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as published in GCI magazine May 2007
About 10 years ago or so, I created an exhibition “Scents of Time.” The whole point of the exhibition was to reveal how fragrances and their packaging were influenced by the time in which they are born. It was a tremendous success. I believe the evolution of perfume bottles was most pronounced from the late 1800s to about the late 60s/early 70s. Think of the bottles from the Victorian period. Innocent, utterly feminine, flower and ribbon bedecked—they reflected fragrances that were almost always flowers (lavender being a favorite).
Then, of course, Chanel came along in the early 20s and revolutionized fragrance, as well as what was considered the personification of a perfume bottle. Coco Chanel captured the new woman who was emerging as a free spirit, eager to break out of the mold of her mother and grandmother. The stark, clean lines of the Chanel bottle was a far cry from anything that had been seen before. It presaged the glamorous art deco period, which featured bottles that were dramatic—many influenced by architecture (especially the Empire State and Chrysler buildings)—and the fragrances became more imaginative, setting the perfumer free to move well beyond nature’s palette, as had No.5. After the 60s, when the perfume industry began to grow dramatically with fragrances appealing to a mass market, design became more derivative, with, of course, a number of exceptions—including Opium, Paco, Angel and bottles from such designers as Issey, Gauthier and several of the American, French and Italian designers.
Fragrance creation is definitely an art, and the great perfumers have always created defining fragrances for women and men. In today’s world (I guess I can either be blamed or applauded since I introduced the wardrobe of fragrance concept in the late 60s), most people are dedicated to several fragrances to suit their moods, the occasion, the fashion, etc. Still, everyone has a favorite or two.
Naturally, from each company’s point of view, the fragrance that becomes a perennial favorite is often the goal. Everyone looks at Chanel, which has certainly achieved that lofty state. Although subtle changes have been made over the years in the bottle and box, essentially it is the same. When I think of other bottles that have taken their place in that rarefied arena, I have to mention L’Air du Temps and the original Oscar de la Renta. Both fragrances and their definitive bottles, are for many women, a permanent part of their fragrance collections.
When you talk about a “signature” fragrance and how to package it, the marketer, the perfumer and the package designer share a relationship that is unlike many others. Fragrance itself is not like a dress or piece of jewelry. You can’t hold it in your hand or even really see it except in the most esoteric sense. In addition, fragrance doesn’t make the wearer younger, richer or thinner—which very often drive the purchase and use of products. So, it isn’t enough to have a good marketing strategy, it isn’t enough to have a wonderful fragrance or a great package. It is the successful synergy of the three talents that will, in the final analysis, result in a fragrance experience, and I emphasize the word “experience” that will capture the consumer’s imagination over a lifetime. That’s why fragrance and its packaging falls in the realm of art rather than commerce, because it comes from a place in the brain (the limbic system) that speaks to our inner self, sexuality, creativity, emotion and memory.
Green’s take on Victoria Frolova’s “The Seven Best Things About Fine Fragrances Now” (P&F January 2007).
Return of the Classics
It is not surprising that the classics are enjoying new interest. So many new fragrances on the market have caused great consumer confusion, and people feel secure in their choices of classic fragrance. As far as the younger consumer is concerned, they always seem to enjoy a nostalgic interest in the past, whether it be fashion, fragrance, old movies. With a few exceptions, the package designer’s task is to modernize the classic’s image so it is recognizable to the consumer—yet is modern and relevant in today’s marketplace. In many instances, this is accomplished with the box rather than the bottle.
Companies such as Chanel and Guerlain have recently returned to their fragrance archives to offer the consumer a sensory experience from the past, also extending the brand imagery and appeal. I think this is a welcome addition to a person’s olfactory life, and appears to be well received in a niche sense. The challenge for the package designer is to recreate, in a contemporary way, the historic packaging without losing the allure of memory.
I believe strongly in perfumer-initiated projects. It gives the perfumer an opportunity to really be creative and not be forced into a position of reinventing the wheel over and over again. In recent years, the perfumer has not always been given the leeway to create truly original fragrances. Marketers have locked into current successes, and want to keep repeating them. I see avant garde packaging for this category because it would reflect new fragrance directions
New Gourmand Effects
Gourmand effects enlarged the perfumer’s palette in a very positive way. What’s most important is that the consumer has responded extremely well to these olfactory additions. Young consumers have particularly liked one-note “food” smells. Packaging in this category usually takes advantage of the dominant food note through color and simplicity (back to nature) in design.
Return of Chypre
I applaud the return of chypre and those marketers who are brave enough to accept the category. Some of our great classics—Miss Dior and Femme—are chypres. What is interesting about the category is that it combines intense woody notes with clarifying citrus to create sweet warm scents which are very much in the mood of today’s fashion-aware consumer. I believe this category is wide open for the most varied, eclectic designs that combine the integration of masculine and feminine visual qualities.
Spotlight on Perfumers
Spotlighting perfumers has always been “iffy” because the industry has operated on the principle that the consumer wants to believe that, particularly in relation to a famous personality, that the perfume was the creation of that personality. There is a point to that. Also, the supply houses are very jealous about their perfumers and don’t like them to have a public persona. On the other hand, when a perfumer reaches star status, it can make sense to spotlight his or her genius, particularly to potential customers in the industry and to the media—but I don’t see it as any great trend. Several small houses have been successful with this approach at retail, but it is not, I don’t believe, going to become dominant. The most successful packaging in this category appears to have a perfume lab look, which can be appealing to both men and women.
Floral Elements in Masculine Fragrances
I think it makes all the sense in the world for perfumers to include floral notes in men’s fragrances, as long as they are subtle. Men are much more open to more complicated blends, and softer, less harsh formulas have a broader appeal, particularly to women, who, in the final analysis, most man would like to please. As far as packaging these fragrances, bottles that have a more unisex quality would seem to be the most appropriate.
As a final word, whatever the packaging, it must make its presence felt, in a crowded environment, at retail. Delicacy and subtlety have no role. Drama, glamour, sexuality are all essential and basic to successful packaging.