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Coty's last perfume and the aldehyde connection

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Complice was originally released in 1934, the year Coty died. It was subsequently relaunched in 1973 under the title Complice by François Coty.

Complice is a cool creamy bouquet, aldehydic and lightly pink; a soft abstract floral that clearly owes a lot to Ernest Beaux. Complice is a fine aldehydic (at least in the 1973 version) but it's nothing special. It stands alongside Infini and 1000 which were released the year before but doesn't really outshine them. The interesting thing about this last perfume signed by Coty isn't what it is but when it re-appeared.

The aldehydic genre was originally invented in the 1920's when Chanel released their ground breaking No5. There's no arguing the aldehydes were a sensation in the twenties, but they've also been linked with the seventies. Is it really the case that the aldehydes were a seventies genre? And how popular were they back then? Let's have a look, and while we do, let's try to see why Coty Inc decided to relaunch a sixty year old aldehydic in 1973.

In 1971 and 72, there were four aldehydic feminines released to market, but in 1973 there were 8, including the Coty. The next year the number was five. These are low numbers, but none-the-less Complice was part of an unusual spike of aldehydic releases which saw their numbers double. To put this into context, the total number of feminine releases that year was 23.
After this flare up, if that's what it was, the aldehydic continued to be not very popular, perhaps the sales were not too good and other houses fought shy of jumping on what may have looked like a flimsy bandwagon. Releases continued to be desultory, with five aldehydes in 1975 and four in '76. But in '77 the number shot up to eleven, and then continued with ten in '78 and eleven in '79. For whatever reason, the aldehydic seemed to have captured the popular imagination and took off as a genre. These are the stats, which have been drawn from the database here on Basenotes.

In the 1950's, 6% of 200 releases in the database contained the note aldehydes or aldehyde, with
16% of 121 in the 60's,
22% of 289 in the 70's,
16% of 446 in the 80's, and
3% of 1156 in the 90's.

There were also some aldehydic masculines released during this time but I have ignored them for the purposes of this analysis.

Although the aldehydic was a staple offering from the sixties to the late eighties, it suddenly boomed in 1977. Between 1977 and 1979 aldehydics made up 27% of new releases. More were issued in those three years than the rest of the decade. And the trend continued during the early eighties with 35 aldehydics being released, but this was an expanding market and their share fell to 24%. Between 1984 and 87 the aldehydic accounted for 17% with 28 new titles, but from 1988 on, the trend had run its course and by the final year of the decade the number of new aldehydics had slumped to three.

The peak period for aldehydics was the eleven years between 1977 and 1987, and although the rise in popularity began in the late seventies, twice as many aldehydics were issued in the eighties than in the shorter space of the seventies : 63 to 32. This would appear to be a more or less continuous level of activity, but the same ratio extends across the two decades as a whole; twice as many aldehydics were released in the eighties : 135 compared to 63 in the seventies. Even the peak year was in the eighties : 13 in 1981 as opposed to 11 in 1977.

So, to say that the aldehydic feminine was a seventies style is somewhat wide of the mark. I would say this hard and cool perfumery style belongs to the eighties. But that would only be correct if we define the eighties as being the Thatcher decade, starting with her election in 1976, and eventually going into overdrive in 1986 when the financial Big Bang catapulted free market economies into the digital age.

But what does this tell us about Coty Inc deciding to relaunch François' last perfume in the seventies? Well, just as the aldehydic trend was one year out for the 'Thatcher decade', Complice was a year early for Coty's centenary. No doubt they saw Complice as a business opportunity - as well as maybe a commemoration - and were hoping to cash in on some resurgence of the aldehydic style. In fact it wasn't too long after the reissue of Complice that the aldehydic did enjoy its swansong; a second era of big money and high living (for some) - the same as it had been the first time round for the genre - in the Roaring Twenties.

Without sentimentalising a figure who was one of the most controvertial characters in the history of perfume, Complice (which means partner in crime) is a fitting tribute to a tycoon who was not only one of the richest men of his age, but was instrumental in creating brilliant new genres like the Amber, and Chypre.

Updated 10th December 2020 at 03:37 PM by Wild Gardener



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