Byline: Evan Clark

NEW YORK — Fragrance bottles are curious vessels that capture the imagination and contain scents, the best of which recall places we may have never known and times we wouldn’t remember without their enchantment. They are also a big business and the outward sign of often-huge investments.
And after a bout of minimalism in the early Nineties, the category is in evolution mode, reported top packaging designers.
Georges Gotlib, packaging designer for Gotlib Design & Resources, noted that in the last five years the market has arrived at a point where function precedes format. “Before, there was a lot of emphasis on shape and pressure to produce bottles that scream ‘Buy me! Buy me!,’ leaving very little room to respect the fragrance,” Gotlib said.
Peter Levine, executive creative director at Desgrippes Gobe & Associates agency in New York, believes that people want fragrances to be “an extension of ourselves in a bottle.” However, Eighties opulence wasn’t simply replaced by Nineties spirituality. One was laid on top of the other, and “we now have an opportunity to have both” in our lives, he said.
The juice itself is also driving change, according to Marc Gobe, president of the Desgrippes Gobe. “There’s a major revolution happening in fragrances: the movement from bad girl to good girl, bad boy to good boy, sexy and hot to natural,” he said.
Gone is the era of the almost utilitarian CK One. Now, more “real fragrances,” as opposed to light splashes, are being produced, and the bottles have to echo that. This is being accomplished partly through the return of some other traditional materials.
Sexy and hot — in everything from marketing to packaging and design — focuses on the way things are said, he explained, while the natural zeros in on what is said. Fragrance bottles reflect this, said Gobe. “On one side they are a message of what the fragrance is, and on the other a message of what it means.”
For Gobe, Gucci Rush is an example of the sexy and hot style of fragrance. “There’s lots of plastic and the bottle is hidden,” he said. The name, Rush, evokes passion and turmoil.
Jean Paul Gautier’s Fragile, on the other hand, is a snowball design containing a gold figure surrounded by golden flakes. This focuses on what the fragrance is saying, he argued.
Fragile is also a good example of “the return of gold,” where once, as Gobe recalled, silver used to dominate. “The revival of this classic material brings a level of sensuality back,” he said.
While fragrance packaging is still very minimalist emotionally, Gobe said, designs are becoming more expressive. “The bottle is the story of a fragrance,” he observed.
For his part, New York-based designer Marc Rosen believes that minimalism is over. “A new definition of luxury is what we’re heading for now,” he said. “Bottles are all very sensuous.”
New techniques have made glass denser and more useable. “People now want a bottle they can keep — one that’s beautiful and looks expensive,” said Rosen. “The changes going on now in design are very interesting — with the year 2000, everyone thought that we’d be going toward a futuristic design, but instead we’re looking back at the best of the last century.”
For example, J’adore, by Dior, with its golden slender necked bottle, is a return to glamour and the days of Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” “Woman want to look feminine and smell feminine,” he emphasized.
But combining the best of the past with a vision for the future is what it’s all about, said Gotlib, who said he likes to “combine old techniques with new technologies.” This is evident in his commemorative flacon honoring the Fragrance Foundation’s 50th birthday. Made from a 1949 flower motif mold, it is fitted with a newly designed stopper that allows the fragrance to be applied by either splashing or spraying.
New York packaging designer Ben Kotyuk agrees that “from a technical point of view, the vendors are able to produce a much more sophisticated piece.” He added, “Good bottles are becoming very common, much more so than 10 or 15 years ago.”
Materials are now often being used in new ways. 1903, a cologne designed for the Peterman Catalog, is a jug-like combination of wood and glass. “Wood has a nice feeling to get in touch with what is natural,” says Gotlib, who developed 1903. Decoration techniques are also becoming more advanced, and plastic is turning up in new places. Metal has also become cheaper to produce.
“Although America is at the forefront of fashion, taste is becoming much more global,” says Gotlib. Bottles designed with the French in mind may well be appealing to Americans or the Italian as well, he said. Global markets are opening up, and there’s a greater interest in fragrances.
Kotyuk feels, though, that many of the fragrance bottles today don’t connect stylistically with the lines they are associated with and the designers who made them. “You can’t look at the bottle and see how it makes sense” with the rest of the company’s products, he said.
In fact, Kotyuk is noticing an increasing lack of consumer loyalty. Kotyuk feels that designers are not trying to create a “timeless piece,” but another work of art that will sell well for a time. “It’s a sad state of affairs,” he grumbled.