Despite the handicap of his poverty, François was proud of his family’s illustrious ties to the Bonaparte, as he was a descendant of Isabel Bonaparte, one of the emperor’s aunts.
FIRST STEP TO HIS FATE
François went on to work as a journalist for a local newspaper in Marseille, which enabled him to build up an impressive portfolio of contacts. There he met his mentor, Emmanuel Arène, a writer and future senator who offered him a job in Paris as his secretary.
François settles in Paris in 1900 at the age of 25. François arrived in the French capital attracted by the need to discover what the new century had to offer.
The time was fascinating and everything seemed possible. The first cars circulated along the boulevards where a new form of entertainment, the cinema, provoked a great effervescence.
Other wonders, among them the airplane, the phonograph and the first wireless transmission, would soon appear.
Newspapers boiled with stories of the rocambolesque adventures of Amundsen’s expedition to the North Pole, the flight of Count Von Zeppelin’s aircraft around Lake Constance.
Electricity, a wonder among wonders, was the stellar attraction of the 1900 Universal Exhibition.
AN ENCOUNTER BETWEEN TWO GENIUSES
Like many people who attended the Universal Exhibition that year, François was very impressed by the creative power of René Lalique, who later became the designer of his most emblematic bottles.
Photos: Lalique’s stand at the 1900 Paris International Fair and René Lalique’s portrait
FRANÇOIS BECOMES “PERFUMEUR”
One of François’ first works in Paris is in a pharmacy, where he discovers the perfume and learns the first rudiments of its elaboration. He decides to move to the city of Grasse in Provence, which was the world centre of perfume production. There he worked for the important firm Chiris and, in another of the traits that characterise the genius, François learned the basics of the business in just one year and returned to Paris where he opened his first laboratory.
of L.T.Piver from 1895
At that time, the perfume industry was important without being exceptional and François perceived its potential for development. Anchored in old-fashioned ideas, all the great perfumers such as Guerlain, Lubin and Houbigant proposed the same perfumes with too many subjugating flowers that were distinguished only by the rarity of their names.
Moreover, François found the perfume containers unattractive, since the predominant bottles, square, rectangular, or cylindrical, embellished by a multitude of floral labels (and, from time to time, an original stopper), were irremissibly incapable of evoking the magical power of seduction of their contents.
François Coty then draws up a strategy that he summarises
in an emblematic phrase on the creation and promotion of the perfume:
“Give a woman the best product to be made, market it in the perfect flask,
beautiful in its simplicity yet impeccable in its taste, ask a reasonable price for it,
and you will witness the birth of a business the size of which the world has never seen”
THE ROAD TO SUCCESS
François created his first laboratory in a corner of the apartment he occupied with his wife. In one of his first commercial decisions, on the recommendation of his mentor Emmanuel Arène, he changed his surname Sportuno – and the name of his first perfumes – because it was difficult to pronounce, sounded Italian and would not be accepted by French society. Looking for an attractive name, he took the surname of his mother “Coti” and transformed it into the most elegant “Coty”. Thus was born the brand COTY that would achieve world renown.
THE BEGINNINGS WERE DIFFICULT
The big business where Coty wanted to introduce his perfumes rejected him, he did not have a name in the sector and had to compete with around 300 established brands, some of them for 100 years… but destiny allied itself with him. According to a legend, coming out of an interview frustrated because they would not receive him in the purchasing department of the GRANDS MAGASINS DU LOUVRE, he crashed the bottle of “La Rose Jacqueminot” he was carrying onto the floor, and the fragrance spread all over the venue creating a great interest in customers to get hold of that attractive and unknown fragrance. The success of acceptance of the fragrance forced the managers to reconsider their refusal and bought Coty only 12 bottles! the sales success was spectacular … the rest is history.
HIS FIRST MASTERFUL CREATION
As Fraçois Coty created in 1904 his first perfume which he called “La Rose Jacqueminot” and in just a few months it was the inescapable perfume of women of all social classes.
Coty was undoubtedly a genius of what we now call marketing. To reach all audiences, and not just the wealthiest, he created versions of bottles with smaller contents. He also invented the concept of the “fragrance set,” which included perfume, facial powders, soap, creams, and cosmetics.
A LEGENDARY SUCCESS STORY
From his first successful creation in 1904 until his death in 1934, François Coty had a series of great successes in perfumery, some of which are mentioned below.
LA ROSE JACQUEMINOT, 1904
The success of this perfume starts the Coty era in perfumery, a success that lasts
until today and paved the way for the entire world perfumery sector
Image: Private Collection
L’AMBRE ANTIQUE, 1905
This is the first oriental-style fragrance in the history of perfumery.
François Coty had passion for amber notes and got with this perfume
to mark a milestone in the perfumery of the time.
Image: Juanjo Ruiz Crivillé Collection
L’AMBRE ANTIQUE, 1905
The design of this unique bottle was the first collaboration between François Coty and René Lalique. Undoubtedly this design contributed to the enormous success of the fragrance, because as Coty himself stated, “A fragrance must attract the eye as much as the nose”.
Image: Musée Lalique Collection
LE CRYPRE, 1917
Although Coty was not the first perfumer to create a fragrance called “Chypre”, as this name has been known since the XVII century, he was the one who innovated it in such a way that led to the creation of a family of fragrances with the same name and creative inspiration that gave birth to many feminine perfumes such as Mitsouko, Miss Dior, Cabochard, Aromatics Elixir, Givenchy III, and Narciso Rodríguez for Her and other fragrances for men such as Aramis, Polo and Anteus. Chypre de Coty marks the beginning of the modern era of perfumery.
Image: Private Collection
In 1925 François Coty set to work on the creation of a new fragrance the talented young
Vincent Robert. The result was L’Aimant, a perfume extremely successful for many years.
Image: Juanjo Ruiz Crivillé Collection
THE CITY OF PERFUMES
Coty was an extraordinary businessman. From nowhere he built an empire in record time.
He created in the vicinity of Paris an enormous industrial complex called “La Cité des Parfums” because of its size, where thousands of people worked.
It was there that he manufactured all his products and controlled all the production processes. His obsession was always with quality.
He was also ahead of his time protecting his female staff. He offered in the same facilities nursery for the children of his employees.
Female staff working on the delicate
A RAPID WORLDWIDE EXPANSION
At that time his “Flagship” in Paris installed it in the aristocratic Place Vendome, and quickly the big cities saw the Coty shops appear in the most emblematic avenues.
Already in 1905, New York, London, Brussels, Dublin, Milan, Montreal, Munich, Sydney, Johannesburg, Mexico and Buenos Aires, were the first cities of an unstoppable progression that reached world-wide dimension in the first years of the 20th century.
from Coty’s shop
in the Place Vendome
NEW YORK CATALOGUE, 1925
Catalogue image: Juanjo Ruiz Crivillé Collection
ONLY QUALITY AND TALENTS
Coty implemented the concept of quality and innovation in everything he did. René Lalique’s bottle creations for him are works coveted by collectors and occupy a prominent place in museums.
Notable artists were involved in the realization of his advertising, among them the Luxembourg photographer Edward Steichen and the French painter Charles Loupot, who made one of the most avant-garde images for a poster of the brand.
Poster of Charles Loupot
Reproduction of an advertisement from the early 1930s for the promotion of
AIR SPUN facial powders with a photograph by Edward Steichen.
Steichen, a 20th century photography giant, considered the first fashion photographer in history,
worked for Vanity Fair and Vogue magazines and also directed the photography section
of the New York Museum of Modern Art, MoMA.
Facial powder packages designed by René Lalique for Coty that appear in Steichen’s advertisement.
Juanjo Ruiz Criville Collection.
The emblematic “Flagship” of the Place Vendome was also immortalized in an advertisement.
Coty also innovated by creating the first Magazine owned by a perfumery company.
This initiative has proved to be extraordinarily long-lasting, was still being published in 1987
GUARDIANS OF THE MEMORY OF FRANÇOIS COTY
Association François Coty
Chaired by Véronique Coty, the mission of the association is to make known the work of its ancestor François Coty. In order to transmit the fascinating history of man, to expose the beauty of his creations and to honour his memory as a great creator of perfumes, the association works through two main axes, one dedicated to the general public and the other to the creators of perfumes.
“La ligne de vie parfumée de François Coty” is the personal collection of Véronique Coty. She is constantly looking for great pieces to present to the public the most complete collection of François Coty’s creations. The Collection is presented as a chronology of olfactory creations, from the first century-old perfume bottles signed by René Lalique, to the last fragrances Coty made in his lifetime.
Each year the Association announces the François Coty Award, a prestigious event that brings together the actors in the world of perfumery, annually rewarding the work of a perfumer-creator who recalls the audacious spirit of François Coty’s fragrances.