Monday, May 10, 2010

Coty Imprevu: fragrance review

One of the major pitfalls that awaits a perfume enthusiast is for them to disregard valued, glamorous specimens of the past due to the merely trendy attire of the brand hosting them in the present. Coty and their Imprévu is a case in point! Miles away from the current celebuttante fruit-salads they serve now, Imprévu is a meaty course that still retains a degree of refinement; it's fine veal served with silver tableware. The delicious name, meaning "unforeseen", predisposes for a surprising impression and indeed this feminine leathery woody chypre from 1965 is unprecedented, unique and surprising in more than one way. They had it right when they advertised: "Beyond all expectations"!

The timing in which Imprévu was introduced is crucial: On the one hand the Coty house had passed through the Symplegades of both the Great Depression and World War II and emerged still resilient, if diminished in radiance. François Coty's divorced wife had a brother-in-law, Philippe Cotnareanu, who was immersed in the business. Cotnareanu changed his name to Philip Cortney and under that pseudonym took rein of the colossal portfolio. Coty and Coty International were eventually sold to Chas. Pfizer & Co. for about $26 million in 1963, thus becoming divisions in the pharmaceuticals company's consumer products group. The 1965 launch was Coty's new perfume in 25 years! Success was almost immediate: By the end of 1968 Imprévu became the leading Coty fragrance.
On the other hand, Imprévu, composed by an unsung perfumer, also came at an opportune time in the global perfume zeitgeist: A time when greener and aldehydic scents were very popular: Yves St. Laurent had launched his glorious Y in 1964, while Guy Laroche issued the green tropical Fidji in 1966. The older favourites, Chanel No.5 and Miss Dior, were still best-sellers. But the not so griffe market presented considerable competition as well: Avon was going strong with Topaze, and Fabergé with the antithetical earthy Woodhue. Imprévu was perfect for the moment!
It's an irony and a testament to the changing tastes in fashion however that rather soon the strike of gold was at an end: Emeraude, L'Origan and L'Aimant became the long-standing classics in the Coty portfolio after the 1980s, condemning Imprévu in the disgrace of being practically given away at drugstores who sold it at seriously discounted prices. The above nevertheless is no reflection on the fragrance's value whatsoever.

Imprévu (pronounced ahm-pre-VHU) by Coty is decidedly adult, like a long sip of extra dry martini when you know you really shouldn't or the deliberate "poisonous" smear of lipstick on a man's colar. It explores several themes of yore and does so with unrefuted elegance: From the aldehydic boosting of the crisp citrus (bergamot, bitter orange) opening, reminiscent of Coty's own Chypre (the latter is fresher and somewhat more piquant overall), to the mildly leathery heart, all the way down to the foresty conifers that hide beneath the abstract flowers. Like some classic fragrances in the cuir family (notably Tabac Blond by Caron) the tannic facet of leather is boosted and contrasted by the merest touch of cloves, registered to the mind as carnation. Overall fresh in that mossy way that classic chypres are fresh rather than cloying, the scent is very well-mannered despite the earthy oakmoss inclusion. What stays on the skin poised for long when the other elements have dissipated is the creamy woodiness of that drydown phase of Bois des Îles by Chanel.

Neither too woody nor leathery, nor too chypre, but striking a perfect balance between all those elements, Imprévu comes as the unexpected state of grace when you simply don't know what to choose and just need something that is truly unique and smells good at the same time. Even though marketed as a feminine, men who are adventurous wouldn't have trouble getting away with it.

Although the usual bottle in which it is presented is the one depicted here and in the ads (which show the extrait de parfum version), other styles were also circulating, notably one with a simple gold-toned cap and a simple glass flacon with gold-tone lettering or another one with a simple plastic blue cover (especially for the versions circulating in Europe)
Imprévu by Coty has been discontinued for a long time now, with no plans by the company to bring it back as per our latest communication. Occasional sighthings are made on Ebay at elevated prices.

Photos from Ebay


  1. Woodhue, I have a huge bottle of the extrait. Must fish it out from the depths of the drawer.
    Also, you're my lost twin, apparently. I've been eyeing Imprevu for quite a time and now whoa, you write about it.

  2. Fiordiligi20:46

    My dearest E, I used to wear Imprevu, I think when I was a young teenager. I can still remember what it smelt like even though it must be almost 40 years since I used it! I bought it from the village chemist shop, which also used to sell Lancome cosmetics (not owned by giant l'Oreal in those days of course). I used to save up my pocket money to buy stuff!

    Coty was such a fabulous perfume house back in the day.

  3. L,

    I have no doubt we share a bond of some inexplicable cosmic coincidence. Look how we found each other!
    I'm glad you're inspired. It's quite good. Nothing like the new Cotys would hint at.
    Woodhue was very popular, I read and hear.

  4. D,

    how utterly wonderful. You must have been quite the discerning teenager on the whole, it's obvious!
    Indeed Coty had several classics which were very inpiring (and influential in their time). It's a pity they have been cheapened so much over the years. I wonder why they don't re-issue them in some decent form: the original vision of Francois was offer the best at an affordable price and with catchy packaging. Wasn't it?

  5. Anonymous01:25

    i found a bottle of this on e-bay, and when i went to spray it, the button wouldn't work (it just went down flat), so i removed it, and pushed down on the little tube inside and a geyser of imprevu came out! i quickly ran to the kitchen sink, where it dripped down the drain. (the kitchen smelled great for several days.) it took several washings to get it off my hands, where most of it landed.

    anyway, now i have a bottle of imprevu, and i'm not sure how to get the remainder of it out - and transferred to another vessel. any thoughts? it's in a plastic outer container, but is probably in glass inside. first time this ever happened to me!


  6. Oh my God - I have had Imprevue on my mind for such a long time.
    I wore it in high school about 1970.
    I remember the jingle
    MmmmImprevue .Let it happen to you Imprevue ..

    Was it resonant with a sparkling green oriental top it had a coolness and sensuality. It was unmistakedly a siren song.
    Ironically I was hired by Pfizer in May of 1981 .. Coty was sold . Imprevue was never available
    I wish it could happen to me again.
    You must have esp ....
    Thank you for your lovely and timely review..
    They don't make perfume like they used to.

  7. Well, blast.

    I saw this at an auction, and decided I had spent enough money on perfume in general, and on gambling/trolling for treasure.

    Maybe I'll get out the net and end up with this nugget yet...

    Thanks for the review. :)

  8. M,

    that's odd. I admit I had this happen with a Mitsouko vintage parfum (the packaging left something to be desired in the handy compartment) and it was a bummer. I believe the only way you could solve the problem is to use some pliers and detaching the whole spray mechanism and then transfering to another bottle. It's not easy and you have to be careful, but there is no other way. Everything I have tried just produces that jetting stream of juice which there is no way of catching before it vanishes...
    Good luck!!!

  9. S,

    you're welcome. It's a pointed irony that this was sooo cheap some years ago only to become a rare collectible now. Seems like people don't appreciate what is in front of them.

  10. Madelyn,

    wow, someone who actually wore this and loved it when they should have!! Thanks for recounting your memories of it. And may I say, not a fortunate/serendipitous time to be hired by Pfizer. But oh well, sometimes bottles pop up out of the blue. I sincerely hope you get your own again.

  11. You know, I received a small bottle of Imprevu that looks fairly old along with a purchase of some vintage Emeraude pdt (mmm, I love that stuff) but have never tested it on skin. I did sniff it from the bottle and was not impressed, but perhaps I do need to give it some skin time.

  12. Anonymous00:03

    thanks, helg. i was afraid that that was the answer! that geyser is so trippy and impossible to handle, as you say. pliers away!

    - minette

  13. Oh my gosh, this sounds so lovely! I'm a chypre girl myself so I know I am going to be on the hunt for this. I found a vintage bottle of L'Aimant recently but wasn't really into it and also I have a vintage Chypre by Coty that was a great find.

  14. M,

    it's not a typical aldehydic or a typical chypre and that probably makes it unusual. It depends on the quality of the vintage too: sometimes some of them go sour for no reason and with no rhyme (no colour change either). :/
    If you find some more, do try it out again.

  15. Minette,

    I hope you let us know how it went! I'm crossing my fingers for you.

  16. SD,

    great coincidence and enjoy!!
    Isn't the Coty Chypre totally modern, even if it's a century old formula? I think it can be worn today with no a care in the world.
    Since you're a true chypre girl, I can't recommend highly enough the Deneuve scent (very elegant) which I had reviewed in my Chypre Series (link on the right hand column) as well as Shiseido Koto (very friendly, plan to review it sometime). Try them out!

  17. I wore Imprevu as a teen in the 70's too!I was still able to find it for years in England after they stopped selling it in the states. In the early 90's, I discovered that my dad was wearing it! I had a BF (mid 70's) who claimed he wrote the commercial's music(never been able to prove that one)I've been wearing Paloma Picasso recently and find that it reminds me of Imprevu & Cachet- I love it! I find the fragrance changes depending on how long its been on!

  18. Anonymous07:00

    The most recent Vermont Country Store catalogue offers Imprevu, now made by a manufacturer other than Coty, for $55 for a .43 oz spray bottle of Eau de parfum. I'm trying to decide whether to risk $55 plus shipping to see if it's REALLY the same, but I have found VCS to be pretty reliable regarding quality in the past.

  19. Anonymous08:14

    Very nice review. I have a small bottle of EDT that may have come with a soap set originally. It's been in my collection for over a year, and today I dabbed a bit on my wrist to give it a proper test. I'm about two hours into the drydown now. Imprevu strikes me as rather spicy, and I thought carnation must be among the notes for sure. It really is a lovely scent. As a man, I don't think I would wear this one, although I do like other "women's" fragrances, such as No.19, La Nuit, Gucci No.3 and Mystere.

    1. Thank you for offering your viewpoint of it, it's very interesting to read it. I thought this is flying so below the radar that very few people would notice it. It's indeed a bit more classically "feminine" than the others you mention.


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