The Art of Perfumes

For a second, let’s go back to the Roaring Twenties. Think Great Gatsby. Remember the swingin’ jazz music, prohibition, speakeasies, flapper girls and the style. Now, during this period does perfume ever come to mind? Probably not. Not many know that it was during the grand 1920s that the perfume industry in America went through an artful, creative transformation.

You see, soldiers came back from overseas and brought with them perfumes from places like the beautifully elegant Paris; and, it’s often said, that Paris prides itself in two things – it’s art and perfumes. These perfumes from overseas were strikingly different. They had style. They had flair. They had personality.

Now let’s go back to the present.

Today we can go to the mall and see a myriad of different types of perfumes. Each uniquely packaged, each with it’s own personality as if they hold something intrinsic as DNA. The salespeople behind the counter will smile at us and say: “This perfume is just perfect for you. It’s light and feminine, just like you. Doesn’t it smell great?”

Yeah….no. A salesperson just wants you to buy a perfume, any perfume as long you buy it from him or her and not the other hoard of salespeople calling out to you. They will compliment you, flatter you and try to project the perfume’s personality on you.

The truth is, buying Miss Dior Chérie won’t make you feminine or flirty. But it can do a damn good job of making you feel like you are…for a second at the least. That is the power of good strategic advertising. The ability to take a glass bottle and liquid (because in the end, that’s all it really is) and surround it with images of a French countryside and cheerful woman to create a “personality” consumers can connect with or hope to be.

In the end, it’s all about profit and package design serves as its means to an end.

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It’s All About Visual Communication

Research show us that visual communication is often more powerful than verbal communication. People tend to retain information better if it is presented to them visually over verbally. Visual communication can also serve to act as a bridge for connecting two otherwise unrelated objects or ideas thanks to its ability to create  meaning for intangible characteristics by using icons and symbols (source: 2). Iconic signs are made from an analogy between the sign and its object.

So how does this relate to perfumes? Well iconic signs are regularly used in perfume advertising and package design. Perfumes can be categorized into roughly 6 iconographic types (University of Texas):

1. Heroine or Exotic Temptress|| Examples: Miss Dior by Dior, Ange o Demon by Givenchy, Princess by Vera Wang

2. Designer Names || Examples: Examples are: Gucci by Gucci, Ralph Lauren by Ralph Lauren, Tommy Girl by Tommy, I Love Mar by Marc Jacobs, Dolce & Gabbana by Dolce & Gabbana

3. Exotic Locations || Examples: Examples: Cool Water by Davidoff, Paris by Yves Saint Laurent, Fidji by Guy Laroche

4. Seduction or Passion || Examples: Obsession by Calvin Klein

5. Attributes of Femininity || Examples: Examples: Daisy by Marc Jacobs, Lola by Marc Jacobs, Butterfly by Mariah Carey, A Touch of Pink by Lacoste,

6. Romanticism or Classicism || Examples: Examples: Chanel No. 5 by Chanel, Coco by Chanel

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Showcase & Analysis

I’ve collected a few examples of high-end (because they are more strategically marketed) perfumes to show the different package designs of bottles and how it reflects the desired brand personality. Also, I’ve added the commercial along with the design of the bottle in order to show you what the desired image is. It serves to answer the question of “if this perfume was a person what would they look like (or what would be their interests)?”. Information about the perfume’s brand personality is courtesy of Sephora.

Miss Dior Chérie by Dior

Description: This is a modern fragrance that captures the timeless couture spirit of Dior. A new interpretation of the original Miss Dior fragrance, Miss Dior Cheriecombines pure couture spirit with the audacity of youthful, playful notes for a fresh approach to a timeless classic. Notes of chic, green tangerine, violette, and pink jasmine mingle with soft patchouli, musk, and delectably sweet strawberry leaves and caramelized popcorn for a delicious scent that’s truly irresistible. (Sephora)

Perfume style: Pure. Precious. Modern

Price: $98 for 3.4 fl ounces

Analysis: I would say this packaging of the bottle would fall into either “Attributes of Femininity” or “Heroine” from the 6 iconographic types. From the video above we can see the girl who is supposed to visually represent the bottle – she seems cheerful, vibrant, feminine, independent and modern. This is reflected in the package design of the bottle itself. Though the shape is square – which denotes masculinity – it also appears classical or refined. The bottle also has a light pink tint to it to emphasize the soft feminine side of the fragrance. Furthermore, the bottle cap of the bottle is set up into a bow design – which also highlights the “girly-side” of Miss Dior Cherie. All in all, the bottle design of the package resonates with the desired brand image for this specific perfume.

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J’Adore Dior by Dior

Descripition: Radiant, sensual, sophisticated, J’adore is a fragrance that celebrates

the renaissance of extreme femininity and the power of spontaneous emotion with a brilliant bouquet of orchids, the velvet touch of Damascus plum, and the mellowness of amaranth wood. (Sephora)

Perfume style: For the confident, sensual woman who celebrates her femininity – this is Dior’ golden girl.

Price: $98 for 3.4 fl ounces

Analysis: This bottle differs greatly from the above package design of Miss Dior Cherie – and they’re both from the same company. However, they are aiming at two different target audiences. By watching and comparing the two videos from above this becomes very noticeable. The woman, Charlie Theron, is someone who sexy, confident, elegant and sure of herself (obviously, you can’t say the same for the girl in the video for Miss Dior Cherie). The bottle reflect reflects this type of woman with it’s oval-like shape – a huge denotative meaning for femininity – that is long and reminiscent of a woman’s body (i.e. the long golden part reminds me of a neck). Also, the bottle is pretty simple in itself – like an understated elegance. Looking deeper into this, the video also manages to touch upon this by having Charlie Theron say the line “Diamonds are dead….etc”. This empathizes the point that the wearer of the perfume doesn’t believe that materialistic or expensive things make the woman. She believes in an understated elegance, which the bottle exudes.

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Conclusion

Just as clothes can present an extension of ourselves, so can perfume. We’d like to think the light, floral fragrance we’re wearing perfectly expresses who we are inside – someone carefree, fun and feminine. But why do you think that way? Is it because you finally found the perfume that has just the right balance of strawberry punch and mandarin base notes? Or is it because the company has expertly executed an advertising campaign for Miss Dior Chérie so that the perfume reflects this certain personality?

The answer will most likely be the latter.

The truth is perfumes (along with colognes, body sprays, body mists and the like) are parity items. There are literally hundreds and thousands of perfumes readily available for you to be nowadays and I can guarantee you will find very similar smelling ones. The companies who make these perfumes know this. That is why they are so careful in the execution of their perfumes’ brand image, especially the design of their bottle, because consumers often purchase items items on perceived value that is ingrained through advertising. They do this hoping you will connect with or with to project their perfume’s “personality”.

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References

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