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Message in a fragrance bottle

Fragrance has a rich history, and so too do the striking glass flacons the juices rest in

‘A perfume is a work of art, and the object that contains it must be a masterpiece,’ said Robert Ricci, son of Maria ‘Nina’ Ricci with whom he started the iconic label that bore her name. No truer words have been spoken, certainly not as far as fragrances and the flacons that house them are concerned. Ancient vessels had humble beginnings: early Egyptians used containers made from wood and clay, and for their scented concoctions, the Palestinians preferred beautifully coloured glass bottles. The ancient Greeks made hand-painted vases often crafted into the shape of animals, and the Romans hollowed out precious stones to hold their equally precious scented contents.

Delicate luxury

Fast forward to the 21st century, and we’re living in a fine-looking era in terms of flacon design, but it’s also an innovative one. Take Chanel’s creative approach to the lightweight yet clean-lined Gabrielle Chanel EDP flacon. It’s almost a whisper of a bottle (the house’s intent), as they wanted the fragrance itself to be the hero by allowing the simple flacon to radiate the liquid’s hue through exceptionally fine glasswork. The stopper is neither silver nor gold, rather matte lamé, once again to avoid a big-bottle statement. Chanel cleverly turned around the concept that a luxury fragrance must be housed in a heavy, opulent bottle, and instead used delicacy to turn attention to what’s inside.

South African designers have something to crow about too. Renowned fashion designer Mark Eisen (who hails from SA) teamed up with Dunhill, and his vision for the design conceptualisation of their male fragrance Icon (he designed the full range) was awarded a Fifi D’Or in 2016 in Paris for exceptional design and packaging. Sponsored by The Fragrance Foundation in France, and known throughout the fragrance industry as the most prestigious awards, this ‘Oscar’ only goes to one men’s and one women’s fragrance each year. Eisen also received a FiFi award in the same year for Best New Design and Packaging in London. His work on fragrance-bottle design also saw him create the stylised diamond-inspired flacon, with its soft curves and rounded form, for Montblanc Lady Emblem EDP.

Modern sculpture

There is also much to behold in the beauty of flacons past. While the fragrance vessels of yesteryear have been updated, the heritage of their beauty is still wonderfully captured. None more so than Shalimar. The fragrance, created by Guerlain in 1925 (the first oriental fragrance in history), has been the source of much applause since its launch nearly a century ago. Ernest Beaux (the Russian-born French perfumer who created Chanel No. 5) famously quipped, ‘When I do vanilla, I get crème anglaise; when Guerlain does it, he gets Shalimar.’ Juice aside, the now updated bottle (it’s not a giant departure from the original) is described as modern sculpture that also ‘recalls the fine engraving of precious jewellery’. And isn’t that the epitome of truly display-worthy stuff?

Original article by Helen Clemson shortened for online publication


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