Coty L’Origan and Francois Coty : Two Legends of Perfume History

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Original:

Rated 4.5 out of 5.0

Reformulation:

Rated 4.5 out of 5.0

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.

Coty_lorigan_1 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 odor 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.

Coty_fifth_avenue L’Origan used to be available quite inexpensively at various discount stores, 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 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.

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46 Comments

  • Tropical_Storm: It sounds absolutely lovely! How very sad to know we can’t get it any longer, and even sadder to think of what Coty has become. Thank you for this fascinating description of a fragrance I knew very little about. November 11, 2005 at 6:40am Reply

  • Anya: Thank you, V, for bringing us this information about Coty. I have always been fascinated by his vision in the world of perfumery, and feel his role is not recognized enough. I will have to follow your lead on the “children of L’Origan” and resniff them all. I never saw this lineage, and I thank you for the intriguing information. November 11, 2005 at 7:23am Reply

  • Karin: Years ago I was given a geneaology of perfume by an SA.

    The one up online now is similar but not readable if you try to print it out, plus it appears not to have lines drawn to the perfumes that precede or come from the perfume. That was disappointing. I would like to have mine updated.

    My old geneology starts with L’origan as an original line, then goes down to meet the line at the left coming from Fracas (original beginning of a new line) thru Jungle Gardenia. Together they go to Cerissa, then Chloe and Jontue, etc. (It doesn’t show any of the new ones like Poison, it is too old.)

    The new genealogy starts with Apres L’ondee to L’origan to L’Heure Bleu…the line shifts right to Blue Grass, Canoe, then a bit more right to Oscar, etc.

    Right is leaning toward ambery. Left is leaning toward (long ways left) aldehydic. (http://www.leffingwell.com/h%26rfragrance/poster_genealogie_feminin.pdf)

    I used to love the way this smelled. I suppose that was back in the 70s. I never bought it, it was always a little too much for me when I was younger. I bet I’d like it today too. I suppose what I smelled had not been tweaked? It really was a lovely fragrance, and as usual you described it beautifully! November 11, 2005 at 8:34am Reply

  • Karin: ps my old genealogy, left is going to floral-fresh, right is going to aldehydic. November 11, 2005 at 8:35am Reply

  • Anya: Karin, this link did not work for me at first, so I clipped the /poster on bit, and got to the parent directory. From there I clicked on the /poster_genea bit and it loaded. Hmm. Wonder if I could take this to Kinkos and get it printed out.

    Thanks for the link, I appreciate this information November 11, 2005 at 10:28am Reply

  • Robin: V, thank you for this wonderful post. I have tried the modern version and did not care for it, although even the vintage would probably be wasted on me. November 11, 2005 at 10:46am Reply

  • mreenymo: V, this is a great post for a Friday morning. Thank you!

    I would have loved to smell and test the original L’Origan, but will not touch the one sold on-line, as I know it is not the same. Just like L’Air du Temps, one of my all-time favorites, the pure essence of the original fragrance has been degraded over time.

    But tell me: I can clearly smell Oscar de la Renta in my olfactory memory. I wore it on our wedding day (many year ago!). How does L’Origan compare to Oscar?

    Hugs! November 11, 2005 at 12:09pm Reply

  • Diane: Dear V, thank you for a fascinating read. I have a bottle of the new version of L’Origan and think it is one of the best ultra affordable ‘fumes in the market. That said, it sounds like it would pale to the original version.

    Related, but a bit of an aside: thank goodness for eBay for the opportunity to find many vintage Coty goods! November 11, 2005 at 4:39pm Reply

  • Campaspe: Well, I have the new, $6.99 version of L’Origan and little philistine that I am, I think it’s swell.

    Although, if ever I am chez Bois de Jasmin, I will most certainly try the old version. November 11, 2005 at 10:34pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: T, he was such a fascinating man! He reached high, and indeed too high in the end. His fragrances have made such a great impact on the future of perfumery, it is incredible.

    If you are at the drugstore and have a chance to test L’Origan, by all means, do so. It is still quite interesting, even if less so than the original. November 12, 2005 at 12:13am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Anya, I feel that he deserves even more attention. I do not know if L’Origan would fit with the trends today–ok, it most definitely would not, but it is a legend, and as such, it needs as much recognition as possible. November 12, 2005 at 12:16am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Karin, thank you for the link and the genealogy description! I can definitely see a relationship between Apres L’Ondee, L’Origan and L’Heure Bleue, although the latter two are much closer to each other than to Apres L’Ondee. The similarity between L’Origan and L’Heure Bleue is quite striking, although in Jacques Guerlain fashion, L’Heure Bleue is airier and sweeter. I find both to be quite enchanting, especially from the perfume history standpoint. November 12, 2005 at 12:20am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Oh, here is the link again. It did not work because of the parantheses:

    http://www.leffingwell.com/h%26rfragrance/poster_genealogie_feminin.pdf November 12, 2005 at 12:21am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: A, I was thinking of doing the same thing. I would love a printout. November 12, 2005 at 12:23am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, I am not sure if you like L’Heure Bleue or not, but I think that you would have definitely appreciated vintage L’Origan. It is not a fragrance I would wear on daily basis, but it is quite special. November 12, 2005 at 12:24am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, oh, that is such a great memory to have associated with fragrance! Oscar de la Renta is very close, and indeed it was considered that it revived the floriental genre that L’Origan started. There are some differences: the top of Oscar de la Renta is lighter, with more orange and bergamot. The heart is similar to L’Origan, but has more green-floral notes, plus jasmine and basil. The base is woodsier. It is a beautiful fragrance. November 12, 2005 at 12:29am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: D, it pales in comparison, but it still gives you an idea of what the original was like. For $10, this is quite a bargain.

    Like you, I am thankful for Ebay too! :) November 12, 2005 at 12:32am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Stunning! I would love that bottle! November 12, 2005 at 12:32am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: F, if my vintage L’Origan can lure you to our parts, that is all I want from it. :)

    Oh, no, I did not mean to imply that the modern version is bad–it definitely gives you a taste of the era. I wish I would not test it next to the original though. November 12, 2005 at 12:35am Reply

  • Helena: I am very excited to read this article on Coty and my beloved L’Origan. Coty was a man decades ahead of his time. I used to wear L’Origan when I was a teenager and I still reach for it often. The modern version is sad in comparison to the original, however I thank heavens that it is still made available. I find Oscar to be close, but it is too sunny to satisfy my cravings. I like that dark aspect of L’Origan you described as “the leathery duskiness of musk.” Thank you for such a lovely piece. November 12, 2005 at 11:07pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Helena, thank you! I always liked Guerlain L’Heure Bleue, and realizing how similar it was to L’Origan really made for a revelation of sorts for me. Oscar is another one that I find to be similar, but yes, it is brighter and sunnier, just as you pointed out.

    Coty fragrances in general have a somber character. November 13, 2005 at 11:27am Reply

  • Helena: They sure do! Even my most melancholic perfume L’Heure Bleue is a ray of sunshine next to L’Origan. Like you, I have always liked L’Heure Bleue, but for me it is not a substitute for L’Origan. I cherish my last bottle. November 13, 2005 at 1:01pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: For someone who appreciates a somber element, Coty fragrances are perfect. Even sweet and floral L’Origan manages to convey that feeling.

    You are lucky indeed to have a bottle of L’Origan (I assume that you meant vintage). November 13, 2005 at 1:40pm Reply

  • Karin: I love that geneaology, esp the first one that I had because that showed lines like a family tree. To me, it was/is fascinating to see how a new line develops in the same category by a new perfume that fits the category but is uniquely its own fragrance.

    Mine printed in several pages that accordioned out sideways. Unfortunately some was on a black background and I had to use silver ink to make it readable. Then, somehow I’ve lost my original copy and my additional copies weren’t printed quite square.

    I could generally tell how much I would like something by where it fell and what it came down from.

    You can print out this new one, but you can’t read it. And it has no ‘family tree lines.’ I had a friend increase it so I could print it in several stages, but it still left some out, so I’ve not had any luck with it. If anyone does, let me know. November 14, 2005 at 8:27am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: I absolutely agree! It is very interesting to trace the family trees (any family trees for that matter, not just fragrances). I immediately noticed a similarity between L’Origan and L’Heure Bleue, however I would have been more hard pressed to identify it between L’Origan and Poison. However, now I can understand it better.

    I will try to do something with the new one. If I have more luck, I will let you know. Thank you for sharing the link! November 15, 2005 at 2:12am Reply

  • Karin: What I like also about the geneaology is that it shows you by how far right or left it is placed how close it falls into other notes that you like or don’t like. It’s just a very easy way for me to visualize. I was looking up a question on my old gen. last night, but it is not readable thru the black. It shows horizontal lines too, linking in some cases the top-most fragrances in certain lines. Mine only goes up (down) through the 70s tho. November 15, 2005 at 7:47am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Great resource, no doubt about that. I find genealogies more interesting to explore than fragrance family classifications. November 15, 2005 at 2:45pm Reply

  • alice: Dear V., I enjoy your comments so much!
    May I ask a question about L’Origan: is it the perfume of Coty’s powder?
    Thank you. December 2, 2005 at 5:09pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Alice, thank you very much. I have had the vintage powder that was scented with L’Origan like fragrance, but I am not sure about the recent versions. It is a lovely, soft floral scent. December 3, 2005 at 1:02am Reply

  • alice: Thank you very much for replying. I should have been more precise: I wonder if the Coty face powder (in the lovely, round paper box!) has the scent of L’Origan. My grandmother used it, and as a child I loved the mysterious and truly unforgettable, sweet scent…now after your comments I wonder if it is L’Origan, the perfume! I will have to see if the scent matches my Proustian memory (a theme on perfume pages this week)…! Thanks, Alice December 7, 2005 at 12:44pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Alice, I think the face powder had a rose-violet scent, but the best thing to do might be to try L’Origan, as it is available inexpensively from a number of drugstores and online discount e-tailers. December 7, 2005 at 12:48pm Reply

  • Lynn: As a child, I received my first bottle of L’Origin and I never forgot the fragrance. It was a gift from my Grandmother. The little bottle was tied with a ribbon and attached to a bell. I wish that I could find one like that again. I have the L’Origin that is now sold and I still love the wonderful smell. It gives me a good feeling. It is the only fragrance that I really like well enough to buy. January 8, 2006 at 1:01am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Lynn, I am always amazed how well the scent can capture certain moments and to awaken the memories. It is great that you still like L’Origan. I have never seen a bottle with a bell, but it sounds lovely. January 8, 2006 at 8:33pm Reply

  • Michelle: How wonderful to read the info and all the comments! As a small girl, my elderly aunt gave me a wonderfully scented sachet which I used as a pillow for my dolls. Later I placed it in my underthings drawer. Not until I was in the workforce did I notice the tag with the name L’Origan, and immediately began searching for it. Was able to obtain it for awhile, but how sad that Coty discontinued it! A WONDERFUL feminine (almost baby-powder comforting) fragrance! How disappointed I will be not to wear it on my own wedding day, as I had planned to as a girl. Thank you all for the education and memories! July 7, 2006 at 1:36pm Reply

  • Lulu: Victoria, thank you for your reply to my posting on Caron’s Tabac Blond. I’ve been unable to learn the year Coty’s Les Muses was launched and hope you don’t mind my picking your brain…by the way I could spend all my time reading your site…. January 10, 2007 at 12:42am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Lulu, thank you! :) Les Muses fragrance was launched in 1946. I just acquired a bottle of it, but I still have not managed to try it. January 10, 2007 at 1:13am Reply

  • Donna Bowers: Can someone tell me if L’Origan is available anywhere? Or, is there any scent that comes close at a reasonable price? What a wonderful article. Thanks April 23, 2007 at 8:56am Reply

  • Ivoire: Hello, Donna –

    yes, “L’Origan” is available at FragranceX.com (and other places, I am sure), and it’s rather inexpensive.
    Of course, I have no idea of how it compares to the original.

    And to honour this wonderful place for fragrance-lovers, I’d like to offer a tiny tidbit of trivia about this perfume (a tidbit that is neither suprising nor particularly interesting for most, I assume – except perhaps for those who are obsessively interested in the history of perfume-wearing ;).

    “L’Origan” was supposedly (and quite plausibly) the favourite perfume of one Maria Tarnowska, nee O’Rourke.
    Today, her name means nothing to most people (except, perhaps, to those who might be from the Ukraine, where the lady in question was born…;)).
    But in 1907-1910 she – and especially her trial in Venice (for incitment to murder) – was THE talk of Europe! It’s difficult even to imagine how “big” she was back then, at a time where there was no radio/TV, so people had to rely on courtrooms for entertainment…
    (Unlike today, of course. ;-))

    Anyway, she was the perfect embodiment of the “femme fatale” stereotype of the era.
    And she wore “L’Origan”.
    (Or so I am told.)

    Ain’t history fun? ;-) May 6, 2007 at 11:36pm Reply

  • Brielle: It is so sad that we cannot experience the fragrance the way it was originally intended to be. I have long turned my nose up at all things Coty, not great quality overall, to the horreur of my maman (she always used Coty fragrances, cosmetics). That all changed two weeks ago; I found a vintage bottle (unopened) of “Paris” by Coty which was from the art-deco period (20’s). I now see why this man changed the world of perfume forever. I wish, as I do with all classics, yet still available fragrances, the integrity of the original could be sustained. I know in this “modern” world, regurgitating fruity-florals 100 different ways yet all smelling vaguely the same, that the classics would not always do well…in their original versions; yet for those of us who hate change, and I do (curses to YSL Rive Gauche, too aluminum-y), why not just put the scent out to pasture. To me this would be far superior than the “invasion of the body snatchers” re- orchestrations that are occurring willy-nilly. Well, after my purist rant, I digress; I truly now understand what a modern-thinking genius Monsieur Coty was. Hopefully one day Coty (the company) will see fit to re-issue some of the classics in their original forms…oh yes, on the same day world peace occurs (smile). September 17, 2007 at 11:27am Reply

  • Derek Weston: It is deeply disappointing to finds that the new breed of Coty decision makers are breaking faith with generations of loyal, mature customers by scrapping certain items unobtainable and unmatchable elsewhere. I particularly cite Coty Wild Musk perfume oil with pheromones. Are the new Coty executives even remotely aware that this is a parfum that women with delicate skin were able to use for many years. Coty people NB: there are more important considerations than quick, flashy marketing for maximum profit. Loyalty; historical awareness, tradition, goodwill , and ethical judgement are just some. Rolls Royce could probably get away with not making spare parts for older products. They do not make this mistake, and nor should a Company with the superb tradition of Coty. November 28, 2012 at 11:15am Reply

  • Derek Weston: The pursuit by the new breed of Coty policy makers of gimmicky inferior products based upon ‘famous for a year’ sport and show biz names destroys what was the glory of Coty. The glamorous, beautiful, enchantingly perfumed women of that earlier era also had daughters, grand-daughters, nieces who might once have inherited that great tradition. It is difficult to see why anyone would fall for the new cynical opportunist marketing, and inferior products, now being perpetrated in the name of Coty. Is it too late for this once legendary marque to keep faith with its past, or does money talk all languages now? November 29, 2012 at 6:05am Reply

  • Derek Weston: How I agree with every word of the post by Brielle September 17. Surely even in the new money before all Coty, there must be a senior executive who sees merit keeping faith with the many life-long customers who bought the Coty traditional magical products? If these forums are ever read by someone with real judgement and valuing tradition, surely they can make one last offering of the great perfumes? Coty Wild Musk perfume oil with pheremones was the only parfum that a lady I care for very much was able to use, due to allergic reactions for all others. Is it too much to ask that the new breed of Coty people could remember the old company integrity that brought them to their present positions? Or does nobody care, now, about dumping those faithful customers – who also have daughters, nieces, granddaughters??? December 18, 2012 at 6:09pm Reply

  • Derek Weston: No matter how often I ‘confirm’ a subscription, my attempted posts seem to vanish with the same lack of logic as Coty show in getting rid of their classic parfums and replacing them with some pongy liquid made in a bucket pong with a celeb. name attached. Why anyone would ever follow the lead of a braindead celeb. is even more baffling. December 20, 2012 at 1:37pm Reply

    • Victoria: Are you sure? Under this post alone, there are several comments by you, and they are all visible. December 20, 2012 at 1:43pm Reply

      • Derek Weston: Thank you. I am unable to explain how it was that I could not trace any of these posts until this moment, and if the fault was mine, I am truly sorry. I do not regret any word of what I have said about New Coty abandoning life-long customers in favour of gimmicky, shallow marketing of much less worthy products.. December 20, 2012 at 3:31pm Reply

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