Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Art of Perfume Advertising

Nowadays when we see an advertisement for a perfume or cologne it is invariably a photograph using sex as the main tool to sell the fragrance. ‘Photograph’ being the key word here, shows how advertising has evolved and changed through the decades. It was once common practice for the fragrance houses and couturiers to employ leading artists such as Dali and Cocteau to illustrate their advertising campaigns for the fragrances they wished to sell. Some artists who might otherwise have remained unknown gained their fame through this form of exposure.

Photographs and fragrance advertisements go hand in hand today as the main means of getting the maker’s message across. However nowadays there are no longer the nuances of a particular artist’s style that we can recognize and immediately associate with a particular fragrance or fragrance house. An advertisement for Davidoff could just as well be promoting Calvin Klein and the only way we can differentiate is with the written word that appears on the copy, or sometimes a picture of the fragrance itself. This is not to say that photographic advertising is a bad thing. There have been some truly memorable and brilliant ad campaigns created that have stood out and have proved marketing goldmines for the companies involved. Our tastes and markets have changed over the years. The demographics have become younger with a more disposable income and fragrance is more accessible than what it was in our mother’s day, hence a more generic approach in getting the message across.

On the other hand see a Vertes drawing in a magazine and we immediately associated it with Schiaparelli, Gruau with Dior and Cassandre for Lelong. There are a lot of unknown artists who were employed, whose names we do not know, but we can instantly recognize the campaigns.

Artists didn’t use sex to represent the perfume, the ads themselves were sexy! Rene Gruau for Dior was a master of this. One of the first ads for Miss Dior shows an elegant woman’s hand resting on a leopard’s paw and that was it! Sexy in the fact that that is all we see and who knows what was deduced from this? Wear Miss Dior and you can beat the savage beast into submission? And then there are his men in the Eau Sauvage ads also for Dior. We see a man from behind naked shaving in a mirror; we see his face and half a buttock. He is slim and lithe (not the current beefcake represented today) and boy does he look sexy! Also Gruau’s afro coiffed man for another Eau Sauvage ad in the 70’s, sexy in the fact that this man is indicative to the era he was conceived in.

Gruau was rather prolific and also created successful ad campaigns for Lucien Lelong and Pierre Balmain. He was constantly changing his approach although his style was always recognizable. There is a span of almost 30 years between the Lelong and Balmain ads below, however they both convey different messages but we can still recognize them as coming from the same hand.

Vertes’ illustrations for the Schiaparelli perfumes are also instantly recognizable and we immediately associate the two names together. A sailor sitting on a park bench embracing a bottle of the perfume shaped like a woman’s torso, gives us a lighthearted flippant approach with surrealist undertones.

Another series for Lelong by Cassandre used two distinct methods in the same drawing to promote the perfume house. Ads were composed of a line drawing of a female head and then a detailed botanical study of various plants. Even though done over 50 years ago they remain fresh and relevant today.
The ads for Le Galion for their different fragrances over the years were instantly recogniseable as coming from Le Galion.

If we were to buy one of Lanvin’s perfumes in the 50’s based on the advertising we were buying a part of Paris itself as the artist used everyday street scenes of the era to get the message across.
Are the ads better? Well that is a matter of opinion. In my opinion they are. Only a few times have I come across an ad using a photograph that has made an impression.


  1. One thing is certain: they're all a helluva lot better than Tom Ford's flacon-as-snatch/ass concept.

    Beautiful artwork!

  2. I agree! We would'nt be afraid of showing these to our grandmothers

  3. love them!! The Lanvin one is so so pretty


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