Saturday, January 4, 2014

Desti Perfumes

Established by Madame Mary "Desti" Dempsey (1871-1931.)

Desti was born on October 10, 1871 in Quebec, Canada; became owner of Desti Beauty Products cosmetics firm. She also owned a New York City studio at 603 Fifth Avenue, which sold art objects, perfumes, and clothing.

She was the mother of Preston Sturges and closest friend and confidante of Isadora Duncan for over 20 years. Her friendship with Duncan prompted her to write "The untold story: the life of Isadora Duncan, 1921-1927" in (1929).




Having a great imagination, Desti enjoyed making believe that she was descended from Italian nobility on the grounds that Dempsey had to be a mispronunciation of the princely “d’Este”–Mary Dempsey opened a cosmetics business in Europe called Maison d’Este in 1911. After threats of litigation from the actual d’Estes, she modified the firm’s name to Desti and used it as her middle name.

Around 1911, she married a Turk, Vely Bey. During a visit to Vely’s parent, Mary got a small rash on her face. Vely’s father, Elias Pasha, physician to the sultan, looked at it and made up a purple lotion with a white deposit in it. He told her the lotion was used not only by the ladies of the court of Abdul-Hamid, ut by most of the women in the principal harems of Turkey. Amazingly, the rash disappeared almost at once, and suddenly Mary got the idea to put it on the market with the name of Le Secret du Harem. She asked the father if he would tell her how to make it. At first he wasn’t supposed to because it was a very valuable secret formula that not only cleared up the complexion but supposedly removed wrinkles also. But since she was the wife of his son, he obliged.

Upon the  the making of the cream, she decided t,o open a cosmetic house, which she named Maison D’Este, but she quickly renamed the salon Maison Desti, upon the threat of the law which threatened to take action if she used the venerable name of the grand and vigilant D’Este family.

Mary found an entresol at 4, rue de la Paix between the Place Vendome and the Opera. She had it decorated by Isadora Duncan's friend Paul Poiret, who had just branched off from dressmaking into interior decorating using the name Atelier Martine, and Mary proclaimed the results "fantastic". . Before the business opened, Mary and Vely realized that they were going to need something more to sell than just the skin lotion. One day, a very famous manicurist Mrs. Kantor was invited to the business. Then a hair dresser was added, as well as a couple of Chinese chiropodists, and finally a very fine old chemist. With all the staff in place, the Beauty Institute was ready to serve.

Mary was notably a stickler for details and had a way of making people want to do her favors and proved to be a gifted conceiver and packager of cosmetics. Soon, Maison Desti was offering not only the secret Ottoman ointment but, its own line of creams, rouges and face powders. Mary added unique tints to her face powders, "sun burn", lavender and ochre to the standard colors of the times.

With all this going on, Mary figured she better have some perfumes that she could sell under the house’s name. She was able to get some assistance from the Parisian perfume company LT Piver, who let her have a remarkable odor she stumbled on at their premises, not wishing themselves to launch any new perfumes, and then also sold her some of their oldest alcohol so she could recreate the perfume. She immediately named this new perfume after her distinguished ancestor, Beatrice D’Este.

She then traveled to Venice where she had some extraordinary glass bottles blown wit a reproduction of the famous painting of the lovely Beatrice burned into the glass. She then formed an alliance with a new box firm in Paris called Tolmer, whose designs were ahead of their time. At Baccarat and Lalique, some lovely crystal bottles were made for lotions based on the secret Harem formula, and some alabaster jars were turned out for creams and unguents from the same source.

Mary then traveled to New York, and brought sample cases of her products and headed for the B. Altman department store. Garbed in a luxurious mink coat and lustrous pearls, Mary asked to see the head of the beauty department who was then quite impressed by all of the products, managed to purchase ten thousand dollars worth of Desti products.

A little while after Mary returned to Paris, a gentleman called upon her at the Maison Desti and said, "I think that what you have done, Madame Desti, in so short a time is one of the most remarkable adventures in our business that I have ever seen. Now it so happens I do not manufacture any cosmetics, although I am the most successful perfumer in the world. I propose that you give up your several little perfumes, although they are very nice, and that you allow me to manufacture your cosmetics for you and distribute them throughout the world. In exchange, I will give you twenty-five percents f the profits.  ... The Desti cosmetics should make a remarkable team with my perfumes, which are called Coty.”

Mary, Preston Sturges would ruefully report later, turned Mr. Coty down, believing that he was trying to take advantage of her.

Isadora, ever the Bohemian, was chagrined and told Mary that she was sullying herself with business, and proposed that they throw all of the perfume bottles out the window and onto the street. "that would be a great ending and show your disdain for business" she said. Mary did not warm to that suggestion but instead decided to tune down the commercial aspect of her business. She would describe the Maison Desti as an "amusing salon" where famous people like the King of Spain and the Crown Prince Rupert of Bavaria might show up to hang out.

A second branch of Maison Desti was opened up, this time in Deauville, in which her son Preston oversaw at the tender age of fifteen. At the start of the first World War, Mary sent him on home to America, for fear that he might enlist in the military. He came to the United States, armed with a many perfume bottles and cosmetics as he could carry and went directly to 347 Fifth Avenue and established the American branch of Maison Desti. Department stores such as B. Altman, Bonwit Teller  and Marshall Field's carried the Desti line.

In 1914, the rue de la Paix store closed. A mob of patriotic Parisians learned of Mary’s marriage to Vely Bey and stormed her shop when Turkey allied with Germany. Because of the war, it was nearly impossible to get the Desti products shipped from France and imported into the USA, the business began to flounder.

The Fifth Avenue store was moved to a smaller but pretty location at 23 east Ninth Street, near the Cafe Lafayette. Together, they revived the Desti cosmetic line, and their face powders with the unusual tints, the Secret of the Harem cream (which was called simply Youth Cream because of Turkey's alliances during the war). Importation was still out of the question, so they had to make due with American supplies, boxes and bottles, oils and alcohol for perfume, which they felt were not up to French standards.

One day, Vely Bey showed up with an idea for paperless cigarettes held together with a leaf of tobacco, which seemed a good idea and Mary, a nonsmoker, who didnt like the taste of tobacco, thought that cigarettes perfumed with amber might mask the unpleasant taste, devised a scented tobacco called Desti’s Ambre Cigarettes. She found the results delicious and the cigarettes were very popular with the ladies.


Advertising & Selling, Volume 25, 1915:
"Attractiveness of French Designs. More modern French design beginning with the Art Nouveau movement produced many remarkable packages some pleasing and graceful some bizarre and weird. The packages for Desti perfumes and powders are among the most interesting and attractive but when two ounces of perfume sell for six dollars the package might well be a work of art." 

In 1916, Mary opened a branch of Maison Desti in London on Old Bond Street. Though she added many new items to the line, the business was struggling.

The store on Ninth Avenue was then moved to 4 West Fifty Seventh Street and turned into a beauty salon. Preston sold his products outside of the shop, going from hairdresser to beauty salon, promoting his goods. It was then that he invented the lipstick in 1920 which he called Preston's Red Red Rouge, a lip color that stayed on day and night and purported to defy kissing as the Youth Lotion defied age.

One day in 1924,  two perfume distributors from the Lionel Trading Company turned up in Brooklyn, they offered to buy the enormous amount of $1,000 worth of Desti products a month in exchange for exclusive distribution rights. Unfortunately the deal with the Lionel Trading Company came to nothing and by the time of Mary's death, Maison Desti came to a close.

Desti passed away in 1931 at her residence, 603 Fifth Avenue, of leukemia after being seriously ill for two months.

The perfumes of Desti of Paris France:
  • 1914 Beatrice d'Este
  • 1914 Devinez
  • 1914 Lilas
  • 1914 L'Invitation a La Dans
  • 1914 Moi-Meme
  • 1914 Saphir
  • 1914 Whither Thou Goest
  • 1915 Ambre
  • 1915 Merleblanc



Much info on Mary Desti was found here: https://underthehollywoodsign.wordpress.com/tag/mary-astor/

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