Originally published in June 2007 in Cosmetics Magazine
(Originally appeared in The Coty Trends Report — special supplement to Cosmetics Magazine)
François Coty had a sense of destiny so strong it practically radiated from his pores. In 1908, the 34-year old former haberdasher and journalist with the Rudolph Valentino gaze opened his first perfume shop in Paris in the fashionable Tuileries Quarter. To mark the occasion, he had new business cards printed that stated his qualifications, as he saw it:” Artist, Industrialist, Craftsman, Economist, Financier and Social Scientist.”
Perfecting his signature (soon to be logo) was the next order of business. If ever there was a dead give-away for the breadth and scope of this Corsican native’s ambition, it was in the way he signed his cheques —with a sweeping “C” that appeared to wrap itself around the world and stretch across the page (read: landscape) before catching up with the rest of his name. Apparently, that’s what you did when you were a direct descendant of Napoleon Bonaparte.
But in Coty’s case, his ambition was equally matched by talent. His philosophy was simple: “Give a woman the best product you can, present it in a perfectly beautiful flacon with impeccable taste, ask her to pay a reasonable price and that will be the birth of a business the world has never seen.” Almost overnight Coty was able to change the public’s Victorian attitude toward perfume from a cocked eyebrow to a knowing smile. By 1914, Coty was mass-producing perfumes in France, the U.K. and the United States, but not Canada, which was still importing English flower waters.
Throughout the teens, twenties and thirties, Coty capitalized on his keen understanding of popular culture and, as he saw it, the desire of every woman to step into the fantasy world of heiresses and movie stars. He hired the most sought-after artists of his day — notably Baccarat Glassworks and famed jewelry designer René Lalique — who added gossamer wings and sparkling globes to his perfume bottles and turned the vanity table into a dazzling stage for the imagination. Coty also teamed up with scientists to concoct blends that combined natural and synthetic extracts to ensure the affordability and longevity of his perfumes, everything from Emeraude and L’aimant, two blockbuster scents, to Chypre, his highest creative note. The latter enticed the modern woman to go beyond heavy florals of rose and lavender and try a more earthy blend of citrus, oakmoss and labdanum.
With his success of his fragrances, it wasn’t long before Coty expanded his offering to include creams, soaps and face powders. By the time of his death in 1934 more than 36 million women around the world were dusting the shine off their noses with Coty’s air spun powders.
After the war, under the leadership of Jean Despres, Coty’s star salesman, the company added colour cosmetics to its lineup and created a must-have item with Coty 24, the industry’s first long-wearing matte lipstick from 1955. This was followed in the 1960s by a heady musk scent called Jovan. Launched during the height of the sexual revolution, Jovan, like so many of Coty’s original hits, was designed to capture the spirit of the times.
When Phizer bought Coty in 1968, Despres stepped down and for the next four decades the company went into mergers and acquisitions mode. It purchased Lancaster Skin Care, Rimmel Cosmetics and Unilever’s entire perfume holdings, including its designer fragrances — all strategic conquests that surely would have met with Coty’s approval.
But it wasn’t until the launch of Jennifer Lopez’s JLO Glow in 2002 that the company, now under the ownership of Joh. A. Benkiser, demonstrated some of the excitement and flair of its founder for collaborating with superstars and spotting a trend in-the-making. Today celebrity fragrances is the hottest category going, accounting for seven percent of the prestige market, and Coty Inc. is single-handedly credited with creating and driving this global phenomenon.