Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Art of Perfume Bottles

While many of today's perfume bottles are utilitarian, rectangular bottles with a label, beautiful old bottles are collectible. I know one antique collector whose collection includes only the finest, historically significant and gorgeous Victorian bottles. She actually gave me three vintage perfumes because they were in bottles that didn't interest her - and one of them was a gorgeous Lalique bottle!

That's not to say that there aren't beautiful bottles being marketed today. Look at this year's Muguet by Guerlain. Even Jo Malone stepped up with decorated bottles in the last year or two, Osmanthus Blossom being the latest example (below).

JoAnne Bassett, a natural perfumer, offers limited-edition perfumes today in glass works of art. The gorgeous bottle for Esoterica, shown below, holds quarter-ounce of perfume. The exquisite, hand-blown glass bottle displays the colors of the ocean, with has ribbons of color running down the sides.

Many of the oldest bottles were made to house any perfume that a woman chose to wear. They didn't come with the perfume. I have two in sterling silver. Mine were American-made, but the Japanese sterling bottle below is much like them. Tiny and meant to take along, they are little works of art.

Take a look at the Lalique bottle below. Lalique is synonymous with crystal, but the firm’s history has always been closely linked to perfumery. René Lalique designed extraordinary bottles for the major houses. He worked extremely closely with François Coty at the beginning of the century. Roger & Gallet, Houbigant, Molyneux, and Worth all had Lalique-designed bottles in the 1920s and '30s.

He formed a trend flowing through the creative spirit of art nouveau, where art and industry joined hands in the service of perfumery. Created just after the war, the interpretation of L’Air du Temps for Nina Ricci was named bottle of the century. The emblem of Lalique crystal creations, this design is also a symbol with the presence of two doves. Today, the largest of those bottles sell for thousands of dollars.

Baccarat also played an important role in the history of perfume bottles. It was reportedly the first crystal house in France that worked from the outset of their invention to create bottles for the finest perfumes. As early as the 1860s, Baccarat was the bottle supplier for Edouard Pinaud, L.T. Piver, and others and made the first bottle for Dior's iconic Diorissimo, shown above.

Just a note on perfume bottles with atomizers like those shown in the group photo at the top of this feature. Don't store your expensive perfume in bottles with bulb atomizers. The perfume will evaporate in these functional, but decorative, bottles. If you do put your treasured fragrances in them, only pour in what you are prepared to lose.

I could write a dissertation on perfume bottles. Sadly, I don't have time. I thought it would be fun to share with you one of my recent interests. If you are serious about learning more about perfume bottles, take a look at the International Perfume Bottle Association, where you can browse a virtual museum. It's also fun to pick up perfume bottle auction catalogs. When you go to antique shows, look for a vendor selling old catalogs. They are fun to browse.

Do you consider the bottle when buying a new fragrance?

Photos courtesy of,, perfumeandpharmacy, Guerlain, Jo Malone, JoAnne Basssett, and source unknown found on Pinterest


Carolyn N. said...

I would totally collect these perfume bottles!

Moonchime said...

Wow--All of the bottles are gorgeous!
I've been keeping my empty bottles that once held my beloved Lolita Lempicka fragrance. Perhaps someday my daughter and granddaughter will enjoy displaying the bottles.

Charlestongirl said...

Me too, Carolyn, if I had the inclination to start a new collection.

Charlestongirl said...

Hi Moonchime,

You never know what they will be worth in 50 years!

Claire said...

Yes! I do look at perfume bottles before considering purchasing them. I once purchased an ambiance perfume from Laduree just because of the bottle shape and the pump. Or Serge Luten's bell jar with the glass stopper. So old-fashioned. My grandmother collected (and still collects) perfume bottles, the miniature ones: Guerlain Jicky, Chanels, Jean Patou Joy, Nina Ricci L'air du Temps, etc. She collected those whenever she traveled with airlines -- it was the golden age for airlines, she said everyone dressed like they were going to the Opera. Anyhow, I'm not lucky enough to own a Lalique, that would be a dream.

Unknown said...

I do love it when a perfume I like has a nice bottle.
My favourites are Juicy Coutures "Couture Couture", Vera Wang's "Princess" and "Lovestruck" and of course the Harajuku Lovers perfume by Gwen Stefani. They all look so nice displayed.

Rosemary said...

I buy for the fragrance, but having a pretty bottle is a bonus.

They're packed now as I'm moving this weekend, but I have two vintage bottles from the 50s. They were my mother's. One is the iconic black with a gold band Chanel #5 and the other is a Bourjous fragrance. I can't think of the name right now. It's not Evening in Paris. It has two parakeets on the front of the bottle and is lovely.

I'd love to collect vintage perfume bottles, but alas, my wallet will not allow it at present.


Unknown said...

I would love to collect vintage perfume bottles, but I don't have the space or funds. However, thanks to your blog, I can enjoy these beauties via the Internet!

I actually like the perfume bottle I have now, which is The Body Shop's "Love Etc." It comes in a square squirt bottle, but the bottom is narrower than the top, if you know what I mean? The perfume solid of Love Etc. also comes in a cute container - a little pink heart with the logo of the perfume on the cover. It doesn't take much to make me happy!

Polly said...

I absolutely consider the bottle when buying new scent, to the extent that it is one of the major factors in my decision. I don't think I would quite go so far as buying scent *just* for the bottle, but I have certainly ruled out scents because the bottle wasn't aesthetically pleasing to me, and avoiding even testing them in case I liked the scent! I suppose that is not a bad way of narrowing down the wide choice of scent currently available :-)

JoAnne Bassett said...

Thank you for including my Esoterica hand blown glass bottle. I always look at the perfume bottle when making a purchase. What is also very important to me is the fragrance itself so it is a combination.