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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).
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