As if vintage perfume didn’t already present its fair share of mysteries to the modern sniffer, Coty’s ? Question Mark perfume ups the ante by placing a big honking question mark on its label. I've seen this several times on eBay, and my curiosity finally got the best of me. I got the tiny micro-mini you see to your left.
Did Coty release a perfume called “?” and if so, why? The answer: yes and no.
An ad in the September 6, 1954 issue of LIFE magazine provides one answer: It asks readers to name a new perfume — whose bottle in the ad shows a question mark on the label — for a chance to win a trip for two to Paris:
“Pack your bag! Pick your partner! Anyone can win this fabulous Paris Vacation for Two! Just name this new Coty fragrance! Here is another exhilarating fragrance by Coty. A fragrance so unique and stimulating, it can’t help but stir your emotions — set you thinking of all the fascinating words that might describe it! The very first time you wear it, this thrilling new fragrance will conjure up a dozen names. And when people comment on it, as they’re bound to, even more suggestions will occur to you. Get this new fragrance in the ‘Passport to Paris’ package, along with your choice of 7 beloved Coty Toilet Waters. (An outstanding fragrance value in itself at $2.50!)”
According to Cleopatra’s Boudoir, who appears to have gotten at least some of her info from Roulhac B. Toledano and Elizabeth Z. Coty’s book François Coty: Fragrance, Power, Money (Pelican Books, 2009), the resulting perfume was 1954’s Accomplice, which was then rereleased in 1973 as Complice. So, yes, Coty released a ? Question Mark perfume that was then renamed Accomplice.
Having only the ? Question Mark Coty to sniff, I can say that it's an aldehydic floral with a balsamic, woody/powdery base, sheer light florals, and a hint of spiciness (carnation?) combined with a touch of fruit and musk. An hour into it, its buttery-rich, woody sandalwood almost smells like coconut (perhaps sandalwood and nitromusks create the sweet-fatty effects?). Like vintage Le Dix by Balenciaga (1947), ? Question Mark might also have some violet going on too. It reminds me a lot of Le Dix in notes and personality.
If anyone has Accomplice (1954) or Complice (1973) and would like to swap a tiny amount of Coty ? Question Mark, let me know. As you can see from the above micromini bottle, I have a drop or so to share! But it would be interesting to see if they're all similar.