Message in a Bottle

By Christine Esposito, Associate Editor | August 1, 2014

Packaging is a purveyor of personality in the fine fragrance category.

Would Jennifer Aniston and Nicki Minaj wear the same dress to an awards show? Surely not—nor have these two celebrities picked out the same flacon for their respective fragrances.

In this sector of the beauty category where a symphony of individual notes work seamlessly together to create a single unique scent, the many facets of packaging design—from cap to bottle to box—must do the same.  Plus, the bottle and box serve as messengers, sending a signal that’s received by the consumer before she smells a single note.

“In fragrance packaging, the first impression that the fragrance makes either in the ad or at point of purchase is the bottle. It must covey the persona of the designer/celebrity and be the physical manifestation of the fragrance name,” said packaging expert Marc Rosen, New York.

While still a drop in the $3.0 billion US prestige fragrance market bucket, the recent performance of fragrance products sold on department store websites, in key online-only beauty retailers, and through TV/home shopping retailers is a point to ponder.
According to the NPD Group, Inc., direct-to-consumer sales of US prestige fragrance grew 10% in the 12 months ending February 2014 to $285 million, while overall the industry saw 2% declines during the same time period.

“The desire to ‘try on’ a scent before committing isn’t about to go away, but there is real appeal for consumers in the immediacy of replenishing the supply of their favorite scents from the comfort of wherever they are,” said Karen Grant, vice president and global industry analyst at The NPD Group, Inc.

“Offering consumers incentives and options that link the in-store experience with the convenience of purchasing direct is the best of both worlds. It is this type of seamless retailing that is providing manufacturers and retailers a world of new opportunities,” added Grant.

In fact, bloggers, home shopping networks and Twitter are piquing interest in new fragrance launches. For example, July 17 Twitter posts popped up showing One Direction band mates like Niall Horan with the bottle of the band’s soon-to-launch second scent (You & I). That same month, Minaj made a live appearance on HSN to sell an exclusive scent called Minajesty Nicki Minaj Exotic Edition and offered a sneak peak at her upcoming launch called Onika.

The special edition HSN SKU featured the same doll-shaped bottle as her previous scents (Pink Friday and Minajesty) but with blonde, wavy hair and a black bustier. Onika will also be housed in the same bottle with a black and white design, according to the company.

Like a unique bottle, a signature item can also reinforce the brand or personality behind the juice. For instance, Bottega Veneta fans are sure to recognize something familiar in the company’s next fragrance, Knot, which is due out later this month. The scent features a cap with a knot that resembles the one that sits atop its famed Knot Clutch.

“Many years ago when I designed Karl Lagerfeld’s signature fragrance ‘KL’ I created a fan-shaped bottle because the fan was his signature. He carried them and used them on the runway in his shows,” Rosen told Happi. “We continue to see successful fragrances follow this formula; i.e., Marc Jacob’s collection of daisy and bumblebee themed fragrances or Victor and Rolf Flowerbomb and Spicebomb.”

Past and Present
New design elements can mark a new start for an existing fragrance. As one of the best selling celebrity scents of all time, Elizabeth Taylor White Diamonds has racked up more than a billion dollars in sales. Looking to attract a new fan base, Elizabeth Arden has rolled out White Diamonds Lustre Elizabeth Taylor with Nia Long as brand ambassador (she’s the first non-Elizabeth Taylor face for the brand).

Lustre, created by the same perfumer who worked with Taylor on the original White Diamonds, channels the actress’s love of bling in the packaging design. The sleek purple glass bottle is encrusted with a pave-like white diamond collar column topped with a sparkling silver cap.

Another impactful scent from the 1980s is also calling for attention in today’s market, as Lauder has relaunched Calyx under the Clinique banner. The “re-discovered” Calyx is identical to the original that was introduced by Prescriptives—from the notes to the bottle; the only tweak is the addition of the Clinique logo on the bottle and carton.

Keeping a connection to the past is a strategy at Penhagilon’s, a fragrance house that traces it roots back to the Victorian Era.
“Our bottle shape and bow are iconic and date back to the very start of the company in the 1870s. In those days the ribbon was tied to attach the stopper and throughout our history we’ve maintained the same bottle silhouette. That’s our heritage and can be recognized throughout the range,” said Matthew Huband, head of global marketing, Penhaligon’s.

According to Huband, Penhaligon’s interprets its steeped heritage in a modern and unexpected way. For example, the brand created boxes from recycled Saville row suits for Sartorial, its fragrance inspired by the scent of Saville row, and it has integrated Art Deco motifs to illustrate a Gin-inspired perfume.

“Most recently we worked with avante garde British fashion designers Meadham Kirchhoff to present Tralala, whose packaging is unusual but a perfect illustration of the fragrance,” Huband told Happi.

Penhaligon’s is currently working on three fragrances inspired by the explosion of trade in London at the end of the nineteenth century.

“Huge heaps of the most luxurious commodities known to man were arriving every day and piled high on the wharves and in the warehouses,” said Huband. “To represent this we’re presenting fragrances which take individual traded luxuries (like woods, fruits and spices) as their olfactory base and showcasing them in packaging which also reflect that opulence, exoticism and mystery. We have a box made from highly polished lacquer, another of mother of pearl and a third encased in a magical faux shagreen.”

Inspirational Design
Keeping a link to the past with an updated look was also a task at Thymes, which recently netted an ICMAD Cosmetic Innovator of the Year award for package design innovation for its Jade Matcha Cologne.

“While our new look still pays tribute to what makes Thymes, Thymes, it also makes our brand more contemporary,” Stacy Brown, fragrance designer. “In the case of our cologne bottle, instead of using a stock bottle that can be purchased off the shelf, we developed a custom vessel that not only elevates the look of our brand, but also reflects our commitment to and leadership in the fragrance category.”

According to Amy Banks, marketing manager, Thymes founders Stephanie Shopa and Leslie Ross Lentz would wrap each product in hand-made Japanese paper and add special little adornments to make their products beautiful and unique and ideal for gift-giving.

“With our redesign, once again you’ll see pretty details like custom bottles, tissue wrapping, hand ties and charms, and we’re also using more premium materials and embossing. It’s this attention to quality and packaging detail that pays homage to our handcrafted history and those little touches of charm,” said Banks.

Secondary packaging also plays a big part in helping convey the character of each fragrance, according to Thymes CEO Anne Sempowski Ward. 

“The use of color, design and pattern applications expresses each fragrance in a way that is less expected and more intriguing.”  In the case of Jade Matcha, Sempowski Ward said Thymes was inspired by the global fusion trend in fashion and beauty.

“The opulent and exotic attitude of Jade Matcha is conveyed with a moody and rich abstract watercolor pattern. Modern, yet crafted Asian cues hint at the Japanese Matcha tea ceremony which inspired the line,” she said.

Part of the Experience
The best fragrance firms recognize that packaging is part and parcel to a perfume.

“I believe that there are simultaneous sensory triggers for an idea; a color can be illustrated by a sound or a scent or a taste; a perfume has its own color, its own song and its own story,” said Huband of Penhaligon’s. “That initial visual stimulus is often the first step in a customer’s journey to understand a fragrance. It’s all part of a whole experience.”