Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Ghost of All Yesterday's Parties: Coty Nuance

(image: stevesvintageads)
Coty's Nuance was released in 1975. It was the era of women's liberation and Helen Reddy had a little diddy on the radio that you may recall titled, I Am Woman. In that same year, Prince Matchabelli released Aviance, a fragrance marketed to the suburban housewife with fantasies of liberation. The tag line: "I've been sweet and I've been good, I've had a whole full day of motherhood, but I'm gonna have an Aviance night." Even if it was just a moment in the 70's I recall those ads vividly. A frumpily dressed house wife strips into lacy nothings and greets her man at the door. The print campaign consisted of a  full-page shot of the man leaning against the doorway, as seen through the bare legs of what is his loving, laying-in-wait wife- but you can't find that ad online!

(imagestate.com)
Also, recall the revolution that was Charlie, the scent for the modern woman released by Revlon just two years earlier in 1973. Charlie was raking it in with its cute, fresh working woman advertising campaign. So there was for mainstream, middle class America a multitude of images competing to define the "new" modern woman. She brought home the bacon and fried it in the pan (nothing new there but it was recycled to sound pretty good for those with short memories), even if she was portrayed as a strictly neophite version of the working woman... These scents were part of  the landscape of the brave new world of the 1970s. The fragrances were designed and driven by their advertsing campaign and marketing strategists, rather than having the advertisement designed to serve the real product, fragrance. The makers of these scents were more driven by Wall Street concerns, than any tradition or practice of art. They needed something to appeal to the spirit of the day and sought something that would oppose the conventional tastes of previous generations. In the case of perfumes, that happens to include some glorious, stunning creations, fine fragrances of  the 1940s and 50s from Dior and Guerlain and the like. So instead they gave the American consumer something new, something cheaper and also much more vulgar. In a way, the new fragrances didn't even need to smell so good. There is a quote from someone at Prince Matchabelli, I think, saying something like that Aviance sold well, despite not smelling very good, even to the ones who were making and selling it. But it appealed and in the end, won many dollars of sales through its advertising story. It promised just the right thing, at the right time. Nuance was Coty's answer to what perfume the modern 1970's woman wore. Coty tried to be right there with the 1970s zeitgeist but chose to play up the indivdiuality aspect, and struck a chord with the do your own thing generation. Nuance's selling point wasn't about it's big up-front message of a new attitude, but just a deft use of one of the oldest tricks in the book- "if you want to capture someone's attention, whisper... " It was touted at the time that it developed differently on each woman and created a lasting, evolving impression. Don't forget that Coty was once a great French house and had the tradition of designing great fragrances in their past. I recall magazine advertisements at the time, or possibly television spots, telling that Nuance gave each woman something of her own signature scent. I think I actually bought it for my mother one mother's day, comforting myself that it was a truly special gift by virtue of it's magical property of smelling different on different women. She was very sweet to wear it a while back then.  It was ubiquitous in the stores back then, too, and for many years afterwards. I believe it has been discontinued, and if you check at on line etailers it is growing more scarce, although I know there must be plenty of new old stock bottles out there collecting dust across the USA.

(image: mississauga at kijiji)

I have my stash of Nuance from an old drug store byout that resulted in a number of small Christmas tree decoration style bottles full of the cologne version. Coty often offered it's yearly perfume releases packaged as Christmas ornaments during the holidays (...to continue the tangent thread of my nutty, out of time Christmas fragrance binge...). Nuance opens with a burst of aldehydes and soft fruity rose, a touch of cinnamon spice and more than a touch of finely milled, mild French soap note including hints of woody aromatic lavendar. It has shadows of a woody, even mossy greeness and the whole is blanketed in Coty's 1970 era musk, which has a rich vanilla sweetness to it. Nuance does indeed tell a story; it opens in control and assertive, the office gal who plays it pretty tough at the local bar after work but quickly reveals herself to be more tender and tentative, a shy and probably pretty girl who only lets her hair down loose when she thinks no one is watching, in the garden. The spice and aldehyde give it that inital push in the brash direction, and the lavendar lets you know this isn't just any shrinking violet in a skirt but before anyone forms any firm conclusions, the vanilla softens 'em up and reels 'em in.  The lasting impression is soapy, musky and a little sweet. I think Nuance probably has some well deserved fans out there because at this point, even to me, nothing smells exactly like it any more. It's ironic, because at one point in time Nuance was impossibly derivative; now it is more like iconic. And better smelling than Aviance or Charlie, imo.
The Vintage Perfume Vault, where the scent of yesterday's vogue lives.