A Brief History of Perfume Bottles • Scent Lodge

14 Mar.,2023


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A brief history of perfume bottles

a brief history of perfume bottles

A brief history of perfume bottles: For centuries, perfumers and fragrance enthusiasts have housed their scented oils and perfumes in ornate bottles, porcelain cups, terracotta bowls and crystal flacons. Unlike fashion and jewellery which is tangible and visible to the eye, fragrance is literally invisible and is experienced through our sense of smell. In order to celebrate the glory of these scents and the joy they offered, artists crafted, molded and embellished bottles of all shapes and designs to give this art form a visual splendour. Tracing the history of perfume bottles over six thousand years, you see that this is an authentic art form – always evolving with new technology and constantly reflecting the culture shifts around the globe. Scent Lodge has surveyed this rich history to give you a brief history of perfume bottles.

The earliest known examples of small perfume containers date back to the fifteenth century B.C.

Terracotta Egyptian oil jars from the third century BC contained elaborate hieroglyphics and illustrations that told visual stories of the ruling class and Gods. Scented oils and ointments were used in religious ceremonies. And they became an important part of a woman’s beauty regime.

Egyptian perfumed oil jars

The ancient artform of perfume bottles spread across the Middle East before arriving in Greece and Rome. In Rome, perfumes were believed to possess medicinal properties. The creation of ‘aryballos’, a small narrow-necked spherical vase made the direct application of creams and oils on the skin possible and very popular in the Roman Baths. From the sixth century BC onwards, bottles were shaped like animals, mermaids, and busts of the Gods.

Roman aryballos

The technique of glass-blowing was invented in Syria in the first century BC. It would later become an elevated artform in Venice were glass-blowers produced vials and ampoules to hold perfume.

During the Middle Ages, people became afraid of drinking water for fear of an epidemic. So they took to wearing decorative jewellery that contained protective elixirs for medicinal use.

It was the Islamic World that kept the art of perfumery and perfume bottles alive thanks to the flourishing spice trade and improvements in techniques of distillation. Later, the faces and wigs at the court of Louis XIV were fragrance with powders and perfumes. Odours from poor tanning methods required heavy perfumes to hide the odours.

The pomander, a metal globe that emitted perfume through its openworked decoration became hugely popular in homes and religious buildings.


Fragrance bottle design really flourished in the 18th century. Goldsmiths, jewellers, glassmakers and creators of porcelain figurines vied with each other to decorate perfume bottles. Most perfume bottles at this time were either crystal, porcelain or metal – many decorated with precious metals and gems.

porcelain was often used to house perfumed oils

The century’s most important invention in perfumery was made by gastronome Brillat-Savarin with his invention of the atomizer in 1870.

an perfume “cave” to store fragrance

The luxury life of the 18th century demanded perfume bottles were always an elegant lady’s vital companion. These bottles were often kept in small leather boxes known as ‘caves’. The glass of the bottles was often coloured iridescent blue or ruby red.

Perfume bottles frequently took on the themes of love, music, dance, comedy, flowers, birds and animals.

precious fragrance items from the Storp collection

The Storp family of Germany owns one of the world’s most extensive and important perfume bottle collection. It’s called the Storp Collection and it entails more than 3,000 pieces spanning six thousand years of history. They frequently lend out bottles for exhibitions around the world including the Palazzo Mocenigo in Venice.

Perfume was often incorporated into jewellery like in this bracelet

At the beginning of the twentieth century, two famous crystal manufacturers began crafting exquisite fragrance bottles: Lalique for Coty and Baccarat for Guerlain. These works of art were meant to be displayed on a vanity as a symbol of luxury and good taste.

Le Roy Soleil de Elsa Schiaparelli

In 1946, couturier Elsa Schiaparelli collaborated with Salvador Dali to create one of the most remarkable perfume bottles of all time: Le Roy Soleil by Schiaparelli (The Sun King) The sun-shaped bottle crafted by Baccarat in the shape of waves symbolized the liberation of France from Nazi Germany.

Le Roy Soleil de Elsa Schiaparelli

Fashion designer Nina Ricci took a similar inspiration with his L’Air du Temps bottle featuring two intertwined doves symbolizing freedom and grace.

Rene Lalique designed the L’Air du Temps bottle

The bottles, designed by Lalique, are still produced by hand in a tiny factory in France close to the German border. Three generations of artists work side-by-side producing these bottles.

jean patou created a fragrance to mark the inaugural sailing of the Normandie

One of the most unique fragrance collaborations came to fruition in 1935. Perfumer Jean Patou was commissioned to create a fragrance to mark the inaugural sailing of the Normandie cruise ship, one of the most luxurious liners ever built. Each guest was presented with a bottle of perfume in the shape of the ship as a memento of the trip.

the normandie

Today’s bottle designers conceive of unique and non-reproduceable container designs made from many different designs. Since these bottles must be shipped around the world, they must be very stable and hardy as not to crack or break in transit. Many weeks of testing is required to make sure the bottles are stable enough.

Glass is a brittle solid compound composed of silica, sand, soda and lime. Depending on the final container to be produced, up to 38% of the composition can be recycled glass.

The sand used by European glass manufacturers comes from Belgium. The major glass producers are Pochet, Bormioli, SGD, Brosse and Zignago. The U.S, glass producers Wheaton and Carr Lowrey get their sand from Ohio. Perfume bottles are produced at a rate of 25,000 to 50,000 per day.

glass-blowing furnace

Today’s glass furnaces are powered by electricity but older furnaces were fuelled by wood, coal, oil and even gas. They were originally located close to the source of fuel to keep costs down.

Pierre Dinand

Pierre Dinand remains one the most famous designer of perfume bottles. He created flacons for: Tiffany, Calvin Klein, Givenchy, YSL, Fendi and Madame Rochas. Others well known for their work include: Fabien Baron, Thierry De Baschmakoff, Thierry Le Coule, Serge Mansau, Lutz Herrmann, Philippe Starck and Joel Des Grippes. His website contains fascinating information and projects he’s worked on.

Prominent modern art museums around the world have recognized perfume bottle design as a respected art form.

Bvlgari’s Le Gemme bottle design has been praised for its design – a nod to early Roman fragrance vessels

It is a frequent practice in the world of perfumery for designers to create the bottle design BEFORE the perfumers create the scent. That is because it takes much longer to create a bottle design than it does to blend a scent.

Bottle designer Fabien Baron told Allure, “I can design you a beautiful bottle, but there are billions of beautiful bottles out there. That isn’t the point. It’s about matching the history and the values of the psyche of the brand to a culture moment and then aligning all of those elements into one clear message…the story is the most important thing.”

atkinsons gold in mayfair

In this new era of online shopping, perfume bottle is even more important than ever. That is because consumers must get a sense of the fragrance from the bottle shape and look – and it must inspire them to make a purchase.

Moschino Toy Boy

Jeremy Scott studied the Moschino fashion archives in Italy to find the teddy bear motif that the designer used in his earliest collections in the 1980s. He then had a glass perfume bottle designed in the same shape, Toy2 and Toy Boy

Today’s perfume bottles incorporate cutting-edge manufacturing processes incorporating complex materials for closures. The tolerances that are achieved today were previously unheard of. Carolina Herrera’s Good Girl stiletto is an excellent example. This feat of design science required two full years of work to find the perfect balance, shape and glasswork. It is rumoured to have cost over $2 million to perfect the mold itself.

The latest trend in perfume bottle design is for fashion designers to take inspiration from their accessories collections. They will incorporate shapes and designs in bags and jewellery into perfume bottle creations. Donatella Versace likes to use her medusa emblem in hand bags and on fragrance flacons.

Versace fashion bagVersace Bright Crystal Ovetto with medusa emblem

If you love the art of perfume bottles there are Facebook groups, online clubs and auctions where you can explore and celebration this remarkable art form.

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