The man who created the perfume bottle as we know it
Design moment: Lalique, c.1888
A Lalique frosted scent bottle modelled as a single flowerhead and stopper formed as a wasp, c. 1912
In 1888, René Lalique (1860-1945) registered his “RL” stamp – a sign from the 28 year-old French jeweller that he was not only serious about his art, he understood business. He went on to have two almost distinct careers – both wildly successful – first as a jewellery designer, then as a glass designer and it’s for the latter that he is now most known, largely because his workshops were so prolific and his designs so influential.
By the time he registered his stamp he had already worked as a freelance designer for jewellers including Cartier and Boucheron and he went on to develop his own distinctive and ultra-fashionable art nouveau style. In 1925 when the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes coined the term “art deco”, Lalique was already a successful proponent of that highly decorative style, most popularly through his flamboyant vases. There are more than 300 styles of Lalique vases, typically decorated with imagery drawn from nature, as well as mythology and stylised human forms. Early vases regularly turn up at international auctions: a recent example is the “Formose”, a 17cm high vase from 1924 which sold in Sotheby’s in New York in March for $6,875.
In the 1920 and 1930s he was so fashionable and such a master of glass that his commissions ranged from the grand salon of the SS Nomandie to hood ornaments for the burgeoning car industry. His signature, usually R. LALIQUE, appears on all his works. The first Lalique glass car mascot was commissioned by Citroen in 1925 and featured an image of five horses for the 5CV. A Lalique “Ram’s Head” mascot from 1928 turned up in a Co Meath auction in 2014, having been discovered in a local house clearance.
He is credited with changing the way perfume was marketed, through his collaboration from 1908 with French perfume maker Francois Coty. Previously perfume had typically been sold in plain flasks but Lalique designed extravagantly decorative bottles for Coty and others that were in themselves objets d’art and are now highly collectible.