The shape we give to dreams

If you can’t judge a book by its cover, can you judge a perfume by its bottle? Or by the box around the bottle? Or by whether it’s a spray-on, a pure perfume extract, an eau de toilette or a parfum solide?

Perfumes are presented in various mediums; ranging – for distribution reasons – from solid perfumes to sprays or miniature precious extracts. Which is best for you?

The global cosmetic packaging market is expected to reach almost $26-billion this year.

There are marketing gurus and cosmetic chemists around the world thinking about how to distribute the “nectar of the gods” in a more saleable form, or some unique way to gain an edge in this vast market.

Perfume fans often hanker after the flacon enclosing their juice as much as the fragrance itself. The shape, the dream and the imagination, a promise of what is inside, all form part of the marketing mix to present a powerful product.

I have met a buyer for the palace of the Sultan of Oman, a noted collector of perfumes. The most expensive perfume in His Excellency’s collection comes in a bottle made from a meteorite. Apparently, the bottle remains unopened.

For the retail market, technological developments drive packaging developments as much as creative inspiration.

A new spray-bottle innovation is an invisible “dipstick” that shows off the juice flawlessly in clear glass. Superior moulded glass fragrance bottles are those with rounded shoulders (impossible to create in older glass-moulding factories) and a thick glass base – it suspends the cavity holding the scent.

Sadly, South Africa’s only speciality glass factory closed some time ago under economic pressure.

When packaging a perfume, the cosmetic house considers how fine a spray mist should be on your skin, and how much liquid should atomise at a time; also whether a fragrance concept should be executed in an eau de toilette (a lighter concentration) or as eau de parfum (a heavier concentration).

Perfumer artisans also consider more creative ways of delivering scent.

The solid perfume is an 18th-century tradition that infuses the perfume oils in a beeswax balm. Estée Lauder re-popularised this with their annual solid perfume box collectors edition.

Chanel No.5’s secret extract, seldom on display because 7ml would set you back over R1?500, is the highest concentration perfume, never used as a spray. You use only a few dabs on your pulse points to diffuse this potent elixir.

Consider your lifestyle before selecting a perfume medium.

For the frequent traveller, liquids are not practical, so opt for a parfum solide. If you wear lighter fragrances, select an eau de toilette spray.

A woman who prefers the decadent perfume trail will want a daily eau de parfum – and then, in the evening, daub on precious pure parfum extract.

Remember there are trade-offs: with lightness and freshness comes less longevity.

A heavier perfume lasts longer, but will not present immediately after application.

View your fragrances as a collection of artworks, to be displayed and enjoyed when appropriate, and appreciated accordingly.