Saturday, November 18, 2006

Heart of Glass

This week I ran into an antiques dealer in my local bakery/café. She had spent some time in Quebec as well as France, and eventually I steered the conversation around to perfumes. She was truly startled to discover that I had any interest in the vintage juice; to her, the only reason anyone would be excited to find grandma's crystal amphora bottle of Diorissimo would be, well, the bottle itself. Later the same day, I went to an exhibit at the Glenbow Museum on art of the ancient Mediterranean world and found a display of perfume bottles. One specimen, of cast glass intricately patterned with fired threads of precious metals and minerals, was particularly striking. It looked like it could be one of the pieces for sale at the annual upmarket art and crafts show going on across the street in the Convention Centre, and yet it had been found in a tomb sealed in 783 B.C. While I was stunned by the artistry of this treasure, I must admit that I found my mind wondering from the artifact itself to its former contents. To play off Gray: What perfume had in solemn darkness slept unseen/ To waste its sweetness on the desert air?

I am one of those perfume addicts for whom the bottle matters very little. If I like the scent, a great bottle is a bonus. Usually, though, I only notice the bottle in so far as it annoys me. If it is tall and slender, like Yohji Homme, or narrow at the base, like Iquitos, I am going to knock it over. Many have neat designs - like Bvlgari's Black hockey puck or the Christmas ornament in a can of Histoire D'eau Topaze - but the spraying mechanism is weak or dysfunctional. Often the heavy elegance of a bottle is topped with a cheap, feather-weight cap. I don't own any full-sized fragrances in whimsical novelty bottles - Lolita Lempicka or Betsey Johnson, for example - but I have been tempted by Kenzo's Amour abstracts and Bond no. 9's Chinatown ginger jar, both of which my husband has pronounced "hideous". Regardless of who is right, the bottles would live in the darkness of a cupboard anyway (I don't have a tomb). By not displaying my bottles, I protect the juice - for future generations, really, as I'll never make it through them all. Because of my needs, then, I like spare, utilitarian packaging of the Federic Malle sort. If I ever own a Lutens bell jar, it will be for the contents.

It is hard to deny my childish pleasure in a good mini, though. I own a 3ml Annam (Tan Giudicelli), the discontinued and long-lamented comfort scent that smells like Martha Stewart baked a theme custard for an Ikebana article. The bottle design won a Fifi and is supposed to be a beautiful, tactile pleasure. A poster on Now Smell This commented that it looked like a hearing aid, however, and the mini's size, of course, only strengthens this comparison. It looks like nothing so much as a slightly oversized, futuristic sound-amplifying device. My hearing is fine, but I can barely keep from putting it in my ear.

8 Comments:

At 3:32 p.m., Anonymous Giselle R. said...

whenever I bought Gucci Rush, I got a dysfunctional sprayer--How unfair is that? Ugly plastic rectangle with wacky sprayer. Thanks a lot, Gucci. (I found a scent to replace it, as I just couldn't deal with it anymore!)

 
At 4:32 p.m., Blogger Erin said...

Oh, I desperately love Rush - and would never replace it! - but I agree: the red plastic block is neither attractive nor particularly functional (my sprayer gets clogged, but has never actually broken.) The Gucci scents are expensive enough that you think they could manage to package them well.

 
At 6:42 p.m., Blogger marchlion said...

Half the time I never even see the niche bottles, since I'm a decant queen. (I've never seen a bell jar). Here is Gucci Rush again -- I don't know what I'd put that fabulous juice in, but it wouldn't be a plastic, red box. I like minis too -- a cheap way to sample on eBay with a more attractive container than your average 5 ml decant.

 
At 7:23 p.m., Blogger Erin said...

I love little things - dioramas, miniturarist paintings and what-have-you. It comes from a childish part of me, this wondering love of shrunken, secret little things like minis, but I guess its not a terrible thing in a world where the focus is always on consuming bigger (Super-size? It's only 10 cents more! Let's build the world's largest indoor skihill!)

 
At 5:03 a.m., Blogger marchlion said...

I had a set of miniature (thumbnail-size) bottles of French perfume as a child, a gift from my dad. (what I wouldn't give for that set now!) I loved to smell them. I also had a really fabulous dollhouse that I bought new pieces for as I got older; I was still decorating as a high-schooler. The cool part? Now my daughters play with it... but they've never been as entranced as I have. There's a set of miniature rooms at the Field Museum (?) in Chicago built by some rich, nutty woman that you could spend a day poring over.

 
At 12:22 p.m., Blogger Erin said...

Oh to be rich and nutty! I had a great Playmobile doll house as a child. Also, as a toddler, I had one for the My Little Pony figures - one of which, as I've said elsewhere, came with a "perfume" that was packaged in a bottle almost identical to the Vera Wang Princess bottle. They say everything old is new again....

 
At 7:09 a.m., Blogger colombina said...

I am with you on juice being more important than bottle. We are Contentialists. Content precedes and rules Form :-D
I do have an alarming tendency to like "tradional" bottles with gilded caps, like Goutals and Carons...but I try to supress it :-)

 
At 1:08 p.m., Blogger Erin said...

I like the sound of the label "Contentialist" - it sounds like "contentious": "exhibiting an often perverse and wearisome tendency to quarrels and disputes." Well, that might be me!

I am almost alone in not being wild about the Goutal EdT bottles. I do, however, like my new Parfum Sacre EdP bottle, beautiful and graceful. The Caron masculines have a clean-line solidity to them, too.

 

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