Perfume

Put the genius back in the bottle

When I asked a recent private client what fragrances she wears, the description was not “a fresh oriental with amber notes” but rather “the DKNY in the tall pale bottle and the Narciso Rodriguez in the pink bottle – and sometimes the one in the black bottle”.

The shape, style and colour of a perfume bottle plays a vital part in your decision-making process, your ongoing recognition and your attachment to the fragrance itself.

The making of the perfume bottle has always been an integral part of the creative process and even more so when all bottles were still handmade. Historically, the beauty of the bottle took precedence over its functionality.Early techniques for proper closing of the hand-blown stoppered bottle included a velum sheath held tightly with twine tied in a particular knot and sealed with a personalised wax seal.

A specific bottle shape often formed the trademark for the perfumer, with different fragrances captured in the one iconic flacon that represented the maison or house. With only a handful of fragrances being made, and needing each one to stand out, the fashion brands of the day would rather commission an individual flacon for a unique fragrance.

The more serious houses, such as Guerlain and, today, L’Artisan Parfumeur, remain connected to the flacon – just as Louis Vuitton is connected to its LV monogram. The Baccarat crystal glass manufacturers were closely involved in the growing art of perfume bottle design and production and were the first crystalworks in France to create bottles for the top perfume houses. Some of their finest work is on display at the Musée Baccarat, in Meurthe-et-Moselle in Paris.

The art of the perfume bottle is its own world. In 1945, Spanish artist Salvador Dali collaborated with fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli on a fragrance.

Dali designed Le Roy Soleil for Schiaparelli. Even today, perfume houses invite artists and designers to bring their craft to the world of perfume. Although not without more constrictive boundaries – now, the flacon must be transportable.

Weight is a consideration because of transport cost. Also: How can it be displayed when competing for merchandising space? Early 20th-century designs were more intricate, delicate and “once-off” in an era before online stores and the logistics of couriers.

Today, precious few bottles live up to that bygone era. In 2006, Baccarat embarked on a very expensive modern interpretation by Francois Kurkdjian of Queen Marie-Antoinette’s fragrance, Sillage de la Reine.

Other houses have pushed the uniqueness of the bottle to the extreme. The Italian perfume house Xerjoff presents its most celebrated fragrance in a holder carved from a meteorite.

Clive Christian decided that money was no object and released a simple but regal design with 18-carat gold collar embellished with a five-carat diamond – at $215?000 a bottle. Somewhat more affordable, MDCI, a contemporary maison drawing its inspiration from the Renaissance, has male and female flacons identified by the delicate stopper of a torso in porcelain.

Often when there are broad budget boundaries on the flacon, then this runs true for the perfume itself, and you may find yourself falling in love with a rare and precious piece of art. There is still place for a precious bottle that will never be thrown away, but collected and passed down to your daughter.

When so much of consumer culture is transient, I think if we can find some preciousness, some perfection in an object that will be kept and cherished, then this a rare and powerful intimacy.