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THE EBB AND FLOW OF GUERLAIN'S BOTTLE ART


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.
(November 2016)


Some images courtesy of guerlain.com


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