"At a time when most perfumers did not think of bottles as anything but a simple container, my ancestors quickly understood the subtle relationship that linked the bottle and its precious contents," Jean-Paul Guerlain wrote in the foreword to the colossal reference book, "Guerlain Bottles Since 1828". The French always knew that the outside is part of the inside, and when Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain presented his Eau de Cologne Impériale in a gilded bottle covered with Napoleonic bees to the emperor's wife Eugénie, he started a whole art of Guerlain flaconnage, in close collaboration with leading glassmakers and crystal companies like Pochet & du Courval and Baccarat. Since then, the bottles and cases of Guerlain have become oeuvres as captivating, detailed and essential as the scents themselves, and now it's impossible to think of L'Heure Bleue without its romantic heart-shaped stopper bottle, Shalimar without the Art Deco vase, or Chamade without its Venus seashell. According to Jean-Jacques Guerlain, Jean-Paul Guerlain's father and one of the company's managers, the idea of presenting perfumes in beautiful crystal bottles was not least inspired by Coty's exquisite flacons.
In the world of perfumery, inherently connected to vanity, frivolity and fashion, Guerlain has distinguished itself by combining beauty with brains — through the details of its carefully designed bottles and perfume names you can read the Guerlain history and find references to the fine arts, culture and significant events, locations and personalities. Each creation evokes something of the period in which it emerged, the desires, beliefs and dreams of that time. "One of the most important lessons that he taught me was that one must move not with fashion, but with the trends of society and ideas," said sculptor Robert Granai about Raymond Guerlain with whom he came to work in his last years. "Our competitors, who often produce magnificent perfumes, tend to go with fashion, and so their products are often short-lived, because fashion is fleeting. Shalimar's bottle is an example of Raymond Guerlain's approach. It symbolizes not only a fruit bowl of luscious delights, but also the richness of the colonies, because the 1920s were the colonial years."
The bee bottle
Guerlain's bee bottle was inaugurated in 1853 when Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain won the title as the French empress' official perfumer. Eau de Cologne Impériale was the celebrity fragrance of the day. Royals and nobles lent their names to perfumers' work and were supplied with all manner of toiletries in return. Having a queen, emperor or princess associated with a product helped sales, and Guerlain received credentials from the Queen of Belgium, Queen of England and Prince of Wales. But the arrangement with France's own imperial ruler was Guerlain's most important and grand achievement, and very worthy of showcasing. Since then, for more than 160 years, the Napoleonic bee symbol has constantly embellished Guerlain's bottle and box design. Most emblematic is the bee bottle itself. Many people look at it as shaped like a beehive, and it's often referred to as the "beehive bottle". Yet the real inspiration was the upper part of the Vendôme column, including the fish-scale pattern. The Vendôme column was erected by Napoléon I at the centre of Place Vendôme in Paris to commemorate the battle of Austerlitz, Napoléon's greatest victory. The column was torn down in 1871, by decree of the Paris Commune, but it was subsequently re-erected and remains a prominent feature on the square today. The Vendôme Column is part of the street perspective of the rue de la Paix where Guerlain's boutique was situated at the time when the bee bottle was created.
When Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain was appointed "Official Purveyor to the Empress" in recognition for Eau de Cologne Impériale, the bottle commissioned from the Pochet & du Courval glassworks was engraved with the Empress' coat of arms and had each bee and each scalloped edge hand painted with gold. All perfumes and products ordered by the Empress were delivered bearing her emblem. The Napoleonic coat of arms is still today to be found on the label of Eau de Cologne Impériale.
Guerlain's most important perfume bottles
Before Ode (1955), it was common practice for Guerlain to reuse a bottle design for more than one fragrance. The bee bottle and quadrilobe bottle even counted as what we'd call standard bottles, as they have contained so many different fragrances. In fact, the pre-1955 Guerlain catalogue only counts six bottles that were linked to one single perfume: the tortoise bottle (Parfum des Champs-Elysées 1914), the fan-shaped bottle (Shalimar 1925), the Djedi bottle (1926, itself a reworking of the biscuit-shaped standard bottle from 1916), the snuffbox bottle (Liu 1929), the keg-shaped bottle (Sous le Vent 1934, albeit reused for the special edition Marie Claire in 1998), and the inkwell bottle (Véga 1936).
From Ode onwards, every new Guerlain perfume came with its own bottle design (not counting the masculines until the eagle bottle for Derby in 1985), to give it a unique and easily recognizable appearance.
The bee bottle. Made in 1853 for Eau de Cologne Impériale. It has contained most Guerlain fragrances and comes with or without hand-painted gold decoration, called respectively "golden bee" and "white bee". In 1992, an atomizer version of the bee bottle was introduced. Unknown designer.
The quadrilobe bottle. Made in 1908 for the perfume Rue de la Paix. Today mainly known as the bottle for Jicky, but it has contained most Guerlain fragrances. Designed by Gabriel Guerlain.
The heart-shaped stopper bottle. Made in 1912 for L'Heure Bleue and Fol Arôme but later also contained Mitsouko. Designed by Georges Chevalier at Baccarat.
The fan-shaped bottle. Made in 1925 for Shalimar. Designed by Raymond Guerlain. It's one of the few classic Guerlain bottles that has contained just one fragrance, as Guerlain had a habit of reusing its bottles for different perfumes until Jean-Paul Guerlain took over as nose.
The bottle with radiating design. Also called the propeller bottle. Made in 1933 for Vol de Nuit but later also contained Sous le Vent. Designed by Raymond Guerlain.
The Chamade bottle. Designed in 1969 by Raymond Guerlain and Robert Granai. By this time, Guerlain had stopped reusing bottles for different fragrances in order to give each perfume a separate and easily recognizable appearance.
The Nahéma bottle. Designed in 1979 by Robert Granai.
The Samsara bottle. Designed in 1989 by Robert Granai.
The Champs-Elysées bottle. Designed in 1996 by Robert Granai.
The L'Instant de Guerlain bottle. Designed in 2003 by Jérôme Faillant Dumas.
The Insolence bottle. Designed in 2006 by Serge Mansau.
The Idylle bottle. Designed in 2009 by Ora-Ito.
Guerlain has introduced a new label design for the quadrilobe bottle. It matches the new bee atomizer label, which is solid-coloured and features the Sun King logo.
The quadrilobe bottle was created in 1908 by Aimé Guerlain’s brother, Gabriel, for the perfume Rue de la Paix. This scent was the only one ever issued by Pierre Guerlain, Jacques’ older brother. The stopper of the bottle looks like a quatrefoil ("quadrilobe" in French) or a champagne cork. Today, the quadrilobe bottle is mainly known as the bottle for Jicky, but it was really a standard bottle, having contained most Guerlain fragrances, and the label often varied for each edition. The original label design persisted however, with only minor design changes being made throughout the decades.
The original label was framed by a laurel garland, and had both the perfume’s name, the brand name, and Guerlain’s address on the rue de la Paix printed on it. When the Champs-Elysées shop opened in 1914, the address on the label was changed accordingly.
Eventually, as Guerlain opened up more and more shops, the address was deleted from the label. Also, the brand name logo was modernized and moved from the top of the label to become more visible at its bottom.
The new quadrilobe label is bigger than the old one, covering most of the bottle’s front facet, and the design is much more streamlined. The laurel garland has been removed, and the size of the writing is significantly reduced. The clean geometric Futura font, which was first used by Guerlain in the 1930s and reintroduced in 2014 for L'Homme Idéal, Shalimar Souffle de Parfum and Terracotta Le Parfum, is now applied to the perfume’s name, while the brand's name is written in the rounded cursive script that Guerlain employs for some of its presentations. The cursive brand logo dates back to the Belle Epoque era, and you can still see it on Maison Guerlain’s facade. Finally, the Sun King logo, which had a comeback in 2013, embellishes the upper part of the label, partly masked by the silk tassel.
An important part of perfume marketing is designing a bottle that will make it visually stand out from the hundreds of fragrances that are launched every year. The almost obsessive attention to bottle design has been a Guerlain hallmark since the very beginning, but the practice of designing a new bottle for each new fragrance first began with the creation of Ode in 1955.
Previous to 1955, it had been common procedure to reuse a single bottle design for different perfumes. It's estimated that some four hundred perfumes left the hands of Jacques Guerlain, and logically not all of them could have their own unique bottle. An example of this was the heart-shaped stopper bottle, which was used for L'Heure Bleue, Fol Arôme, and Mitsouko. In fact, the pre-1955 Guerlain catalogue only lists six bottles that were linked to one perfume alone: the tortoise bottle (Parfum des Champs-Elysées 1914), the fan-shaped bottle (Shalimar 1925), the Djedi bottle (1926, itself a reworking of the biscuit-shaped standard bottle from 1916), the snuffbox bottle (Liu 1929), the keg-shaped bottle (Sous le Vent 1934, albeit reused for the special edition Marie Claire in 1998), and the inkwell bottle (Véga 1936). Today, only the bee bottle and the quadrilobe bottle are still used as a standard bottle for many different fragrances. For instance, Le Bouquet de la Mariée, Ne m’Oubliez Pas, and Les Quatre Saisons have all come in the quadrilobe bottle.
However, in recent years, as Guerlain has increased the frequency of perfume launches, the brand has begun reusing pre-existing bottle designs again. First of all, the introduction of fragrance collections (Aqua Allegoria, L’Art & la Matière, Les Parisiennes, Les Parisiens, Les Elixirs Charnels, Les Déserts d’Orient, Les Absolus d’Orient etc.) has meant that whole groups of fragrances now appear in the same bottle. Also, we have seen the heart-shaped stopper bottle being reused for the La Petite Robe Noire line, the bee atomizer becoming the bottle for several scents (e.g., Jardins de Bagatelle, Jicky, Nahéma, and Vol de Nuit), and several men's scents being housed in the 1988 "Habit Rouge" bottle. Lastly, Guerlain has announced that the quadrilobe bottle is going to replace the individual bottle designs for Samsara, Champs-Elysées, and L'Instant de Guerlain.
There may be several reasons for the use of uniform bottles in contemporary perfumery. They are obviously much cheaper for fragrance brands to produce and pack than individualized designs. Paradoxically, though, uniform bottles are also often perceived as a sign of luxury, because we tend to think that the lack of effort in bottle design means that more creativity and quality have been reserved for the juice. The latter is of course a naive presumption, but it seems to be an efficient sales strategy that many niche lines have employed.
The reuse of perfume bottles is a delicate balance. On the one hand, we love when Guerlain gives new life to some of its historic bottle designs. On the other, we don’t want Guerlain to look as uniform as Chanel. Luckily, Guerlain’s past bottle art is so prolific that that's not likely to happen, but as a consequence of Guerlain's standardisation of its packaging, there's very little left of Robert Granai's prolific bottle designs. Below, you'll find an overview of fourteen of Robert Granai's most important bottles for Guerlain.
The Eau de Toilette and Eau de Parfum bottles
The Eaux de Toilette were traditionally sold in a standard bottle used for all fragrances. It wasn't until Robert Granai became Guerlain's bottle designer that the Eau de Toilette bottles were individualized as we know them today. In contemporary perfumery, the primary — if not only — bottle to be launched is typically an Eau de Parfum bottle.
The fancy flat bottle. This very early bottle was used for various Eau de Toilette fragrances. Unknown designer.
The teardrop bottle. Replaced the flat bottle in 1923 and became a standard Eau de Toilette bottle until the late 1990s. Only its front label design was changed twice. Unknown designer.
The refillable atomizer bottle. Introduced in 1965 as Guerlain's first commercial atomizer bottle, made as a refillable system. Subsequent to the initial Delftware decoration, it came with different outer case motifs and contained all Eaux de Toilette until 1982 when it was replaced by a standard gold-toned metal canister with a basket weave pattern. In 1996, the gold canister was modernized with a furrow-and-hole look, called "Habit de Fête" (meaning "holiday dress"). The refillable canisters were made for not only EdT, but also Parfum as well as EdP. Unknown designer.
Guerlain has phased out the refillable canister, replacing it with the standard bee bottle atomizer, which now comes with a new label design, solid-coloured and featuring the Sun King logo. The bee atomizer first appeared in 1992, thus actually predating the current design of the refillable canisters. It was initially meant for the Eaux Fraîches, but was subsequently used for Petit Guerlain, Après l'Ondée, Chant d'Arômes, Mouchoir de Monsieur, and Parure as well, and in 2013 for Jardins de Bagatelle. In addition, it was used for the limited editions L'Insolente (formerly Precious Heart) and Place Rouge (formerly Quand Vient la Pluie). Recently, the bee atomizer has also become the bottle for the home fragrances.
Individualized EdT and EdP bottles
Robert Granai (pictured on the left) made his first Guerlain bottle in 1974 for Eau de Guerlain, but it wasn't until the introduction of the Parfum de Toilette format (now termed Eau de Parfum) with Nahéma in 1979 that Guerlain began to pay systematic attention to the bottle design for the less concentrated scents. Each and every Guerlain EdT, and EdP, has since that time been given an individual bottle design to match the appearance of the corresponding Parfum.
Robert Granai, sculptor by profession, was the architect of Guerlain's entire bottle design look in the Jean-Paul Guerlain era and the one to supply a masculine bottle range to the brand. He worked as the company's bottle designer for three decades, his last creation being the Mahora bottle in 2000. After his death, different bottle designers were hired ad-hoc. Robert Granai began his career at Guerlain by making plaster sculptures for the shops' window displays, and he participated in Raymond Guerlain's work on the Chamade bottle just before the latter died. Raymond Guerlain (pictured on the right) was in today's language the artistic director of Guerlain, conceiving several iconic perfume bottles in collaboration with prominent glass and crystal designers.
The masculine bottles
The travel bottle. A simple splash bottle made in 1955 for Ode EdC, subsequently containing all EdC. The bottle was made to fit into a train case, hence its name. It was used for Vetiver in 1959 (at that time, the Vetiver label was red), and later for Habit Rouge and Mouchoir de Monsieur as well, with a black rim around the lid instead of the original feminine white one. Unknown designer.
Men's first atomizer. Made in 1965 for Vetiver and Habit Rouge when the latter was released. Unknown designer.
The eagle bottle. Made in 1985 for Derby in both a pour and an atomizer edition. Designed by Robert Granai.
The Eau de Toilette bottle. Made in 1988 for Vetiver and Habit Rouge when the EdT version of these were launched, in both a pour and an atomizer edition. Also Mouchoir de Monsieur and Derby appeared in this bottle. Designed by Robert Granai.
The Héritage bottle. Designed in 1992 by Robert Granai in both a pour and an atomizer edition.
The Coriolan bottle. Designed in 1998 by Robert Granai in both a pour and an atomizer edition.
The Vetiver bottle. Designed in 2000 by Robert Granai to give a new, independent look for Vetiver.
The L'Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme bottle. Designed in 2004 by Jérôme Faillant Dumas in both a pour and an atomizer edition.
The Guerlain Homme bottle. Designed in 2008 by Italian car designer Pininfarina.
The L'Homme Idéal bottle. Made in 2014. Designer unknown.
When in 1988 Guerlain launched Eau de Toilette versions of Vetiver and Habit Rouge, in-house bottle designer Robert Granai created a new bottle, simply called the Eau de Toilette bottle. For a number of years, it was also used for Derby and Mouchoir de Monsieur. The bottle has mainly been associated with Habit Rouge, as Vetiver got a new bottle design in 2000. In 2011, Vetiver moved back into the classic Eau de Toilette bottle. In 2016, it became the bottle for Héritage, L'Instant de Guerlain Pour Homme, and Guerlain Homme as well.
Habit Rouge travel editions
Robert Granai designed the elegant Eau de Toilette bottle with travelling in mind. Like the travel bottle, its shape was meant to fit perfectly into a gentleman's briefcase. As Guerlain's most iconic men's fragrance, Habit Rouge EdT has enjoyed several limited presentations, among these special 100 ml travel editions featuring a protective refillable outer case. The first one came out already in 1988, a black leather flip-top case edition called Edition Préstige. The act was taken up again in 2011 with a bright red slide-in leather case named Habit de Cuir. The following year we got a quilted wool-like fabric case called L'Esprit du Cavalier. For 2013, the Habit Rouge travel edition featured a blood-red suede case in shape of a saddle bag, this time named L'Edition du Cavalier.
Gold and steel
At the turn of the new millennium, Guerlain decided to give its line of men's scents a visual makeover. The box and label designs were streamlined, Vetiver was moved into a new and very masculine bottle, and all caps and sprayers were changed from golden into steel-coloured. For many years, Guerlain has been trying to shed its image as a brand for old ladies and mature messieurs, and the design changes were part of that exercise.
It's probably true that many men of today would prefer steel over gold, and consider gold as being too flamboyant and effeminate. However, some of us love the more classic look of Guerlain. Especially Héritage looks pale with the steel cap. The golden, warm fragrance of Héritage seems destined to wear gold.
Guerlain no doubt knows how we feel. In 2011, Vetiver was moved back into its old bottle. But the steel remained.
The repackaging-equals-reformulation myth
Guerlain has changed the look of its masculine line, rendering it uniform with the classic Eau de Toilette bottle and adding coloured faux wood caps that match the exclusive Parisien collection. It means that only three masculine bottle designs are left in the Guerlain catalogue: the "Habit Rouge" bottle, the L'Homme Idéal bottle, and the Parisien bottle. (Mouchoir de Monsieur will still be the only masculine scent sold in the bee spray bottle.)
There is the widespread notion that a new bottle design means that the juice has been reformulated as well, although in reality repackaging and reformulation are unrelated. It seems that our brain wants to see a pattern even where none exists. While Guerlain continuously reformulates its existing fragrances as new IFRA restrictions come along, and suppliers stop producing some of their perfume bases, reformulations are not scheduled to coincide with the marketing team’s decision to change bottle or box designs. Reformulations are quite costly in terms of man-hours expended, and the job of a marketing team is in fact to reduce costs.
One reason that the repackaging-equals-reformulation myth lives on, is the simple fact that an announcement of a new bottle design will spur people on to go to the shop to smell new bottles of a scent they already own. They will examine the fresh juice and then compare it to a bottle they bought ten years ago. As the aged juice has gone through the normal steps of top notes diminishing and base notes rounding and deepening, critics will erroneously conclude that the scent has been reformulated.
The Shalimar spray bottles
While the legendary Parfum bottle of Shalimar has stayed largely untouched since 1925, its atomizer design has led a less settled life. The first Shalimar spray bottle came in 1986 with the introduction of the Parfum de Toilette format and since then, Guerlain has launched three new looks. The current design is by Jade Jagger who has reshaped the essential elements of the fan-shaped Parfum bottle and put them into a more fluid and simple form.
The heart-shaped stopper bottle
The heart-shaped stopper bottle is one of Guerlain's most symbolic and enduring presentations, showcasing the Art Nouveau style which was popular at the beginning of the twentieth century. The spray version of the heart-shaped stopper bottle came out in 1995. The bottle is closely linked to L'Heure Bleue, as well as Mitsouko, but it has been given a new life with La Petite Robe Noire. Also, it has been used for several limited-edition launches, like the ones pictured above. From left to right: La Petite Robe Noire EdP, Vol de Nuit Evasion (Attrape Cœur EdT), Mitsouko Fleur de Lotus, Mitsouko EdT, L'Heure Bleue EdT, Shalimar Parfum.
The watch-shaped bottle
The so-called watch-shaped bottle first came out in 1936 for the cologne version of Cachet Jaune, but was used later for all Guerlain's feminine EdC. Each fragrance came with a unique colour of the label's inner circle. Shalimar's bright red was eventually changed into navy blue. The bottle was in production until the late 1990s.
White label for the Eaux Fraîches
Eau de Cologne Impériale catapulted the success of Guerlain in 1853 when the wife of Napoléon III became enamoured of its refreshingly light, herbal fragrance. Subsequently, it became a tradition for each of the Guerlain perfumers to create his own Eau, all packaged in the bee bottle like Eau de Cologne Impériale. The only clear visual difference between them was the label. Eau de Cologne Impériale had a herbal green label with the Napoleonic coat of arms, while Aimé Guerlain's Eau de Cologne du Coq (1894) bore the virile Gallic rooster, symbol of France. Eau de Fleurs de Cédrat (1920) by Jacques Guerlain had a lemon yellow label suggestive of the fragrance inside, and the label of Jean-Paul Guerlain's Eau de Guerlain (1974) was azure like a cloudless sky during summer in Southern France. (Eau de Guerlain also appeared briefly in a uniquely designed bottle by Robert Granai.)
In 1992, an atomizer version of the bee bottle was introduced for the Eaux, still with the same labels. Thierry Wasser became Guerlain's fifth master perfumer in 2008, and two years later he created a very modern and tenacious version of a fresh Guerlain Eau, called Cologne du Parfumeur, using green and musky notes. On the occasion, Guerlain decided to rejuvenate the design of the Eaux labels, giving them a simplified geometry on a white background, while hinting at the history by adding the creation dates and perfumers' names. Of these, Eau de Fleurs de Cédrat has been dressed with Guerlain's revived Sun King logo. The white labels link to the fact that Guerlain used to refer to the Eaux as Eaux blanches — "white waters".
Le Sucrier de Madame
Traditionally, Guerlain boutiques have had specially designed tester bottles. During the first half of the 20th century, the tester bottles had bulb atomizers. (We find the nostalgic romance of the bulb atomizer revived on the Parisiennes and L'Art & la Matière bottles.) Later came tester bottles with a fixed spray mechanism, and Guerlain introduced the refillable and very decorative "Sucrier de Madame" canisters, designed by French jeweller Robert Goossens. The name "sucrier" stems from the resemblance to old-fashioned sugar shakers. With the latest renovation of Maison Guerlain in 2013, these solid, gilded bottles have been removed, probably because their highly ornamented design doesn't jibe with the streamlined style of the modern Maison Guerlain. Instead, Guerlain now simply offers the commercial bottles for testing, much like in department stores and duty free shops.
The introduction of sprays
Guerlain's first spray bottle was a tester bottle, introduced in 1900, a refillable, spherical body of glass with an atomizer bulb attached. The bottle could also be purchased for personal use though. In 1950, the rounded form of the bottle was changed into a cylindrical design, still featuring the bulb. Various other tester bottle designs later appeared, with a fixed spray mechanism replacing the atomizer bulb.
Guerlain's first commercial atomizer, the refillable canister system, came in 1965. It wasn't until 1974, with Eau de Guerlain, that we began to see spray bottles with an individual design as we know it today, non-refillable and unique for each fragrance.
The bottles for special lines
When Guerlain came under LVMH's wings in 1994, it began a reinforcement of its image as a modern high-profile house of luxury. An important part of the transition was the introduction of whole new perfume lines. A perfume line serves much like a brand within the brand, and compared to individual perfume launches it allows for more experimentation and diversity with less cost and risk.
The Aqua Allegoria bottle. Introduced in 1999 for a quintet of easy "garden scents". New members are added to the line each year. The bottle was designed by Robert Granai as a smooth version of the bee bottle with a gilded honeycomb wrapped around the bottle shoulders.
The L'Art & la Matière bottle. Made in 2005 for a trio of EdP reflections on choice raw materials. New fragrances are continuously added to the line. The bottle mixes a contemporary, streamlined deluxe look and an old-fashioned bulb atomizer. Unknown designer.
The Parisienne bottle. Introduced in 2005 for a collection of eight reissued fragrances that were previously only available for a limited period. The selection in the collection keeps changing. The bottle is a chic 125 ml model of the famous bee bottle with an off-white faux-suede ribbon attached to the neck. Unknown designer.
The Il Était Une Fois Guerlain bottle. Also called the Legacy bottle. Made in 2005 for two Jacques Guerlain classics, Véga and Sous le Vent, both now discontinued. The bottle design was a replica of flasks used in the Guerlain laboratory in days gone by. Unknown designer.
The Elixir Charnel bottle. Introduced in 2008 for a line of very feminine EdP inspired by the principal olfactive families. The bottle copies the L'Art & la Matière design, but with a more informal cap and a metal name plate embellished with a rococo filigree. Unknown designer.
The Une Ville, Un Parfum bottle. Introduced in 2009 for a trio of scents named after major cities around the world, with two more added since. The entire collection was discontinued in 2015. Initially, the bottle was cylindrical and contained 250 ml. In 2011, it was downsized to a rectangular travel-size model and decorated with a city scene motif. Designed by Serge Mansau.
The Parisien bottle. Introduced in 2010, at first just for Jean-Paul Guerlain's Arsène Lupin duo. Later, the bottle was also used for the masculine scents from the Parisienne line. It has wooden frames around a glass bottle, with a retro Art Deco shaping of the name print. Unknown designer.
The Désert d'Orient bottle. Made in 2012 for a trio of scents inspired by Middle Eastern perfumery. It's basically the L'Art & la Matière bottle with an Arabic spelling of the perfume's name and a gold overlay decoration strung like a beaded curtain. Unknown designer.
Vintage box designs
Guerlain has changed its packaging design several times during its lifespan, which is one method to roughly date a vintage Guerlain perfume. In addition to these general packaging designs, there have been various other temporary styles, such as the white box. From the 1980s onwards, Guerlain has issued unique box designs for each of the best-selling fragrances. To determine the exact age of bottle, one needs to decipher the batch code. List of Guerlain batch codes from 1977 to the present day
The war bottle
During World War II, Guerlain made and marketed a standard glass bottle, referred to as the war bottle. It was used to export various perfumes, possibly due to a shortage of supply of materials for the more luxurious presentations. Likewise, a shortage of boxes meant that plain boxes were sometimes used. "Provisional packaging," the box said. "The quality and quantity of the perfume is strictly identical to that of our normal presentation."
Animal motifs and figurines were very much in vogue during the Art Nouveau design period, and Guerlain issued three animal-inspired bottles: the snail bottle (1902), the tortoise bottle (1914) and the duck bottle (1914). In 2010, Guerlain took up again the animal theme with the magnificent L'Abeille bottle ("the bee"), handmade in crystal by Baccarat.
The Marly Horse logo
Guerlain collectors often talk about the "Marly" edition of this or that perfume. Les Chevaux de Marly ("the Marly Horses") are actually two marble statues flanking the Concorde entrance to the Champs-Elysées in Paris. That is, copies of them, as the real ones are now safely installed at the Louvre museum. The statues were originally ordered by Louis XV to stand at the entrance of the park of Château de Marly, but transferred to Place de la Concorde in 1794. The Guerlain family had a passion for horse riding, and many of Guerlain's bottles and boxes from the 1930s onwards bore a small, stylized logo resembling the Marly Horses (more precisely, the one at the right side of the Champs-Elysées avenue, the same side as Maison Guerlain). The logo was revived in 2008 for Habit Rouge L'Extrait, a fragrance specifically celebrating horsemen, but otherwise guarantees the perfume is vintage.
Guerlain Futura: back to the 1930s
Although some of Guerlain's bottle designs are well over 100 years old and are still on the market as a testament to the brand's durability and timelessness, Guerlain has nevertheless regularly updated its image to conform to changing tastes. Due to the advanced age of the brand, founded almost two centuries ago, there is a constant concern at Guerlain to not look like a museum or, even worse, something that has seen better days. In the last few years, Guerlain has been busy trimming its visual appearance to become more streamlined and uniform. The Shalimar atomizer got a sleeker shape by Jade Jagger in 2010, and in 2013, Maison Guerlain received a total makeover by cutting-edge New York architect Peter Marino. While the historic Art Nouveau shop area was largely left untouched, all unnecessary ornamentation was discarded, such as the richly decorated sucrier tester bottles. At the same time, a reinvigorated website and brand name logo were launched, both made with clean, minimalist lines.
When Guerlain released L'Homme Idéal, Shalimar Souffle de Parfum and Terracotta Le Parfum the following year, they all came with the geometric Futura font on the labels and boxes, which is the same font now used throughout Guerlain's website. The font was eventually extended to include the La Petite Robe Noire boxes. This font had already been used, in a slightly modified form, on the redesigned white labels for the Eaux Fraîches. In 2016, Guerlain's spray bottles for all masculine scents and most of the classic feminines, as well as the quadrilobe Parfum bottle, will be repackaged with the Futura font.
Originally conceived in 1927 by typeface designer Paul Renner, the Futura font favoured simple geometric forms: near-perfect circles, triangles and squares. The font became representative of visual elements of the Bauhaus design style, and has gained widespread popularity thanks to its air of efficiency and modernity. As Guerlain adopts this font today, it's actually a revival of a visual style that the brand employed extensively during the 1930s, for such creations as Vol de Nuit, Sous le Vent, the lantern bottle, the war bottle, and Coque d'Or. Today, Guerlain aficionados mainly know it from the watch-shaped Eau de Cologne bottle (1936), which was sold until the late 1990s.
Sometimes it's the bottle and name that sell the juice
There exists a decisive difference between perfume aficionados and perfume collectors. Both are generally highly aesthetically-oriented people, but while the latter are mainly interested in collecting the bottle presentation (some even sell off the liquid just to keep the bottle), the former will claim they buy a perfume for no other reason than the scent. In reality, however, a perfume's bottle and name prove to have great impact on how the scent is perceived — and how well it sells.
Of course, it's no news that it's not only the inside that counts; after all, there's a reason why perfume houses spend fortunes on designing attractive bottles. At Guerlain, this visual aspect has always been an important part of the game. One of Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain's earliest colognes didn't become famous until 1853 when it was presented to Empress Eugénie in the now legendary bee bottle and named Eau de Cologne Impériale. Since the Jacques Guerlain era, the same perfume has been sold in numerous different presentations. Later, from the 1990s when marketing briefs started to dominate the art of perfumery, Guerlain began issuing special collectible bottle editions of existing perfumes.
In recent years, some of these editions have been given new names, to add a more distinct and intriguing identity to them, to make a Christmas or Father's Day gift opportunity, or to commemorate some special event, such as the renovation of Moscow's Bolshoi theatre or the opening of the Guerlain Versailles boutique. In a few cases, trademark expiration issues are the reason for renaming fragrances. An interesting observation is that people at this point seem to perceive the scent differently. When the name or bottle has been changed, Guerlain reports that many customers refuse to acknowledge that the scent is the same as it was before.
Some examples of renamed fragrance editions are Shalimar Black Mystery (contains Shalimar Parfum and EdP), Shalimar Fourreau du Soir (contains Shalimar EdP), Habit Rouge Habit de Métal (contains Habit Rouge EdT), Habit Rouge Beau Cavalier (contains Habit Rouge EdP), Attrape Cœur (contains Guet-Apens), Mayotte (contains Mahora), L'Âme d'un Héros (contains Coriolan), Vetiver Sport (contains Vetiver Eau Glacée), L'Insolente (contains Precious Heart), Le Bolshoï (contains Les Secrets de Sophie), Shalimar Parfum Initial L'Eau Si Sensuelle (contains Shalimar Parfum Initial L'Eau), Cour des Senteurs Versailles (contains Aqua Allegoria Jasminora), Place Rouge (contains Quand Vient la Pluie EdP), Royal Extract (contains Guet-Apens), and Mademoiselle Guerlain (contains La Petite Robe Noire Modèle No.2).
A similar phenomenon occurs when Guerlain more permanently renews the bottle or box design of a classic fragrance, as has been done with Shalimar and Vetiver, among others. Despite the fact that the lab's reformulations are made independently of any planned changes in visual design, long-time customers involuntarily associate a new design with a new formula, hence they smell the scent as slightly or even completely different.
Some images courtesy of guerlain.com