Paris de Coty Vintage Perfume: Star Chemistry

Credits: film stills of actors Berenice Bejo and Jean Dujardin in the 2011 film The Artist can be found numerous places online; bottle image of Paris de Coty perfume is from QuirkyFinds.com, where both this (empty) Lalique bottle can be purchased, as well as the perfume itself (a vintage bottle, not the same as this one, but very pretty and also includes the very pretty box - see details, above).

January 22, 2014:

Paris de Coty vintage perfume has long been discontinued, but can be sought out at online auction sites like eBay. CURRENTLY (as of the date of this post) there is a partially used bottle for sale at a cool-looking site called Quirkyfinds.com (which is also where I found this photo of the empty vintage Lalique bottle, which is also for sale on that site).

My review is based on a decant sent to me some time ago by my friend Meg (aka Olenska) of Parfümieren.

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Suzanne's Perfume Journal

I should be writing about Paris, the city, as a way of writing about Coty Paris, the vintage perfume, but I can’t seem to will myself in that direction so I am pairing this elegant, polite and romantic scent with a film that matches it in mood and sensibility. The 2011, Academy Award winning film, The Artist, is the perfect vehicle for analogizing this perfume, in that it’s a film that is so retro (its exercise in creative anachronism completely surprising given the times we are living in) it strikes me as the opposite of retro: which is to say, novel. Think about it: a silent film made in a day and age when there is no silence, when talk is at a 24/7, all-pervasive high, given cell phones and the Internet and the constantly percolating social media. Not only is The Artist a silent film, it’s a black-and-white picture with a storyline that speaks directly of the Silent Film industry, with its main character caught in a times-they-are-a’changin’ conundrum that provides the obstacle to the romance at this film’s center. An old-fashioned romance in the best sense of that genre, there is nothing graphic or steamy about the love story here—nothing fraught with intrigue or deep meaning; nothing quirky and cute; nothing swashbuckling or action-adventure-like about it. What it has are the kinds of things the human heart never tires of: beauty, humor, the promise of love and the belief that good will win out. Because it delivers these things via a method of distillation—by way of everything that is stripped out of the film (sound, color, complex narrative), such that its story is related with a sweet directness and the simplest of elements—it achieves a sense of timelessness. To me, The Artist is compelling not only for its story, but for how its story is told: To watch it is to feel like one is watching a true classic film and to be reminded, in this too-much-information age, of what makes something truly classic and timeless. Though not complex, it’s timeless because of the beautiful attention to detail and the very feeling way it’s executed: it has heart.

Vintage Coty Paris is that way too. It’s not a perfume that dramatically unfolds, yet it has movement and mood: it smells like a shimmery, sequined mix of iris, violet, carnation and licorice—all cool and blue-smelling—like a twilight sky in a month when there’s still a hint of chill in the air (if such a sky had a fragrance). It’s not a perfume that is assertive or forward—it strikes me as being olfactorily polite, dreamy and detached—yet neither is it cold or remote. There’s enough fizzy warmth from its carnation heart note and enough vanillic charm in its coumarin-like base to render it engaging. Not overly familiar, in other words, but enchanting. Before I relate the actual fragrance notes in Paris (for while I say it smells of iris and violet, those are notes that my nose wrongly or rightly perceives, neither being among the perfume’s official notes), I should establish that this perfume sways to the feminine side in terms of it being a lightly powdery floral scent. That said, in finding an analogy for this perfume in the film The Artist, I need to emphasize that my analogy refers to the entire film, and not just one of its lead characters. It’s tempting to pair Coty Paris with the film’s heroine, the twinkling beauty who is Peppy Miller (played by Bérénice Bejo), but that might give you the idea that this perfume is as ultra-feminine and full of moxie as the character, when it isn’t. What it smells like to me is best described as the aura or the vibe of the film itself and of the romance between its two main characters.

For those who haven’t seen it, The Artist is a love story that takes place when the spirited Peppy lucks into a chance encounter with the silent film artist George Valentin (played by Jean Dujardin), an encounter that lands her picture in the papers and, thanks to her gumption, catapults her on a career to becoming an actress. Their encounter is brief, their attraction instant, but when two stars collide (one in the making, the other at the height of a luminous career) the trajectory is rarely smooth. Peppy’s trajectory is up and she’s loving it: she’s young, enterprising and adaptive. What’s more, she’s as much in love with George as she is with her newfound career, but it isn’t long after they meet that the silent films are giving way to the “talkies,” and as the older actor finds his own career is on the way out—for he seems unwilling to evolve with the industry or even to believe that he must—it appears as if their chances at love will accompany him on his nosedive.

George has a lot of pride—too much—but what lies beneath excess pride is a sense of dignity Peppy understands. It becomes a balancing force in their relationship, and, though there is a point where Peppy has the means to be a sugar-mama to George, that remedy doesn’t fly. Achieving a fine balance is the key to many successful ventures and often the key to the perfumes I fall in love with. There is a lot of Peppy Miller in Coty Paris—it’s decidedly feminine and, like a throwback to the days of silent films and Peppy herself, vintage-y and old-fashioned (for as modern as Peppy is, she loves in that true-blue, old-fashioned sense of the word). But there is also a good dose of George Valentin in Coty Paris: an element of starch that lends a backbone to the scent, and also of something that holds itself cool and aloft, on a higher plane from the powdery florals in this perfume. To my nose, it’s the aldehydes, which often smell cool, mineral-like and starchy to my nose, and in Coty Paris, they are rather citric as well, which is another lifting element in the composition.

The full list of notes in Coty Paris (or Paris de Coty as it is properly called; the perfume was created by Francois Coty in 1923 and has been discontinued for some time, now only available on auction sites) include aldehydes, hyacinth, lilac, heliotrope, carnation, ylang-ylang, musc keton, Bulgarian rose, civet and vanilla. Smelling the fragrance blind, before I looked up the notes, I didn’t notice the lilac; I interpreted it as a combination of iris and violet. But after reading of its presence, I found it definitely detectable about ten minutes into the perfume’s wear, and its inclusion says much about the nature of this perfume. When you think about lilacs, they are flowers that can be heady if brought indoors in big bunches, but in their natural environ they have a genteel and dainty scent; they’re not animalic and extravagant in the way of tuberose, gardenia or jasmine. Similarly, Coty Paris with its lilac and heliotrope focus is very floral and cosmetically powdery without being flashy. And in the same way that lilacs are often the first scented flowers to bloom in Spring (along with hyacinths, another note in this perfume)—the first flowers on the scene to enchant one after a long winter—Coty Paris’s lilac bloom is like the beauty mark that George Valentin bestowed, with a cosmetic pencil, on the upper corner of Peppy Miller’s mouth when she was still a fledgling actress. It imparts an air of distinction in the way that lilac jogs the mind to think, “Oh, it’s that pretty standout, lilac!”

In general, I don’t count myself among the many perfumistas who crave a lilac-inspired scent (those who speak of the long discontinued Jean Patou Vacances with reverence and wistfulness), but the lilac in Coty Paris really is like a beauty mark—an enhancement to a perfume that is already enigmatic, like a little star floating in a wondrous swath of Heaven. The aldehydes lend ethereality and starch (without veering into the sneeze-inducing, champagne-bubble crispness that aldehydes can occupy in scents like Chanel No. 22, for example); the heliotrope adds a hint of a lipstick and face-powder smell; the carnation plays against the aldehydes and violet to add a vibration of warmth; and ylang contributes some creaminess, along with the gentle vanillic base. Something I can’t identify lends an anise-like nuance to the mix that adds further vibration with its minty, hot-and-cold effect. In regard to the animalic (civet and musc keton) notes of Coty Paris, I can’t detect them, and though I usually enjoy such notes, I have no complaints that I can’t identify them here. Wearing Paris is like witnessing the Evening Star (Venus) appear on the dusky horizon; it’s the olfactory air of the Firmament caressing its glowing star, and that’s a show that never gets tiring—even without a soundtrack, even when its twilight-blue rendezvous fades to black-and-white.