Coty? Or Guerlain?

Lajos und Odon by Joseph Rippl-Ronai.jpgNot that you have to choose,  this is not one of those walk-the-plank propositions I see on other blogs, where the writer wants you to choose once and for all, usually between Guerlain and Chanel.  And anyway, this is not so difficult-  if you like more naturals and modern elegance you go with Chanel, of course, and if you like anything sensually baroque or gourmand, you go with Guerlain, right?

My question, however is a little more profound because once upon a time so many of the Guerlains were Cotys.

If you are relatively new to the world of perfume history, you may not know that back in the early twentieth century, a Corsican who had changed his name to Coty dominated the world of women’s scent.  He had a blockbuster fragrance in L’Origan in 1905, and went on to have more: Emeraude in 1921, and L’Aimant (Coty’s answer to No5 ) in 1927.  These were on top of his other hits, la Rose Jacqueminot in 1906, and the innovative Chypre of 1917.  The onslaught of Coty appeared to be unstoppable.

However then, as now, lots of perfume companies compete by letting the competition innovate for them and then perfecting the innovation.  Guerlain had been in the habit of following this business model for some time, and when Coty came along, it was soon evident that a lot of the Guerlain perfumes smelled very like their Coty competitors: Shalimar (1925) strikingly like Emeraude; Mitsouko (1919) very like Chypre; Apres L’Ondee (1906) and later, L’Heure Bleue (1912) were very like L’Origan .

Oh well, originality isn’t everything.  Sales are, though, and you soon see and smell the progression.

(You can still buy the old Coty bottles, though you probably don’t want to.  They are shabby, dowdy things and not nearly so nice as a new Chanel or Estée Lauder and so much less charming than those adorable Ineke packages.  Even Patricia de Nicolai out-packages old Cotys.  I advice you to buy nearly anything else, since old Coty perfumes smell VERY OLD LADY.   Especially Chypre, that is horrible stuff and you absolutely do not want it. Seriously now, people, you don’t.)

But if despite my warnings, you persist in getting some old Coty perfumes – and I’m not talking about Truly Lace or Vanilla Fields – you will smell something rather wonderful: a perfectly tested and thought out formula.  Coty was never about prestige. If ever a perfumer was a perfumer of the people, then it was Coty.

Guerlain, on the other hand, knew the power of exclusivity, the click of the closing door and the frown of the doorman, the velvet rope barring your path.  Basically, no Mitsouko for you, Mac, but hey, you could always buy Chypre, even if all you were buying was a bar of hand soap.

The proof in the pudding is that the Cotys, even the venerable ones, were sold in stores that were not much more exalted than the local Five and Dimes, the Targets of yesteryear.

What are the differences?  Even now the materials used for Guerlains are, to my nose, a bit more exalted.  Especially if you get perfume strength, you’re dealing with pretty high quality.  The Cotys are a little less exquisite than Guerlains, but Cotys, unlike Guerlains, do not differ at all between strengths.  Whereas the extract of Guerlain’s Jicky stresses, say, lavender and tonka bean notes over the lemon note, the edt stresses the lemon.

Coty’s L’Aimant, on the other hand, is clearly L’Aimant no matter which strength you buy. Cotys are consistent.

Also the Guerlains will exaggerate a formula for effect.  This is most obvious in creations like Apres L’Ondee. It’s clearly predicated on L’Origan (I’ve owned and worn both), but Apres is its own perfume, far more ethereal than L’Origan, which is more spicy than floral.  Even Jacques Guerlain must have felt that he did not re-do L’Origan successfully, otherwise why would he have had another shot at it in 1912, in the process producing L’Heure Bleue?

Oh, I forgot, most of the Cotys are hard to find these days, and consequently difficult to test. But if all things were equal and if you could find Cotys at every Saks or Lord and Taylor’s, which would you choose?


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11 thoughts on “Coty? Or Guerlain?

  1. Well, you know me: Coty Ho to the extreme.

    And I’m not sure why. Guerlains are, yes, more fully refined. Certainly on the more luxurious end of the spectrum.

    But those old Cotys tend to stick a phantomy, tendriled appendage right through my ribs and seize my heart – and SQUEEZE. There is an emotional impact to them. L’Origan, L’Aimant, the unruined bits of Muse, Emeraude, Chypre… each one has made me cry. There’s something to that – the only Guerlain that’s ever made me catch my breath in sheer, sudden acknowledgement of the bittersweet is Apres l’Ondee.

    Which Chypre are you talking about being “old lady” – the old vintage stuff, or the 80s “Chateau Classics” rerelease? Because the rerelease is pallid, indeed. Powdery, ladylike, pretty dull, Miss Dior with a hangover. The old parfum, now – THAT hit me like a bolt of lightning. Sampled from Surrender to Chance… and then spent probably too much for a pristine 60s bottle, which I find rather pretty in an old-fashioned apothecary sort of way. And it is glorious. Missing most of its bergamot, but that’s no sin for me as I’m just not much of a citrus gal. When I finally got the ground-glass stopper out of the thing, which entailed three doses of the freezer, two applications of alcohol to the neck, and the application of electrical-tape-wrapped needlenose pliers to the stopper, I got a bit on my finger, not even a full application, mind, and spent the rest of the day intermittently in tears, thinking about *wind* and *time* and the changing constancy of the earth.

    1. Oh I know what you mean about the tendril winding about your heart with Cotys! Oh Yes!

      The only Chypre I have smelled is the 80’s re-release, and it struck me as like Sous le Vent, just a bit dull, but was indulging in a little preventative irony here, hoping that not everyone would bid up old bits of Chypre like New York real estate on Ebay. Fat chance right? Since even that re-release is pretty good, and wonder if I should prowl about more carefully for the older stuff?

      Ruined parts of Muse? Oh no! Now that one I really do like a lot, and notice that there are two perfumes, Les Muses, and then Muse which seems older. Is Les Muses a do-over of Muse? What changed? Oh dear, now am all upset, and have had Facebook problems this morning so you can imagine!

      1. Also I forgot to ask your opinion on La Rose Jacqueminot, what did you think? Can’t draw a bead on that one myself, opinions seem to differ, and I wonder is it like Coriandre, or Une Rose (the FM) or what exactly? I figure it’s tougher than Sa Majeste La Rose.

        1. Oh. The 80s LRJ that I have reminds me most of Ungaro Diva, perhaps. Very chypre-like, lots of patchouli, some leather. Tougher than Sa Majeste for sure, perhaps more like PoaL. No, not as dark as PoaL. Something along the lines of FMK Lumiere Noire pour Femme, but not as good (I love that LNpf).

          I don’t have a reliable sample of Coriandre to compare it to, but that might be close. Une Rose I have difficulties with because of the Karanal, which gives me the Freakin’ Willies.

          1. Ah Ha! Thought it was one of those rose chypres! Lately smelled Poal thanks to Undina, and it was too strong for me. Une Rose was- I thought- a rose for a guy too strong for the average female epidermis.
            But what if La RJ is like Black Rosette? Patch, rose and leathuh? Then I’m in.

      2. I have a bottle of what appears to be 1960s Muse, and it’s age-damaged. Clearly there is SOMETHING missing in the middle of it. What’s there is really stunning – a stone-fruit opening, some lush jasmine, then a hole, and then two hours later, a soft suedelike base. Les Muses was part of that 80s rerelease (with Chypre and La Rose Jacqueminot), and it is more fruity and also very Youth-Dew, which I haaaaaaaate, in the far drydown).
        (Send me a PM on the Chypre – I have stocks of both… and La Rose J.)

  2. Can I choose neither of two? 😉

    I mean, I wouldn’t mind testing Coty if it was easily accessible but I’m not sure it’s “my” brand (well… I liked the more recent version of Chypre out of a few Coty’s perfumes I’ve ever tested but it doesn’t count) and Guerlain isn’t “my” brand either even though I have about 10 perfumes from the huge line-up that I like (and couple of them can be put even in “love” category).

    1. Of course, and I was not counting in the Chanelians and the Hermuses, both of which groups would be bereft without their favorites! Just riffing on the idea of quality perfumes that are readily available, instead of too many mediocre perfumes that are outrageously overpriced, and hard to get. Does Le Labo get it wrong, but Lush, of all companies, get it right?

      Mind you I wear Guerlain. Have for years, and just like Caron, I’ll probably always have some Guerlain bottles around,but I wish they’d decide what they are going to do about quality and IFRA restrictions.

  3. This is such an interesting idea – to re-imagine Coty back to life as a quintessential department store brand, like Estee Lauder is now. And maybe it’s no co-incidence that EL’s rise over the last 50 years has coincided with Coty’s decline. But it shows there is a huge market there for well-made fragrances, prestigious, but obtainable at reasonable prices. Narciso Rodriguez for Her also addresses this market very successfully.

    Me, I’d choose Coty over Guerlain. I love luxury but I am suspicious of needless exclusivity. The idea of a fragrance being sold at huge cost in only a few outlets, (perhaps only one city in the world) really annoys me, especially where you can be reasonably sure that there is nothing special about the product itself. Guerlain has its yearly Muguet release on the market at the moment, in a fancy bottle as usual. Get over yourself, I say.

    Also, I love the old Coty adds. They are some of the most elegant ever. For some reason, I’ve never liked the old Guerlain ads.

    1. How I wish that Coty could relaunch its old perfumes and then try to compose-slowly- a few new ones, but they are- as Mals once remarked -too large a company to do this anymore.

      Your point about the rise of EL is a very good one. I sometimes fear there will be something of a perfume “crash” because too many of the niche houses follow the same business plan: marketing to the “high end”. I know that $200.00 bottles are selling well these days, but it can’t last in a bad economy, especially as, to my nose,the quality is not there. Coty’s quote about coming up with a fine product for women and then bottling it attractively, packaging it nicely, and charging a reasonable price, is largely ignored these days. Everybody goes for those huge margins immediately. Narciso Rodriguez is one of the big exceptions, as you say, and what happened? Sarah Jessica Parker’s replicant “Lovely” jumped on that bandwagon.

      I love the old Coty ads too, although there are a few good Guerlain ones, the boat sailing over a sea of green foliage for Vetiver was always lovely, but I like the lady walking over the hill for (I believe) Emeraude, beautifully evocative of solitude and reverie.

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