The coty girl: A fashion doll with a French flair

The coty girl: A fashion doll with a French flair

Mandeville, A Glenn

The Coty Girl tale harks back to a legend in the perfume industry with roots reaching back 100 years and across the ocean to France. Hers is an exciting saga, framed against a subtle battle between a doll company that had lost control, and one whose only desire was to dominate the fashion doll market.

During the heyday of late 1950s fashion dolls, the Arranbee Doll Company was responsible for introducing children and some astute collectors to a ravishing, 104-inch doll with a pedigree. This beguiling beauty was simply called the Coty Girl doll.

She closely resembles her almost– identical twin, Ideal Toy Corporations’s Little Miss Revlon. While both traded off powerhouse cosmetic names to legitimize their market positioning as high-style glamour dolls, few know just how far back Coty Girl’s story begins.

The rise of a French entrepreneur

Francois Coty was a descendant of a first cousin of Napoleon Bonaparte and was born in the 1870s on the French island of Corsica, off the coast of Italy. Orphaned as a young man, he was raised by his grandmother. While not from a family of privilege, Coty was ambitious. He was placed as a secretary to an influential Frenchman who would introduce him to people of privilege and influence.

Soon Coty met a chemist who dabbled in making fine fragrances packaged in inexpensive bottles. Coty thought that people of means would be more eager to purchase a perfume if it were elegantly packaged, perhaps with silk-lined boxes and engraved labels on exquisitely hand-blown glass bottles.

Legend has it that young Coty appeared at the Grands Magazins du Louvre department store in Paris with his new perfume, La Rose Jacqueminot. Unwelcome by clerks, he dropped the bottle on the floor. When it shattered, women (legend also has it that Coty had hired them) demanded to know what the heavenly fragrance was and where they could purchase it. The incident eventually persuaded all of the major department stores in Paris to carry Coty’s fragrances.

While Coty evidently possessed the ability to the attract the attention of the buyers of department stores, he also proved to be a genius in the realm of packaging. Soon famed glassmaker Rene Lalique was designing bottles for him. Coty also induced the renowned Baccarat factory to fashion perfume bottles for him.

Coty founded his own perfume company in 1904. By 1910, he was recognized as the leading perfumer in France. At the end of World War I, Coty began to establish a presence in the American marketplace. As returning soldiers brought back Coty’s perfumes as gifts for their wives and sweethearts, those products became desirable here.

By the 1920s, Coty owned houses throughout the world and possessed an art collection that museums could only envy. By all accounts, he was considered one of the wealthiest men in the world. He died in 1934. His firm’s success continued after World War II, when Europeans and Americans could take the time to turn their attention to lighthearted pursuits such as glamour after years of economic and war-related hardships.

New dolls make a fashion statement

The names of dolls are important. When miniature fashion dolls became a hot commodity in the late 1950s, there was little difference among them. A name would sell a doll.

This certainly proved to be the case when the Coty Girl doll entered the fashion doll scene. Today, collectors find it very difficult to distinguish her from her competitors. The resemblance, of course, was intentional. Arranbee had paid a considerable amount of money for the Coty license and needed to profit from that investment.

While old catalogs are scarce, most doll authorities believe that Ideal introduced Little Miss Revlon in 1957. An advertisement in Toys and Novelties from February 1957 announces to buyers that a doll is available that bears the famous Revlon name, wears a bra and girdle and comes with stockings, high heels and an entire wardrobe of boxed outfits suitable for any time of day or night.

The Arranbee Doll Company was experiencing a time of transition and needed to hit a homerun in the doll world. Arranbee introduced a fashion doll that superficially was identical to Little Miss Revlon but had subtle differences.

Little Miss Revlon was a strung doll

with a swivel waist. Arranbee’s Coty Girl doll was jointed in all the same places, but was not strung. Vinyl flanges held each piece together, and the waist could not rotate. Another major difference was that the hair of the Coty Girl doll was water settable and tightly held the set. The Revlon doll had Saran hair that could be set, but the fun was short-lived without a generous application of hair spray.

Still, the Coty Girl doll had her advantages. Her skin tones looked creamy and rich; her hair was shiny and could be restyled easily. Most important was her dazzling wardrobe. Coty was a company with French roots, and the runways of Paris were still the catalyst for major fashion developments in America. With the Coty name, Arranbee could link its doll to the mystique of the Paris fashion world.

At a demure 10 1/2 inches, Coty Girl was a piece of small perfection, and she possessed a terrific wardrobe. Approximately 18 separate boxed outfits were available for her. The clothes had the sensibility of a high– fashion wardrobe. In magazine ads, while Revlon products appealed to an American sense of glamour, Cots seemed to exude an aura of European sophistication. Coty Girl traded on the Coty mystique. Mothers who bought Coty products could buy Coty Girl for their daughters.

By 1958 Coty Girl’s wardrobe had expanded. A giftset was available that featured the doll with a variety of outfits-a formal ensemble, a daytime dress and a dress in a Western style. Apparently, Arranbee was trying to expand the doll’s appeal by paying attention to more than one market niche.

Of interest to collectors is the fact that the head of Coty Girl doll was marked only with a “P” in a circle. Since other, very poorly made dolls were identically marked, some speculated that the possibly ailing Arranbee Doll Company was buying these dolls from a middleman manufacturer who created Coty Girl according to Arranbee’s specifications. Today, the Coty Girl doll head can be found on many, many dolls, some of a quality beneath what many collectors would consider purchasing.

This circumstantial evidence contributes to a mystery that to this day has no answer. The available evidence seems to indicate that Arranbee had contracted with another factory to manufacture Coty Girl using specific guidelines for makeup, eye choice, hair fiber and hair styles. No paper trail has come to light to prove that this is what occurred.

A change in ownership

In 1957, the Vogue Doll Company had quietly acquired the name and trademarks of the Arranbee Doll Arranbee had secured the license to manufacture the Coty Girl doll prior to the sale, then Vogue would have to renegotiate the Coty license. Because Coty Girl was a success, renegotiations probably would involve paying Coty more money. It would seem to benefit the company’s new owners if they were to continue marketing Coty Girl under the Arranbee name. The licensing agreement would remain intact-and Vogue would not appear to be competing with its own fashion doll Jill, the big sister of the famous Vogue Ginny doll. While this strategy cannot be confirmed, the fact remains that Vogue would have had much to gain by using the Arranbee name until it ceased manufacturing Coty Girl. But another development was on the horizon, and the Coty or Revlon licenses soon would cease to be a factor in the fashion doll world.

At the 1959 Toy Fair, an 11 1/2-inch doll was introduced that would radically alter the fashion doll landscape. With an attention to detailed fashions and incomparable accessories, Mattel International had entered the fashion doll market with the Barbie(R) doll. Barbie’s wardrobe, which some say was finished with as much attention to detail as doll clothing from Madame Alexander, was manufactured in quantity at a fraction of the price of comparable fashion doll clothing. Sales of the Barbie doll and her ensembles soon would outstrip the sales of the competition. Garments manufactured in the United States could not compete with the prices of those made in Asia.

An era was ending and a new one beginning. We cannot emphasize enough how quickly the fashion doll market changed during 1959 and 1960. Almost overnight, Barbie became the dominant doll, and an entire genre of 102-inch fashion dolls from the late 1950s seemed dated and passe. Looking back, it is hard to explain how a doll could come out of nowhere in a never-before-manufactured scale and undermine the years of success that previous miniature fashion dolls had enjoyed. But it happened, and the rest is fashion doll history.

The 10%-inch fashion dolls from the 1950s belong to a genre that today remains a singular testament to how adults shopped for dolls and children played with them during their era. The one doll that took them to Paris and its runways of high fashion was the Coty Girl doll. Like the products of Francois Coty, the Coty Girl doll had enjoyed a warm welcome in the American marketplace. And like Coty’s products, she had, for a time, epitomized French glamour. She was, after all, the Coty Girl doll!

Barbie is a registered trademark of Mattel, Inc.

Coty and Airspun are registered trademarks of Pfizer, Inc.

Coty Girl was a registered trademark used under license by the Arranbee Doll Company.

Ginny and Jill are registered trademarks of The Vogue Doll Company.

Little Miss Revlon was a registered trademark of the Ideal Toy Corporation used under license from Charles Revlon, Inc.

Copyright Cowles Enthusiast Media Dec 2000/Jan 2001

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.