The History and Evolution of Perfume Bottles

Written by Leanna Serras

Perfume is a mixture of aromatic compounds, fragrant essential oils, alcohol and water. The perfume world classifies perfumes into scent groups such as floral, fruity, woody, amber, musk, and oriental. Perfume is further divided by its potency: Real Perfume has the highest concentration of essential oils with 22%, Eau de Parfum has 15% to 22%, Eau de Toilette has 8% to 15%, Eau de Cologne has 8% to 15% and Eau Fraiche has 1 to 3% essential oils for just a hint of fragrance.

Evidence of perfume making began in Egypt and Mesopotamia and was then picked up by the Persians and the Romans. The first perfume maker of record was a woman chemist named Tapputi, she was spoken of in tablet from Mesopotamia in the second millennium BC. The first of the modern perfumes was created in 1370 by the Hungarians, for Queen Elizabeth of Hungary. Soon after this, the art of perfumery spread through Europe. Today, the Grasse region in France remains the center of the European perfume industry. The late 19 th century brought the perfume era as we know it due to advances in organic chemistry. 

“ A perfume is a work of art, and the object that contains it must be a masterpiece, ” Robert Ricci, with The House of Nina Ricci eloquently said. Perfume must have a vessel to house it and since ancient times perfume bottles have been considered an art form. The container that held the perfume was considered as valuable as the perfume itself. Through the ages, perfume containers and vessels have come in a variety of materials, shapes and sizes and differ from culture to culture.

The early Egyptians used containers made of wood and clay, the Palestinians used glass bottles made in beautiful colors, the ancient Greeks made hand painted vases often made in the shape of animals and the Romans used precious stones that had been hollowed-out to hold their precious perfumes.

Early Europeans used a wide variety of containers including porcelain, gold, silver, shells, semi-precious stones and glass. Some containers were in beautifully shaped bottles that had been designed by artists. There were even perfume containers made to wear as jewelry. The majority of perfume was sold in plain bottles then put into decorative costly perfume dispensers and bottles at home.

During the late 1800s, the style and art of perfume bottles changed dramatically. The Art Nouveau style was all the rage at the time and many perfume bottles were traditionally style, but with floral labels and boxing. Along the way, the industry created a trend of using crystal bottles with brass caps and matching gold labels and boxing. In 1910, perfume bottles started taking on shapes of flowers, lighthouses, teapots and many other unusual shapes. Coty, an established perfumer of the time, invited Lalique to design bottles for his perfume creations.

The 1920s saw the expansion of the perfume market in the United States, many new companies emerged and fashion designers started having chemists create their own fragrances. Baccarat perfume bottles were introduced and were known for their high quality crystal. They were the designers of most of the perfumers of the time period. During the depression perfume bottles tended to be less fancy and were quite conservative and often made by machine. After World War II new perfumers like Christian Dior and Nina Ricci started making their works of art. Perfume bottles once again became elaborate and luxurious. In the 1950s, Salvador Dali tried his hand at designing a bottle for Marquay perfumes. The creation was that of a man in a top hat and bow tie. Lancôme released Magie in 1950, held in a beautiful Baccarat bottle with stars.

Even to this day Lalique and Baccarat design the best quality perfume bottles for perfumers around the world. There are two top perfume bottle artists that have emerged, Peter Dinand and Serge Mansau both has their own style and signature designs. 

The expansive history of perfumes and their valuable bottles is intriguing and shows human beings have long been drawn to pleasant scents and works of beauty that speak to our senses. The art of perfumery and perfume bottle design still intrigues many collectors and enthusiasts today. The rest purchase modern day perfume for personal reasons, whether it is for the pleasure of the scent or the beauty of the bottle.