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A History of Perfume and Bottles

A History of Perfume and Bottles

A History of Perfume and Bottles

Originally, perfume had a religious function and most commonly used perfumes included myrrh, incense, iris roots, lotus, lily and saffron.


Some of the oldest testimonials of perfume use go back to Mesopotamia. The ancient Egyptians used scents lavishly, especially in religious rites; they scented bandages to embalm their dead, as a symbol of eternity. Once they had learned to blow glass, they used it largely for perfume vessels.


The Hebrews learned about perfumes from the Egyptians. The Bible speaks much about them, whether it be oil for anointing, herbs or incense... The Three Wise Men, Melchior, Gaspard and Balthazar, brought Jesus gold, frankincense and myrrh, the latter two valued as much as gold.


The fashion for perfume spread to Greece, where containers, most often terra-cotta or glass, were made in a variety of shapes and forms such as sandaled feet, birds, animals, and human heads.


The word perfume is taken from the Latin word per fumum, which translated means through smoke. The Romans, who thought perfumes were aphrodisiacs, used not only molded glass bottles but also blown glass, after its invention at the end of the 1st century BC by Syrian glassmakers. The fashion for perfume declined somewhat with the beginning of Christianity, coinciding with the deterioration of glassmaking.

The Byzantine empire, in the East, heir of Rome, developed perfume art into a very important industry. It had the advantage of closer access to the raw materials and it exported this art to Arabia. Mohammed was a lover of perfume and in the Coran is promised a perfumed paradise to the believers. The Arabs were great experts in perfumery who knew how to assimilate and to perfect the knowledge of previous cultures, adding new techniques. They extended the use of the Water of Roses, of musk and civet, which became the predominant aromas during all of the Middle Ages. Those who returned from the crusades introduced perfumes to the West.


Perfumes thus came down through the centuries, alternately or simultaneously mystical, medical or esthetic. With the prudery of Christianity following medieval times, perfume started to be extensively used to cover up repulsive body odors.


By the 12th century Philippe-Auguste of France had passed a statute forming the first guild of parfumeurs, and by the 13th century Venitian glassmaking had become well established.


Venice and Florence were the capitals of perfumes during the Renaissance. The formulas of olden compositions were recovered and perfumery returned in force to Europe. The Médicis and the members of the Venetian Duce’s courts were all perfumed. When Catherine of Medicis, left Italy for France to marry King Henri II, she took, between her retinue a perfumer who opened with great success a perfume store in Paris.




France became an empire of perfume. At first it was the glovers that imported perfumed gloves from Spain, who brought perfume to the leather industry in France. The city of Grasse used natural essences to diffuse the ill smell of tanned leather and created the gild of the glove perfumers.


The French king’s courts, particularly those of Luis XIV and Luis XV became great perfume consumers. Despite their elegant dresses, powdered wigs and fantastic festivities, perfume was necessary to cover the lingering bad smell associated with a serious lack of hygiene.




In the 16th, 17th, and particularly the 18th centuries, the scent bottle assumed varied and elaborate forms: they were made in gold, silver, copper, glass, porcelain, enamel, or any combination of these materials. 18th-century porcelain perfume bottles were shaped like cats, birds, clowns, and the like; and the varied subject matter of painted enamel bottles included pastoral scenes, chinoiseries, fruits, and flowers.





During the French revolution the perfume market became paralyzed, but with the ascent of Napoleon, a great lover of perfume, the industry thrived once again.


By the 19th century classical designs, such as those created by the English pottery ware maker Josiah Wedgwood, came into fashion. Victorians favored silver topped glass bottles. One of the most collected Victorian bottles is the dual-purpose double-ended one. Two bottles are fused together, one end containing a flowery scent preferred by Victorian ladies, the other their smelling salts. These bottles are usually found in green, ruby or blue colored glass.




At the turn of the 20th century the perfume industry began to introduce pre-packaged scents for women to buy directly over the counter. Perfumeries commissioned glass manufacturers like Baccarat and Lalique to produce high quality bottles to house these scents. René Lalique, a leading French jeweler, produced sophisticated bottles in molded glass, characterized by iced surfaces and elaborate reliefs. Lalique perfume bottles are among the most popular and most valuable perfume bottles. Rene Lalique began making perfume bottles for Coty in 1905 and has produced thousands of bottles for over 60 perfume makers. The Art Deco bottles from the early 1900s and Art Nouveau designs featuring floral and figural designs are among the most valuable bottles.




In addition to Coty, some of the best known names of perfume that are in Lalique bottles include Nina Ricci and Estee Lauder.




There are other leading glass manufacturers that created amazing innovative bottles to house ladies scents. One of their most recognized designs was for French Perfume house “Guerlain”. The bottle has an inverted heart shaped stopper and displays the “Guerlain Paris” label on the front. “L’Heure Bleue” was the first scent to be launched by Guerlain in this bottle in 1912.




As with any female fashion collectables such as handbags or jewelry, perfume bottles really came into their own in the 1920’s. Women became more aware of their looks embracing the Jazz Age with vibrant colors, short skirts and even shorter hair.


Coco Chanel launched her signature scent “No.5” in 1921. Ernest Beaux created Chanel No. 5 for Coco, it was an instant success and today remains the best selling perfume in the world. The perfume contained synthetics, which was a dramatic change from the floral fragrances of the day. The bottle is very stylish and chic epitomizing the era that it was launched in. It especially appealed to those who couldn’t afford to buy the Chanel clothing range.




Schiaparelli was another leading fashion designer who presented her perfumes in beautiful designs. “Shocking” one of her most famous scents was inspired by the actress Mae West’s curvaceous body. This bottle is quite rare today.




Many designer houses since have encouraged women to complement their looks with classy scents in stylish bottles. Perfumes never cease to capture dreams and most women possess at least one.

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Added by:  Caramel

Date:  27th Apr 09

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