Beautiful Smells in Ugly Bottles

Everybody owns at least one, don’t they?  A scent you just love, in a bottle you just hate?  I recently took some pictures of my ‘fume stash (eek, I have too much) and noticed that I own a relatively high percentage of ugly bottles – not bottles that are just plain, boring, el-cheapo glass containers, but bottles that were deliberately designed to look the way they do. 

I’m not even going to get into the matter of packaging, with its cultural weight, its Is-it-art? freight, its gender issues, its psychology, its… Thesis Material nature.  If you’d like to get into it, however, feel free to comment. I probably won’t have anything helpful to say, given that a) I have officially been dubbed The Art Philistine by my art-historian sister, and b) I avoided grad school so I wouldn’t be forced to write a thesis.

Jusferfun, here’s the list of Ugly Bottles I Actually Own, complete with pictures, and please feel free to comment on the bottles, because I’m sure gonna talk trash about ’em.  (Trash I can manage; sensible thesis not.  Unless I get paid to.)

Rochas Tocade.  You know, the bottle itself isn’t all that bad – it’s an elongated version of the lovely shape of the Femme bottle, and feels solid in the hand – but that cap just shrieks CHEAP GARISH PLASTIC CRAP MADE IN TAIWAN FOR PENNIES!!!  It gives me flashbacks to the flea markets my grandmother haunted when I was a kid in the 70’s.  I’d take the cap off, but That Slut Tocade broadcasts, frightening the ladylike Chanels…

N.B.   Asian countries producing the ubiquitous Cheap Plastic Crap get a bad rap for being associated with it, when in actual fact the art and culture of those countries (China, Taiwan, Korea, to name a few) is beautiful, thoughtful, and worlds away from Cheap Plastic Crap.  Which, I remind you, is mostly bought by Americans.  Please see Ann YM’s comment below for more discussion of the issue.  It would have been easy to just remove “Made in Taiwan” from the post and have done with it, but somehow I think it’s more valuable to actually talk about the issue of unconscious prejudice. 

Givenchy Organza Indecence.  Somebody on NST referred to “Bene Gesserit headdresses” when commenting on the cap, and that’s precisely right.  Goofy thing.  I think the bottle, with its mix of clear and frosted glass, shaped to hint at a woman’s body in a billowing dress, is rather attractive if a bit awkward (it falls over a lot, even though it’s only a 15ml).  But Bookworm insists on turning it on its side and likening it to a fish, so now I always think of it as “that fish bottle.”

L’Arte di Gucci (edp).  It’s a nice opaque black glass bottle, with a slight curved concavity not immediately obvious in pictures.  But it’s heavy, and awkward to spray (I always decant L’Arte into a rollerball – I get much less of that weird vinyl note in the top when I dab it).  And that textural gold squiggle on the cap is beyond tacky.  Makes me think of mob bosses and their molls, wearing flashy gold jewelry to the casino… 

Balmain Jolie Madame (edt).  This isn’t the current  packaging, which I find a lot nicer (and more suitable to the smell inside, with its uncompromising clean edges).  This round-shouldered bottle with its gilded plastic parts is all wrong for the invisible-armor Jolie Madame.  I have this in vintage parfum, too, and that packaging is terrific: the small square bottles with their catercorner-applied labels are quirky and distinctive.

Kenzo Parfum d’Ete’ (the old one, with muguet).  The bottle is attractive, with its frosted glass veined leaf shape.  But it’s awkward to spray; you really need three hands.  Also, I always attempt to put the cap back on backwards before turning it around so it’ll fit.  You’d think I’d learn, but I haven’t managed it yet.  In the pic at left, it looks like a little kid’s hands are  holding the bottle – but it really is that large and awkward.

Jacomo Silences.  This is another heavy black glass one that’s awkward to spray.  It’s not ugly, precisely (I like the shape), but extremely inconvenient.  My bottle of vintage pdt is slightly different than this photo – it has a cap that you take off in order to spray, as opposed to the integrated sprayer on the one pictured.

Ivoire de Balmain.  Okay, this is actually one that straddles the “Ugly” and “So Basic-Boring It’s Ridiculous” categories.  The old parfum bottles are really pretty – reminiscent of the classic Chanel parfum bottles, with ivory caps and/or surrounds.  But the edt bottle?  Dulllllll.

Any standard non-urn Caron feminine.  Basically, if you can find it at a discounter, it’ll be in one of those enormous, polka-dotted bottles with the cheesy gold plastic tops.  The Carons I like – Parfum Sacre and Aimez-Moi – are easily available, and cheap, and I can’t help but think that the idiotic packaging has something to do with that.  Is Caron trying to go downmarket?  are they stupid?  Sigh.  I admit that I have a special hatred for polka dots, which doesn’t help Caron’s cause.  I blame… my mother.  Yes, my mother and her insistence on putting toddler-age me in blanket sleepers which had non-skid plastic polka dots on the soles of the feet, and which were so uncomfortable that I kept waking up and complaining of “the bumps  under my feet!”

And here are some fragrances which I only own decants of, but which generally arrive in honkin’ ugly bottles:

Parfums de Nicolai Vanille Tonka.  I love this stuff, but the larger PdN bottles are so ugly.  They remind me of those bottles of hair tonic the local barber (think Floyd the Barber, of Mayberry – sometimes I think this town is Mayberry, ca. 1971…) keeps on the back shelf.  I so wish PdN would do something different with their packaging.

Parfums de Nicolai Le Temps d’une Fete.  Again, I absolutely loooove this, and own it in the small rectangular bottle – which feels pleasant in the hand.  But if I ever wanted more, I think I’d just buy a gazillion of the small bottles instead of one big one.  (Luckily, PdN sells 30ml bottles, and they tend to be priced at close to the same reasonable per-ml cost as the big ones.  Brava, Ms. de Nicolai!)

An upcoming post will be devoted to beautiful bottles, of which there are many.  But please share: what is the ugliest bottle you have in your collection?

All  images are from fragrantica.com, largely because I’m too lazy to take my own photos and upload them to the ‘puter… and because fragrantica’s so nice about permissions.

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28 thoughts on “Beautiful Smells in Ugly Bottles”

  1. I have a terrible problem of avoiding brands based on how aesthetically unpleasing I find their flacons. Like any of those metal-tinny bottles, CSP or Montale, yuck. And I don’t like the Bond No. 9 bottles for some reason. They look cheap and garish to me, when they’re painted over. And I’ve never given Jo Malone a chance, because of how boring I find their bottles.

    But then I covet others…the Guerlain bee bottles, the chunky ELDOs, the Luten bell jars (ugh), the Le Labo science experiment bottles…I haven’t found a L’Artisan that I’ve truly loved, but their bottles are just gorgeous.

    I haven’t tried Chamade, but that one had such a beautiful bottle. I’d love to handle one someday and get a good look at it.

    1. H – you know, I don’t *mind* how ugly the bottle is if I only have a decant. The Montales don’t bother me (I don’t own any bottles, I admit). And I never buy anything just because I like the bottle – but it continues to astound me how much effort and thought is put into packaging that WINDS UP UGLY. I mean, somebody *designed* that dang plastic Tocade cap that looks like a psychedelic coolie hat… somebody actually got PAID to do that!

      I think the L’A bottles are pretty, too, although I don’t own any of those, either. Ditto the bee bottles and the SL bell jars… Sarrasins is one of the most gorgeous things I’ve ever laid eyes on, even in photos – it’s too bad the juice stains purple.

      Post coming up on beautiful bottles – perhaps I’d better put that into up in the body of the post – in which I mention Chamade! Which really is beautiful, and very textured. In fact, I bought an empty parfum bottle for the sole purpose of decanting my pdt into it.

  2. I hate to say it because I adore the perfume, but Tauer’s LAdDM’s bottle is really ugly to me (because it reminds me of crappy 1970s wall hangings).

    1. Hah! I think you’re right.

      … maybe AT never saw those things for sale at every flea market his grandmother dragged him to. Or maybe his grandmother didn’t drag him anywhere. Or maybe HIS grandmother had good taste. 🙂

  3. Ivoire is really cheap and nasty, isn’t it? – that sixties cream plastic cap, reminiscent of the melamine mugs we used to have in our caravan.

    I was interested to see what bottle L’Arte di Gucci comes in though, ugly or not!

    In my collection I hate the bottle for YSL Nu EDT (and I am not crazy about the scent either), and I agree with BF about the Tauer bottles, not that I own one.

    My Bal a Versailles EDC bottle is opaque plastic like body lotion or shampoo, with tacky retro scrolly lettering in gold.

    Gosh, there are doubtless more ugly ones, but my mind has gone blank!

    1. FS – oh, I forgot those Bal bottles! I have a tiny pdt and a parfum, but they’re in clear glass and the shape is pretty. The L’Arte bottle, sans cap, is attractive but very awkward. The cap, though – ugh. Vegas.

      I think the cap is frequently the flaw in the design.

  4. Hi mals! Yeah, those PdN bottles are really awful, aren’t they? In fact, the cheesy gold globe cover on top of my 50ml LTdF (speaking of LTdF…) bottle cap popped off soon after I purchased it. Seems I can glue it back on, but wow…these things are cheaply made! And I still can’t figure out what that logo is. A beaker with a stocking cap??? But I keep thinking that if they put more $ and design into their bottles, the price would jump! So, I’m willing to deal with the ugly packaging.

    1. Karin, you’re probably right about the PdN prices. Sigh. (And the logo… what IS that thing?) The small 1oz bottles are really nice, if not terribly distinctive. I will have to see if I can get a good pic of my bottle – it’s basically rectangular, narrowing slightly at the top. It really does feel nice in the hands. Why couldn’t they just make bigger copies of those? Sigh.

  5. Isn’t it funny that two of the best independent producers of perfume…Tauer and Nicolai…are also on the list of worst bottles? I lurves me a beautiful bottle; I even MORE love a sturdy workhorse of a bottle. I’ll pick function over looks when it comes to my perfume–if I have to pick–but it is not a good thing when the container offers neither.

    I think I might have to nominate the Ivoire for bad bottle-dom. That darn big plastic cap? Reminds me of a drugstore deodorant. (Okay, where else does deodorant come from? But still… )

    1. SS, sturdy is Very Good. Even more than looks, I prize easy handling. (See upcoming post on bottles I do like! 🙂 ) I’d certainly prefer “easy to use and doesn’t break” to “beautiful but awkward.”

      What’s beautiful but awkward? Well, L’Heure Bleue, because I’m always afraid I’m going to break the stopper.

      Ivoire deserves a much, much better bottle. On the plus side, it does feel solid and reliable…

  6. Oh I am so allergic to silly bottles!! And you have found some real ringers there– the GOI looks like a woman in a mumu in a samurai helmet– it looks like she needs a teeny-tiny martini glass in her hand…

    Kenzo’s “Flower” doesn’t make the list? Maybe it’s because we live in earthquake country, but that too-tall-tippy bottle (with the sticker of a poppy on it!?!??!) always makes me shake my head.

    1. R, I don’t own any Flower! I only listed Ugly Bottles I Have Owned… if I listed every ugly bottle I’ve ever seen, I’d STILL be listing them.

      (Can *I* have a teeny-tiny martini glass in my hand? Kidding, I don’t like martinis. But those glasses are the cutest things to drink out of…)

  7. Honestly, I hate boring bottles more. The plain square or rectangular bottles are a snore (yeah, Chanel, I’m talking about you). Outside of them, I find that most bottles, even the odd or awkward ones, have something interesting about them. The only totally ugly bottles I can think of right now are Juicy Couture, and Diesel Only the Brave (looks like a man’s fist), which is just plain silly.

    I have a fondness for the Tocade bottle and cap because they remind me of the mushroom characters who do the Chinese dance (from “The Nutcracker”) in Disney’s “Fantasia”.

    And I kind of like the Caron bottles, but then again I have nothing against polka dots.

    1. P, you… hate Chanels?? Gasp. Okay, they’re not very inventive, I’ll give you that. But they feel so nice in the hand, and the proportions are visually pleasing. Have you actually held one of those Caron bottles? They’re more attractive in pictures, I warn you.

      That Couture Couture (the recent one, in pink with a tiaralike structure on the cap) is even worse than the Juicy Couture original, IMO. I contend that my grandmother, the one who dragged me to the flea market, would have LOVED that bottle. I can hear her now: “Oooh, how purty!”

      Tocade cap = Fantasia mushrooms. Okay, I can see that. 🙂

      1. It’s true, Chanel gets no love from me, for either their fragrances or their bottles.

        And yes, I have held the Caron bottles (and own a Bellodgia EDP) and…well, can’t explain it, but I like the feel of it…especially those little bumpies under my fingers!

  8. Hi Mals,
    First time posting though I do visit from time to time.
    I haven’t finished reading the entire post yet – it IS a fun topic, but I saw something that makes me very uncomfortable and would like to speak out about it. And, yes, it’s related to PC.
    Do please be careful about which country you select to talk about origin of cheap manufacturing. Made in Taiwan used to be the butt of of a lot of cheap product jokes in the ’70s and ’80s, and the country has taken notice and a lot of actions to improve their (or may I say “our” image). In the ’60s it used to be “Made in Japan” and look how far they’ve come – Today’s Toyota is a different story. In some areas of manufacturing, “Made in Taiwan” can actually be considered desirable.
    That honor now goes to other countries which I will refrain from speaking as I don’t wish others to speak ill of the one of my origin. I believe the country I’m referring to is also beginning to look into improving its image.
    Now I will finish reading (and enjoying) your post.
    Best Regards, always.

    1. Hi, Ann, and I’m glad you commented. I’m sorry for any discomfort and pain the post caused you, because it was intended to be for fun.

      You are right in that the Cheap Plastic Crap – and let’s do be honest about the existence of that, because wherever it’s produced, there’s a lot of it – is no longer primarily manufactured in Taiwan. I think at the time of writing, my head was still visiting alllll those flea markets and garage sales my grandmother dragged me around to in the 70’s. (I’ll mention that I loved my grandmother all to little pieces, as we say around here, but of good taste she had none.) And, of course, nobody would even be producing said Cheap Plastic Crap if there wasn’t any market for it, so I suppose that pointing a finger at the Cheap Plastic Crap in effect points three fingers back at me.

      My unstated policy is that I don’t like to call people names, whether individually or as a group, but that Stuff, Actions, and Public Comments are fair game. For example, I’m not going to call, say, Tiger Woods an adulterous idiot, but I might observe that having numerous extramarital affairs was a particularly boneheaded thing for a man with a family and lucrative endorsement contracts to do. Likewise, I’m not going to say that my mother-in-law is an untalented cook, but I might comment that we didn’t enjoy her biscuits. (Full disclosure: my husband rarely reminisces about “Great Dinners My Mother Made,” but I couldn’t have wished for more wonderful in-laws.)

      I’ll also say that, without exception, all the Taiwanese people I have met (all six of them!) are intelligent, industrious, genial, and have their fingers on the pulse of success – and that’s my general mental picture of Taiwan, as a nation of bright, hardworking people willing to make the most of an opportunity.

      Again, I’m sorry to have caused hurt feelings, and while I’m not going to remove the remark from the post, I’m going to direct everybody to this comment section, and add that in no way did I mean any disrespect. Thanks again for opening a dialogue on a topic I hadn’t thought through very carefully.

  9. Hi there! I was just organizing my stash this weekend and that darned Givenchy Organza Indecence kept falling over!I got a tester, so no box to keep it in! I remember when it came out ages ago wondering what on earth that was supposed to look like – a dress I guess, and weird hair? Who knows? I do love that perfume though.

    Trying to think of any other funky bottles I have. The only ones that bother me is the La Maison de La Vanilles. They look like metal containers, but it’s just stuck on – and now they’re peeling off and that is just annoying. Plus, since they aren’t see through, it’s very hard to tell how much is left in there.

    1. O, the Org Ind does fall over easily! What’s inside the bottle is so nice, though (and getting really HTF, by the way, which is a shame).

      I had to go look up the Maison de Vanille thingies… yeah. I can see why that would be annoying.

      I’m in two minds about the see-through container: opaque means no light damage, but also no way to see how much is left…

  10. Oh, there are so many. Of course, Tocade is still the all time champ. I keep my collection in a closed cabinet, but if I kept it on the dresser-top, I would probably keep the Tocade out of sight anyway.

    – The plastic/chrome jacketed packaging for the old versions of Must de Cartier. Especially the maroon and silver/black glass/gold lettering of the EDT.

    -Nu. I have trouble figuring out how to work it.

    -The big globular bottle of modern Bal a’Versailles edt. I use the vintage anyway, and yeah I know, it’s there classic shape, but it’s still ugly.

    Your “Silences” is glass? Mine is plastic. So even uglier.

    Generally am glad I’m not a bottle person, because I think that many of the modern ones are fairly hideous.

    1. Hi, O! I have to agree, Tocade is top of the Ugly Heap. Speaking for myself, I think the fact that I like the glass portion of the bottle so much just makes the cap all the more unattractive by comparison. The Femme bottle’s nice – why oh why didn’t Rochas do something simpler for the Tocade cap?

      I don’t remember what the modern BaV looks like… I only have small bottles – one vtg pdt and one modern parfum, and they’re fairly attractive. My Silences is indeed black glass. It’s not so much ugly as it is awkward to use.

  11. Oh I forgot Ivorie. That white plastic cap that is half the size of the bottle. Very Sixties — but many things about that decade were ugly (big fake pasted on eyelashes and white lipstick, anybody?)

    1. O, I’m so glad that I missed out on 60’s fashion. Re-watched some old episodes of Star Trek recently, and was appalled at how lipless everybody seems…

      But I admit that I kinda like those ridiculous fake lashes. They’re almost doll-like.

  12. I just remembered my new love, Rykiel Woman Not For Men! Boy is that bottle tacky with its gold studs and shrieky lettering. Makes the costumes in Dynasty look like artisan chic…

  13. Belatedly – Opium Fleur de Shanghai is in a hideous plastic bottle. Which reminds me – also belatedly – would you like that sample of FdS we discussed a while back via Basenotes?

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