Before the long standing conflict in Afghanistan, one would be forgiven for thinking that a culturally and artistic civilization ever existed there. One would also be forgiven for not thinking that at one stage Kabul was ever called the Paris of Central Asia. During the 1960’s Kabul was developing a vibrant cosmopolitan mood that was once an exotic destination for the world’s fashion elite.
Kabul was emerging as a vibrant destination full of teaming traffic, fashionable stores, and an endless procession of young Americans and Europeans looking for adventure. Centuries old bazaars, Moghul gardens, museums and restaurants all added to this tapestry, along the so-called hippie trail.
During the late 60’s authentic goat-skin coats became Afghanistan’s greatest fashion export, appearing within the pages of Vogue and reinterpreted by a number of Western designers.
In 1969, this was the Afghanistan that greeted the American Vogue team, when they arrived at Kabul’s International airport. There to do a fashion shoot in Kabul showcasing Afghan fashion and the local sites, the result appeared in the December 1969 issue titled “Afghan Adventure”.
Models were photographed against a backdrop of ancient ruins and thriving bazaars. They
are a stunning set of photographs, playing with perspective and patterns, that paint a bright future for the country that has been ravaged by war.
The accompanying article also featured the Capital’s bright young things; amongst them a young fashion designer named Safia Tarzi.
I am not sure if the clothes pictured were local designs or imports that the crew had bought with them, however they display perfectly, the impact that the Silk Road was having on Western Culture. An impact that warranted an important magazine such as Vogue to come and photograph.
The question arises, now after seeing these pictures is “What would Afghanistan be like today, if there had been no wars?”
Mention the name Coty and you have a name synominous with modern day perfumery. Once at the forefront and on everyone’s lips, the company still exists however only serving as a platform for the manufacture and marketing of other brands.
Francois Coty was both a talented perfumer and a brilliant marketer. He was the first to recognize that an attractive bottle was essential to a perfume's success. Originally collaborating with Baccarat for the packaging of his perfumes, Coty's most famous collaboration was with the great ceramist and jeweler René Lalique. Lalique designed the bottles for Coty's early scents, such as Ambre Antique and L'Origan, which became bestsellers. He also designed the labels for Coty perfumes, which were printed on a gold background with raised lettering.
Coty once said; “Give a woman the best product to be made, market it in the perfect flask, beautiful in its simplicity yet impeccable in its taste, ask a reasonable price for it, and you will witness the birth of a business the size of which the world has never seen.” And how true this is!
However at first Coty had a hard time getting his fragrances on the market. So like the true visionary that he was he set off to the department stores of Paris seeking shelf space where his perfumes would get better exposure and sales.
The story is told of how the buyer at a major Parisian department store, Grands Magasins du Louvre, refused to take Coty's new perfume. On leaving the store, Coty let drop a bottle of his fragrance, La Rose Jacqueminot. Striking the hard floor, the Lalique crystal exploded like a bomb, filling the crowded store with the scent of ... La Rose Jacqueminot.
As the scent of La Rose Jacqueminot filled the air and the store a number of frenzied women (hired by Coty?) rushed around the store asking where they could buy this marvelous fragrance. The buyer for the Grands Magasins du Louvre called Coty back and a deal was made. Within days, 500 bottles of La Rose Jacqueminot were sold.
Other stores got the message and hurried to obtain Coty's perfume. By 1914 Coty was a wealthy man and his company was the world's number one seller of perfume.
By the early 70s the company had languished until being taken over by Pfizer and subsequently sold to Joh. A. Benckiser GmbH, which owns it today.
The 70’s were about the last time Coty (the company) actually cared about making real perfumes instead of regurgitating lame formulas for even lamer celebrities. The notes for Complice were left by Francois Coty before his death in 1934, hence the direct reference to him on the bottle and box. The bottle design was also made to evoke the days of yore, when Coty perfumes were poured into Lalique bottles.
Do we thank Monsieur Coty, for what he has done in making fine perfume available to the masses?
As readers of Savoir Faire would have noticed that Marchesa Casati has featured quite frequently on the pages of Savoir Faire. Even though she died in 1957, she has long continued to be a source of inspiration to new generations of artists, designers and people with a hankering for savoir faire and personal style.
After mounting debts (around $326 million in today’s terms) and an auction where her most treasured possessions were sold off she fled to London. At one stage the most wealthy and scandalous woman of her times, she died virtually penniless in London in 1957. Living off the charity of friends and family and in a variety of rented rooms, she lived out her days, not forsaking any of the savoir faire that she was known for in her past. She was even rumored to be seen rummaging in dustbins searching for feathers to decorate her hair.
Her last days were also spent making collages from cut out magazines. Here the tables are turned and this time she is the artist.
She still had presence though. Quentin Crisp left us a thoroughly wonderful description of her in this period
“Quite suddenly and simply by chance, I once met a bizarre lady while taking tea with some friends in London. She arrived wearing black velvet from head to foot, her mouth painted blood red, and carrying a very tall umbrella with a decorated handle. And, you must understand, this ensemble was being worn in the middle of the day. This picturesque ruin of a woman was very tall and thin, and gave the impression of formidable strength. It was then I was introduced to the Marchesa Luisa Casati for the first and last time. She had made her entrance into that room looking wonderful and saying very little. She wasn’t beautiful—she was spectacular. Here was a woman possessing a presence one would never forget. “
Her biographers Ryersson and Yaccarino tell us, "A later acquaintance recalled how Luisa invited him for gracious dinners of tinned food, and of her habit of telephoning him to ask with adventurous enthusiasm: 'I have ten shillings. Shall we have a bottle of cheap wine or go for a taxi ride?'" This was a life where money may have been squandered, but pleasure was not.
She died at her last residence, 32 Beaufort Gardens in on 1 June 1957, aged 76 and interred in Brompton Cemetery. The quote "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety" from Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra was inscribed on her tombstone. She was buried wearing not only her black and leopard skin finery but also a pair of false eyelashes. She shares her coffin with one of her beloved stuffed Pekinese dogs, which she was in the habit of getting stuffed when they died with the bills sent to her daughter for payment.
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