Fragrance is elemental, it’s physical—it communicates. Fragrance is evocative; its power to draw memory and emotion from hidden depths makes it a personal product without peer. It can be art.
In a less material world, fragrance bottles would be solely about art—about supporting the ethereal qualities of fragrance, about a bottle standing on its own merits. However, it’s clear that a bottle cannot be art for its own sake. That is not to say that there is not an art to bottle design and creation—or that there is not a true passion and dedication to those creations. Experts dedicated to fragrance and design make it clear that the ultimate goal of bottle artistry is to entice consumers to pick up the fragrance and make a purchase.
The Silent Salesman
“Innovation is not about packaging; it’s about giving brands the competitive edge,” stated Alan Isacson, president, ABI PR, in a presentation at Packaging Strategies 2006. Effective packaging means understanding consumers and what drives them to a brand. It is communicating; it is selling.
“I’m a great believer in several things, one of them being tactile communication, whereby through an ad or at point-of-purchase you’re really communicating with the consumer tactilely through your package,” said Marc Rosen, president, Marc Rosen Associates. “You want to design something that the consumer is going to want to reach out and touch and pick up—then smell and hopefully purchase.
“The first purchase is mainly about the package. You may have to like the fragrance, but the package is the first thing that sells them. It draws them into it. It’s emotional.”
Because the fragrance itself is essentially invisible, the bottle must communicate the emotional content. If it doesn’t, the fragrance is unlikely to be successful.
“If a package is done properly, developed along with the scent and reflects the scent, it can carry the mood of the scent forward,” said Rochelle Bloom, president, The Fragrance Foundation. “The tactile touch of a bottle is what carries that emotion forward.”
Distinction and tactile intrigue is achieved through shape, weight and texture, and new shapes are enhanced by advances in design effects achieved through new technologies. Those distinctions must foremost express the message of the brand, but that has become increasingly difficult to do through bottle design because of the limitations and demands imposed by today’s market—including speed to market issues, the rise of flankers and the declining popularity of poured, rather than sprayed, perfumes.
“When we really had perfume bottles, you were trying to convey the message of the brand through the perfume bottle. Today, very few companies launch with perfume,” said Rosen. “Today, it’s the eau du parfum bottle that becomes the image. It’s harder, because of design limitations, to create a spray bottle. Because the actuator takes up a lot of head room, and it’s not a stopper, it’s a harder thing to design and to create that image.”
Speed to market has been a significant factor in the life of today’s fragrances. Fragrances are launched more quickly with shorter life expectancy, and, according to Rosen, the biggest impact is fragrance flankers. In many instances, according to Annette Green, president emeritus of The Fragrance Foundation, brands use the established brand’s bottle for the flanker, with decoration changes.
“The challenge is to invoke the new image for each flanker,” said Rosen. “You have to create something, through decoration, that is going to stand behind the flanker image. It’s harder, especially when you get into the third, fourth, fifth flanker. It’s less original.”
According to Bloom, there is less image for the sake of image because of the associated costs and dwindling number of pour perfumes.
“This changes the design dynamics, which often demands that the designer employ stock bottles dressed up to give them a look of individuality though color, the label, the cap, etc.,” said Green. “Often, the celebrity logo is the defining image. Longevity is not necessarily the main goal.”
Because of the extraordinary number of fragrances that are introduced each year, the fragrance industry has created an ongoing challenge for itself and its packagers.
“In the good old days, when you took years to develop a fragrance, you also took years to develop a package. There was great synergy between it all,” said Bloom. “In today’s world, it is a fragrance a minute. You don’t have that kind of luxury today. Designers are developing bottles without knowing what the fragrance is going to smell like, so there are not that many cohesive launches today. It doesn’t mean they aren’t good, it just becomes more challenging.”
Though the rate of introductions may have increased the pressure on all those charged with the success of a fragrance, the goal in bottle creation remains unchanged. The bottle serves as the silent salesman, achieving its task through a design that supports the brand message. As image become more difficult to define, creating an image is still a goal, and elements of the scent and its concept must be explored.
“One of the things, as a designer—at least in my case—that’s important, is to create a bottle that’s going to be consistent with the image of the name, celebrity or designer that’s behind the fragrance. Not to just create a good-looking bottle that you can put anybody’s name on,” said Rosen.
Furthermore, the bottle must support the marketing strategy, which includes understanding whether the fragrance is celebrity-keyed, fashion designer influenced or, according to Green, reflects a more mobile, technologically committed consumer who is rarely faithful to any product for long.
And what is the fragrance trying to say? Femininity, masculinity, fashion and sex appeal have long been part of the language of fragrance, but, according Rosen, new categories and images are emerging. Rosen cites Juicy Couture’s eponymous fragrance, which through its packaging and advertising, has created an image about humor. The bottle looks like a bottle within a bottle, and the decorations include two terriers supporting a crown and coat of arms.
Lines and colors, which Bloom sees as the biggest change in the current evolution of bottles, also play an important role.
“If the fragrance is erotic, it demands a voluptuous bottle that is sensuous to the eye and touch, and colors such as red, purple and blue are important” said Green. “On the other hand, if the fragrance is sportive in nature, a clean, clear line is usually chosen as the design.”
Elegant, “dress-up” fragrances are expressed through sophisticated designs with the intention of imparting confidence and a dash of glamour, and the current trend for scents formulated to soothe the psyche are found in smooth, easy to handle bottles. When fashion is the primary expression or image of the fragrance, designers opt for unusual bottles and combinations of materials.
“I think every fragrance should be treated as unique,” said Bloom. “There are gorgeous bottles made every year. You never know what fragrance is going to become a classic—that’s a crap shoot. If it’s a very successful fragrance, the package follows suit.”