Dani Killam, Assistant Registrar at the FIDM Museum, brings you this post examining how masculine archetypes are reinforced through the design and packaging of fragrance bottles. The bottles discussed in this post are part of a larger exhibit currently on display in the Annette Green Fragrance Archive. Images of Men: Looking Beyond Fragrance features a variety of classic and contemporary fragrance bottles along with garments and accessories. This exhibit is free and open to the public; make sure you stop by when you visit Re-Designing History.
When discussing men’s fragrance in her essay “The Wasteland,” Tania Sanchez states, “[W]hen feminine fragrances are reformulated and cheapened enough, they begin to smell like masculine fragrance.”1 In the exhibit Images of Men: Looking Beyond Fragrance, we consider this view and put scent aside, drawing our full attention to the name, bottle and packaging of the product. By focusing on the aesthetic components we are able to see different themes brands have invoked to showcase their product.
The typical eau de cologne used by men until the nineteenth century was not drastically different from the scents for women. An emphasis on good hygiene followed by advancements in technology began a split between the two appropriate formulas for each sex to wear. Today there are a variety of masculine scent families with continuously expanding sub-categories. Green, citrus, lavender, spicy, floral, chypre, fougère, woody, leather and musk are the main categories, each having identifiable characteristics.
Like all products on the market, there are sought after target consumers that each item is intentionally designed to reach. This exhibit seeks to show the different roles and images of men that the fragrance industry has focused on in order to seek their lucrative business.
Probably the most admired and fawned-over man. From great popularity comes a multitude of options for representing the sportsman. Simply putting an athletic company’s name and logo on a bottle achieves the attention of the athletically inclined, as well as sports fans. Fragrances named after all-star athletes, such as Michael Jordan, carry with them the achievements and clout of their namesake along with a hefty spokesman’s fee. If a famous name isn’t enough, how about the prized goal of a hunting party? Avon’s realistic Deep Woods after-shave bottle in the shape of an Alaskan moose offers a daily reminder of a sportsman’s mark.
Since the late 19th century, certain elements of the masculine wardrobe have been virtually frozen in time. Business suits, dress shirts and neckties vary only slightly to reflect changes in silhouette or popular textiles. If a man chooses carefully, a classic suit is always chic and stylish. The same is true for a classic fragrance bottle; it changes little and doesn't reflect trendy innovations. It is not surprising that many classic designs come from couture houses in France. Christian Dior, Givenchy and Chanel all offer products with clean lines and elegant presentation. And, of course, there is the American standard, Old Spice. In 2008 Old Spice was repackaged as “Classic Scent,” proving itself a staple for men’s fragrance.
The Alter Ego
The Alter Ego is a strong source for inspiration. The role of the superhero is no stranger to the male fantasy. Fragrances with names like Animale, The Baron and WCW Nitro are contenders for superhero characters. Even the bottles share the same visual components of graphic shapes, flashy colors and heavy structure. What man wouldn’t want to begin his day with the reminder of his superhero counterpart?
1 Sanchez, Tania. "The Wasteland." Perfumes: The A-Z Guide. Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. New York: Viking, 2008: 26.