Friday, August 9, 2013

The Bottle Club

Yesterday I attended a meeting of perfume bottle collectors. 

Among vintage perfume collectors, these people are sometimes called “The Enemy.” They buy for the bottle, not the juice. And (the horror!) I’ve heard that some bottle sellers pour the perfume in them down the drain.

Incidentally, displaying fragrance in clear bottles is not advised. The perfume in them cooks in bright light, resulting in that nail polish remover top note vintage buyers know too well. So the beautiful bottles presented by Lalique yesterday — all clear glass — wouldn’t benefit any perfume that might be inside them. Not that you’re going to put your limited edition signed-and-numbered Lalique flacon inside a dark cabinet. Are you?

I wish I could display my collection on a dresser top or shelf. Many of the bottles are beautiful. But for me, display is limited to the opaque ones, because it’s the contents I care most about. You can’t wear a bottle. The bottle is something you own, but it doesn’t become part of you like perfume does.

There are some bottles that are swoonworthy, though. One is pictured above.

Elsa Schiaparelli was the grand doyenne of the perfume bottle as surrealist art. She collaborated with Salvador Dali on a number of perfume bottle projects. The most well-known one is the “Le Roi Soleil” bottle, crafted  by Baccarat, which was released in 1946 to celebrate the end of World War II. Dali drew the sun’s “face” as a series of birds in flight, across a rising sun, over an enamel-blue molded glass sea. (I haven’t been able to find any description of what the perfume inside smelled like — this alone is interesting, as such information is readily available on the ‘net nowadays — but most of Schaiparelli’s fragrances were of the take-no-prisoners type.) So, in this case, the bottle, er, eclipsed the perfume inside it. 

Even as a young girl I hoped to someday have a vanity, on which there would be a mirrored tray, full of fine perfumes in their beautiful bottles. The bottles atop my cabinet now — Agent Provacateur comes to mind, in its  pink ceramic egg crowned by a plain metal spray nozzle — aren’t the most appealing ones. Those are stashed safely in the dark interior.

For me, it was odd to walk into a room  like the one yesterday and not smell a bit of perfume. No one was wearing any. That included me. I didn’t want to offend. So, as I passed through the very upscale department store in which the meeting was held, I sprayed  samples of Kurkdijan and Ford  and Creed onto cards, not onto my skin as I usually would.

I guess these people love the bottles a beautiful objects, as art, so I ask: these art aficionados, these collectors, are they more in step with the concept of perfume as art than are those who (so I’ve heard) have been known to decant the perfume for wearing, and put the bottle up for sale to them?

The image of the Dali bottle for Le Roi Soleil comes from Richard Stamelman ’s book “Perfume”  c 2006, Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. No photo credit was given.

The Dali bottle in perfect condition, not that you’re interested in such things, is currently priced at around $25,000, if you can find one. I saw one on a popular auction site that was in very bad condition (chips, broken rays, faded, no box) for just under $4000.


Undina said...

I think you're reaching: leaving aside the question of artistry for the majority of perfumes themselves, most bottles definitely aren't art. So collecting them aren't a better way of art appreciation than collecting, let's say, bobble head figurines, garden gnoms or coffee mugs. Of course, if people collect objects that actually are pieces of art we might put them into a different category but how many of perfume bottles collectors are actually collecting art? I think that whatever the number in the answer is, there are easily twice as many people who consider perfume to be an Eighth Art.

Why didn't you want to wear any perfume? Why would it be offensive? It's not like you have to break [strike]eggs to make an omelette[/strike] I mean, a bottle to apply a perfume...

Olfacta said...

Hmmm...well, I'd say that most Thomas Kinkade paintings are much more craft than art, but Kinkade is the only artist lots of people know about. Are they just a bunch of yahoos? What would Kant say?

I think that the people at the meeting, who were quite familiar with perfumes as well as bottles, would say that their precious bottles are art. And even I say that they are much more an art than coffee mugs.

As for perfume, there are many instances in which I don't wear it, or only wear a little. When in doubt I tend use a light hand. There are enough scent-haters in this world as it is. Any medical office, for example, where a strong fragrance might offend someone who is ill. Of course I carry several decants so I can spray myself once I leave!

The friend who took me to the meeting is a professional perfumer as well as a bottle collector. She wasn't wearing any fragrance either. At the end, though, when a Guerlain rep brought in a half-full vintage bottle of Mitsouko EDT, I couldn't help myself, and the rest of the day I walked around in a golden haze of chypre.

There's room for everybody.

Ralph Johnson said...

Great blogsite! From the design of the bottle of Colognes and perfumes. I can see that this smells great. Besides from the unforgettable note we smell, the bottles themselves attest to the aesthetic designs of the makers. Collecting them can be a hobby just like stamp collections.

Andre Moreau said...

Weird bottles, anyone?
"Moschino Pour homme Viceversa" a bottle both splash and spray at the same time (pure Surrealism...)
and: "Regina Schrecker pour Femme", a modern art sculpture with perfume inside.