Monday, June 2, 2014

Vintage Beauty: Coty

This weekend I popped into an antiques shop, just intending (of course) to look around. It was the end of the month and I guess they were trying to make their numbers, because they were basically letting me set my own prices for things. Although there were a lot of things that I was tempted by, the only thing that I ended up getting was this Coty powder compact, which I believe is from the 50s. I don't think it had ever been used, judging by the paper that was still covering the powder, and it was only $10; although I don't know much about this sort of thing, it definitely feels like a good deal. I've looked around a little bit online for information and not found that much, so if anyone knows anything about this - a more accurate date, for example - I would love to hear it.
Also, do you think it's safe for me to use this? It's the right color for me, and I figure powder never really goes bad, but who knows what could have gotten on it in the 50 years or so it's been floating around?

I'd heard the name Coty plenty of times before; their Airspun Powder is still a hit with a lot of the vintage bloggers that I read, but I didn't know much else about them until I started doing research this weekend.
Coty was founded in France in 1904 as a perfume company. Although the founder, Francois Coty, started out using castoff oil concentrates that other perfumiers rejected, in a few years he was doing well enough to open his own factory outside of Paris. A couple of years later, he began collaborating with artists on the packaging that helped make his brand a household name. His Lalique perfume bottles were works of art in their own right, and Leon Bakst, who designed sets for the Ballet Russes, created the iconic packaging for AirSpun Powder that is still in use today.
On a side note, AirSpun Powder was developed in response to another cosmetic company's "bite test." Lady Esther, the most popular brand of the time, had developed a much finer face powder that most of the competition, and to prove how much better their stuff was, they told women to put a pinch of their face powder between their front teeth and grind down on it to see if it was gritty. Since no one else could pass the test, Lady Esther rocketed to the top, and other cosmetics companies scrambled to develop something as finely milled. Can you imagine what beauty reviews would be like today if it was common practice to chew on the products? Michelle Phan, get on that shit.

Coty was one of the first companies to master the whole upscale/downmarket thing that brands like Armani are so good at today. He developed special perfume blends for royalty, but even shop girls could afford a small bottle of his fragrance. When soldiers coming home from WWI brought his products home for their wives and girlfriends, the brand, already popular in Europe, started to gain traction in the US.

The company was hard hit by the Depression, and their profits were stagnant through the 60s, when they were purchased by Pfizer. These days, they are best known, once again, for their perfumes, which they develop both under the Coty label and for other brands. They do still make that famous AirSpun, though.

I just want to leave you with one last gem.
The text, if it's not clear:
Jonteel  ~Will Not Grow Hair On Your Face~
Is that a thing that happens? Please tell me that didn't used to be a thing.


  1. I would be hesitant to use the powder just because makeup does expire but also because who knows what kind of ingredients they used back then for makeup that may not even be good for your skin now (this is coming from someone with sensitive skin so I may be being a bit too cautious). The packaging is beautiful though and I think its a great thing to have just for display/ makeup memorabilia. I think if you are really tempted maybe try it out once and see what happens/if it even works.

    1. I've also got pretty sensitive skin, so I'm also kind of hesitant about it. Some folks on IG suggested that I make a refill for it (Vixen Vintage has a post about it), so I might have that a go.

  2. "...because they were basically letting me set my own prices for things" - I die!!! :D Oh my word, I've always dreamed of walking into a vintage or antiques store and having that happen. Sure, if doing so is appropriate, I'll haggle prices 'til the cows come home, but no one has ever just let me pay what I thought was fair. Could you imagine if that's how all such stores operated - a gal can dream.

    This is a timelessly lovely find and a well priced one at that. We both had good luck on the vintage compact front recently, as this past weekend I found my first two for the shop (to be added, hopefully, in the near future once we're back from Vancouver). One has sequins and beading on it, the other the image of a majestic stag. They've very different, yet also so similar and instantly call to mind images of stylish vintage gals of yore powdering their noses in, I like to think, splendidly glam settings.

    ♥ Jessica

    1. I was really surprised at it, and I wish they'd had more things that I was interested in, because I would have probably gone to town. Still, I've found a surprising number of vintage stores in Chicago that have a very relaxed attitude towards pricing, particularly the dusty old ones that mostly just have knick knacks. On the one hand, it's unfortunate that they're struggling, but on the other hand, I'm kind of benefiting from it.
      Your finds sound lovely! I can't wait to check them out in the shop.