The origins of perfumery contributed to his legend. Ingredients necessary to the amalgam were ambergris, taken from the inner ear of the Sperm whale, and musk, from the abdominal sac of the male musk deer of Lapland or the rare fatty substance extracted from a sac behind the testicles of the wild civet cat of Southeast Asia (after the captured beast was fed on bananas and slightly rotten fish entrails to flavor the secretion).
Coty, and most modern of parfumiers, relied on compounds of crushed and liquefied flower petals, or their chemically blended resemblances, to accomplish the sorcery of aroma.
Behind locked doors and sequestered with his collection of odoriferous plants from his native Corsica and from the flower fields of the Midi region of Grasse-rose petals, genét, lavender, mimosa reduced to elixir, to be combined with nutmeg or vanilla, citronelle or ginger, and in the ultimate stage submitted to a fixative of alcohol to prevent decay. . . Coty conjured his commodity of sensual essences. Seventy-five workers had toiled under the southern sun harvesting a ton of flowers petal by petal, distilled into a mere kilo of attar of rose or jasmine, at an equivalent of $240 per kilo. It was a tedious and intricate process, critical at every stage in the creation of a successful scent and the eventual voila!
The first work Coty found in Paris was as un nez for the prestigious Guerlain firm, freelancing his own formulas on the side. Pioneers in the industry were the Guerlains, Jacques and Aimé, who in their day blended each bottle of perfume to satisfy individual client preference in the manner of a fashion salon draping a garment to measure (or rather like a pharmacist preparing drugs to individual prescription). Guerlain changed all that at the turn of the century by successfully promoting a “universal” perfume under the trade name Jicky.
The ambitious Coty was said to have achieved an initial success by dropping a mason jar of his private blend on the floor of the department store Printemps, an aromatic spill that so excited women shoppers that they demanded the store stock Coty’s concoction. In any case the name Coty became known apart from his connection to Guerlain, which led to his dramatic move from Guerlain at 23 place Vendome to his own establishment directly across the square at 2 place Vendome.
Following the trend of Guerlain’s success with Jicky, Coty marketed his own universal scent under the name La Rose Jacqueminot, “rose" for the cabbage rose that anchored his formula, “Jacqueminot” for a French general Coty happened to admire.
To enhance the value of his expensive elixir, Coty presented each bottle of perfume in its own silk-lined casket like some precious gem, the bottle itself an Art Nouveau design by the famous glazier Lalique- but mindful of the middle-class market for his expensive essences, the flasks interior was reduced by thickening the glass, to make certain perfumes deceptively affordable.
Having fulfilled his commercial ambitions (bolstered by founding his own banks to finance his expanding empire), Coty embarked on the acquisition of Parisian journals to attack his enemies on the Left and disseminate his turgid philosophy of the Right. His private army, Solidarite’ Francaise, was modeled on Mussolini’s Blackshirts-seldom paraded in public but prepared to “defend" the cause when called upon. Coty's rabble-rousing editorials were ghost-written, and the arts page reflected. his retrograde tastes with the employment of fellow xenophobe Camille Muclair as art critic for L’Ami du Peuple. Muclair wielded a vitriolic pen against “invaders" from outside the borders of France who had come to dominate Parisian art galleries; he railed against the mostly Eastern European and Russian expatriate painters and sculptors of l’Ecole Juive: Pascin, Kisling, Soutine, Chagall, Lipchitz, and, in mistaken vehemence, against “half-Jews like Picasso[l]”
In a social climate where political ambitions could be fostered and fed by salon life-the typical Parisian salon having shifted from the original dynamic (or subterfuge) of promoting art and culture to a much more evident political stance-and although many upper-class Parisians were in accord with his Rightest perspectives, Francois Coty was too reclusive and distrustful to engage in political nourishment by way of a salon. He had run for office on only one occasion, and been elected Senator from Corsica, then was shown to have paid for the majority of votes cast in his favor (which was a time-honored custom among Corsicans, who were known to count even the dead as voters), and was removed from office. Coty possessed a mistress (more than one over the years), but not a mistress powerful enough to establish an entourage for his support, in the manner of the marquise de Crussol, whose salon promoted the policies and politics of her lover Edouard Daladier; or more notably that of Madame de Portes, whose lover Paul Reynaud was the centerpiece of attraction chez elle.
Frederick Worth had received the royal imprimatur of a sort when the Empress Eugenie broke with tradition allowing for the first time a foreigner (Worth was born in England) and a MAN to drape her
form and flesh. This was a daring novelty at a time when women Personally chose their fabrics, then engaged a trusted seamstress to fashion a garment a la mode. Thus Worth became the first true couturier in
Paris. There was no question of impropriety of male dressmaker draping female client: Worth kept an inventory of dressmakers’ dummies like a waxworks museum, the mannequins modeled on the forms of each individual patron of the establishment, convenient to the infinite numv ber of fittings required. By Worth’s employ of inanimate mannequins, his fashionable clientele of stage and court-the comtesse Greffulhe, the actress Lillie Langtry, the empress herself-were spared the tediousness of pins and hems and last-minute stitches. The final execution was supervised by maitre Frederick himself, accompanied by his beautiful wife, Marie, in the manner of a society physician who discreetly includes his nurse in the examination room for that ultimate and intimate inspection.
Inspired by Frederick Worth (actually an apprentice at the house of Worth for several seasons), Paul Poiret was the next male fashion designer to dominate the market for upscale adornment. Something of a fantasist and sensual eccentric, Poiret was convinced that he had been a Persian prince in another life and therefore he designed, and lived, according to his theory of reincarnation, with princely sumptuousness and abandon. He did, however release women from the hourglass cages of Madame Gringoire (corsetiere to royalty and the rich), whose whalebone straightjackets were de rigueur until Poiret appeared on the fashion scene. He emphasized the vivid fauve shades Matisse favored, and be dressed women in loose-fitting, free-flowing garments modeled on the ballet costumes of Léon Bakst for the Diaghilev ballet production of Mille et une nuits. Poiret’s wife was said to be endowed with wealth, but evidently not rich enough to sustain the fashion designer’s reckless extravagances; he went through her fortune, and several others, before ending alone in an attic (but an attic on the fashionable Faubourg Saint-Honoré) with a list of names pinned to the wall entitled: “Friends Who Have Not Helped Paul Poiret.”
ONE WHOSE NAME would have been on the list of neglectful friends, or rather on a list of implacable rivals, was Gabrielle Chanel who eventually usurped the designer’s sovereignity.
-Paris was the ideal setting for a reunion, an Operatic backdrop for an affair, so the mother contrived to bring the lovers together. Nabokov would later characterize lrina's mother as a "procuress.”
Less romantic than the setting and circumstances of the affair was Irina's employment as a poodle trimmer for a coiffeur of pets but Russian aristocrats were reduced to ridiculous and desperate comprtr mise in the narrow Paris market for émigré employment.
Vladimir had willingly allowed himself to be seduced, and eagerly continued the affair, though he was so stricken with guilt that he developed a disfiguring case of psoriasis. The émigré colonies in Paris and Berlin were in close touch, so it was not surprising that Vera began to receive anonymous notes in Cyrillic characters revealing Vladimir’s renewed liaison with Irina. When Vera did at last obtain an exit visa for herself and son Dimitri and could join her husband in Paris, she confronted him with the rumors of his adulterous affair. Vladimir denied everything. This only compounded his guilt and misery, for he dearly loved his wife and not, he realized belatedly, Irina.
It was sometime during this period of frustration, remorse, and depression (though Nabokov thought it might have been during “a severe attack of intercostal neuralgia”) that he ventured to the Jardin des Plantes where he might contemplate the celebrated ape in the Left Bank said to be the first animal inveigled into producing a drawing that suggested human attributes.
"The first little throb of Lolita went through me . . . the impulse had no textual connection with the ensuing train of thought, which resulted, however, in a prototype [of Lolita], a short story of some thirty pages long.”
The drawing the ape had sketched in charcoal “showed the bars of the poor creature’s cage.”