Beauty on paper: vintage perfume advertisements

Does anyone out there collect perfume ads?

I ask because I have often thought of starting a collection myself. I adore browsing them online, and often I see one that it is so lovely it immediately inspires a desire for ownership.

Yet somehow I just never really dive into ad collecting. Mostly this is for the same reason that I don’t collect perfume bottles: I would rather save my pennies for actual perfume. Also, I am uneasy about magazines being destroyed by ad sellers so that they can make a killing by selling single pages. I know I should not fret about this. Magazines are collected (and possibly digitized) by libraries, but still, willful destruction of historical sources always creates a shiver.

So my perfume ad collection consists of just two items. One is this lovely image by Caron for Pois de Senteur de Chez Moi. It was published in Theatre Magazine in 1929.


My purchase of it was inspired by a beautiful review ( of the perfume by Alena on Perfume-Smellin’ Things.  What enchants me is not just the arrangement on the table, but the mirror. I feel that if I could just … peek … a bit … around the frame … I might catch a glimpse of the rest of the room. I might see the lady of the house, humming to herself as she arranges some more flowers. I might catch a trace of her graceful perfume. I might see beyond her through into the hall … I might glimpse the past …

Caron’s Pois de Senteur was released in 1927 and while I have not smelled it, even then seems it to have been a wistful look back to a simpler, pre-war age. By contrast, Gabrielle Chanel was embracing her times and by 1927 her abstract beauty, Chanel No 5, was beginning its trajectory as the world’s most famous fragrance. Who remembers Pois de Senteur now?

The other ad in my little ‘collection’ is this number for Miss Dior:


This ad appeared in Vogue, the American edition I suppose, date unknown. The bottle is an early-ish Dior bottle used for Diorama and Diorissimo as well as Miss Dior, but I don’t know when this bottle went out of production. 1960s? A bit of Googling suggests that my ad is from the 1950s and was designed by Dior’s famous illustrator Rene Gruau. Stunning isn’t it? Crisp, feminine, elegant: just like the perfume.

That ‘noir’ style reminds me of some ads for Robert Piguet. Like this:


I don’t own this one, but it is a favourite.

Well, that is as far as I have gone in my perfume ad collecting. Shall I dabble some more? What would I do with them? Frame them? Keep them in archival-standard folders? I can avoid that expense by enjoying vintage ads online, but I have to admit that it is fun to own the actual thing, the paper object. Naturally you get to see what is on the other side of the page, and so in that sense, I do get my longed for accidental ‘glimpse of the past’.

I think if I keep going I will collect ads based on illustrations rather than photographs. Today’s perfume ads are often too literal, too unimaginative, and too framed around celebrities and sex. But where to begin? There are perfume houses – Lanvin for instance, or Caron – with very rich advertising histories. Or maybe it would be better to focus on a few perfumes from my collection that I love, like Rochas Femme or Molinard Habanita. If I collect ads for long lost perfumes at least I preserve some trace of their beauty but it is frustrating not to be able to smell them.

Perhaps even worse would be ads for perfumes that have lost much of their character due to reformulation. Could I live with this evidence of style dead and gone:


No, I’m sure I could not.

So it is a puzzle. Anyone got any thoughts or experiences to share?

  • FragrantWitch says:

    I love this post! I don’t collect the images as such, preferring to use them. I’m happy with a digital images and then print them. I have a lovely Shalimar image which I have varnished onto a black laquer side table, which had suffered several water rings. It looks great and has made me want to do more projects like that. I’ve often wondered if I could create a perfume cabinet which would incorporate some vintage ads.

    • tammy says:

      We need to see pictures, missy! :o) I think you should definitely try to create that perfume cabinet…..

    • annemariec says:

      That sounds terrific! I love the idea of doing something creative – transformative – with our perfume hobby. That perfume cabinet HAS to happen!

      I can easily see the Shalimar bottle making a great design motif.

  • AWench says:

    Does your collection have to be on the original paper, or can you make do with a digital gallery? I do keep an images file on my computer. Although my home printer can only cope with A4 size, if I want to print one out to use as a poster, there is a lovely print-shop nearby where the charges are very reasonable. No destruction of the original copy required. Your answer to this question might tell you whether it is the image that you love or the act of collecting.

    Old books and magazines do smell fabulous though. I might order a bottle of CBIHP In the Library to spray while I am using my Kindle.

    • annemariec says:

      Interesting point. I think it’s the paper artefact that I would collect, rather than the digital surrogate (ha! I can talk the talk if I want to). So it is no surprise that I don’t have a Kindle! But you are absolutely right. It would be very easy and fun to produce high quality prints at a standard size.

  • rosarita says:

    Fun post! I love looking at vintage perfume ads but have no desire to collect them. I have too much stuff lying around as it is; I’m in purge mode these days, rather than collect mode.

    • annemariec says:

      Yep, sounds good. I’m not much of a keeper either. And at least these days you CAN admire them online, without having to own them. That’s a huge change.

  • Darryl says:

    I adore vintage perfume ads – the Diors by Gruau, especially. His ad for Dioressence, with the raven-haired woman streched out on a couch littered with garishly-colored pillows, is possibly my favorite ad ever. That Fracas one is gorgeous, as well – the colors! The elegance! Who doesn’t want to be that woman in the shimmering gown? She clearly lives a more fabulous – and fabulously scented – life than the rest of us.

    I would collect many of these ads if they came in poster sizes; too many of them are magazine pages, which aren’t entirely wall-worthy. *le sigh*

    • annemariec says:

      ‘Celebrate elegance’. I do, even if I can’t wear Fracas. Yes, I love that ad, even tho shocking Pink is far from being my favourite colour. Even if I don’t literally want to live her life, I still admire her. It has got something to do with living fearlessly, I think?

      Yes, the ads are small. If you were to put them on your wall they would have to be in exactly the right setting. I agree – *le sigh*

    • annemariec says:

      Oh and hey, all of us here are living fabulously scented lives!

  • Ann says:

    Lovely post! I, too, have seen some of these beauties and thought, “Oh, my — wouldn’t that look stunning on xxxx wall …” But that was mostly in my early days, now not enough wall space to go around. I think you should get the ones that really move you, really speak to you, no matter the house or type of illustration. Surround yourself with what you love …

    • annemariec says:

      Good advice Ann, I think I will. Yes, wall space is the issue. But I’m thinking that, compared to what you can pay for original art, or even posters from poster shops, vintage ads are very cheap.

  • nozknoz says:

    Anne-Marie, I often admire these old ads when they pop up in a search for a particular vintage perfume or brand on ebay. I have hesitated to buy them for the same reasons that you do.

    I DID succumb to a wonderful 1943 ad for Jean Patou Moment Supreme by the amazing Boris Artzybasheff, partly because I have the beautiful bottle shown in the ad (with some of the delicious old parfum).

    I love your two!

    • annemariec says:

      Thanks, yes, I’m proud of them. You have me intrigued now with your mention of Boris Artzybasheff. I think I know the ad you mean – wonderful! I’m off to do some research! (My favourute pass time … )

      • nozknoz says:

        There are two of the one that I have on ebay right now (dated 1942), but the seller has altered them to prevent copying, I guess, so there’s an odd rippled stripe effect in the background.

  • Lisa D says:

    I have a few ads that I plan to frame, because they’re just so pretty – a couple of Caron Poivre, one for the house of Lanvin, and one for Guerlain. I’ve been looking for the Poivre ad you attached at the bottom of your post, but haven’t yet found it (I’m thinking that a triptych of Poivre ads would be lovely).

    • annemariec says:

      Yes, it would be great! Caron did some fantastic ads. It would be great to know more about the artists. Good luck with your search.

  • tammy says:

    I don’t collect them per se, but I do have a gorgeous one of Caron’s Voeux de Noel, from 1951. It’s a kind of rich red banner with gold medallions.

    I love Christmas and I adore this perfume and have a small decant from TPC that is among my most treasured possessions, LOL! It’s fun having the advert for it. There is another one similar to it that I need as well! There is a color ad of Nuit de Noel that I am also wanting.

    Another one I’d love to have is an Emeraude one, I believe also from the 50s. It shows an auburn haired lady in a deep green strapless velvety evening gown….I loved that gown so much that I had my grandma model my prom dress after it! My mama wore Emeraude and my grandmother was red haired, so the ad has a few other sentimental associations.

    Fun post, thanks!

    • annemariec says:

      Emeraude had some wonderful ads! Was it this one?
      It is fun having an ad for a treasured perfume. Speaking of Nuit de Noel, that is on my to buy list.

      • tammy says:

        Anne Marie, no, it wasn’t that one…it’s the third one down on this page:

        But aren’t all these ads gorgeous???

        Nuit de Noel is probably the one I’d grab if the house were on fire, it’s my all time favorite! And now of course I am wanting a triptycj of Poivre ads, they really did some stunning ones for that scent…as well as Or et Noir. I am a total Caronista; Poivre and Or et Noir are in my Top 10!

        I am ashamed to say I have no qualms about destroying a magazine to get the ad. I rip articles from magazines all the time, as well as recipes, etc, so even if it’s an older magazine, I feel no guilt about buying the ads taken from them….it doesn’t seem like such a big deal to me for some reason. Perhaps because most of my ads are from the 50s and undoubtedly not from anything other than a fashion mag? I have no particular reverence to anything merely because it’s vintage, I guess. suppose there’d be a limit…I wouldn’t destroy something hundreds of years old, or even maybe a hundred years old…but something from 1960, that doesn’t have any other significance, wouldn’t bother me to ruin. Be like someone taking a pic of George Clooney out of an old People magazine 30 years from now…what’s the harm?? (My opinion, only of course…I respect that others don’t approve!)

        • annemariec says:

          These are incredibly interesting questions (that connect with my day job as a history curator) – what to save, what to keep, what is significant, what isn’t. We all – people and communities – answer them in different ways. One thing I’m certain of is that you cannot keep everything! I just throw out my magazines when I’m finished. I’m not a ‘keeper’ at home, even though it’s what I do at work. I have a little collection of recent Chanel No 5 ads, tho’, as I love them.

          Those dresses are superb! Talk about glamour. And I did order a decant of Nuit de Noel yesterday. Maybe I’ll become a ‘Caronista’ one day too!