Monday, September 22, 2014

Vintage Advertising Champions: In the Trenches

Today's vintage advertisement comes equipped with the romanticism that has become expected from one of the classic perfumes by the historical house of Guerlain, L'heure bleue. The pictorial representation takes on the approach of fragrance as a "memory maker", a concept very popular with the fragrance industry because it seems to allow for the manipulation of someone else's emotional response; or so the thinking goes…(whether it is successful or not you'll be the judge of that, I'm sure you have many related experiences to relay in the comments).

The text for the Guerlain advertisement reads:

"1914, a fragrance creates deep, deep memories.
Guerlain introduced a perfume named for the twilight, L'Heure Bleue. No the skies darken and the western world is swept into the forces of the Great war…
A weary French officers finds a moment of peace. He pulls a letter from his tunic and inhales the fragrance lingering in the worn pages. 
It is the fragrance she wore the last night they spent together. L'Heure Bleue, named for that moment hen the sky has lost the sun but not yet found the stars. 
He reads the letter for the hundredth time…."

The advertisement is of course destined for the American (and English speaking) market as clearly shown by the choice of language, the capitalization of the name's initials (in French it's L'heure bleue) and the emphasis on the nationality of the officer (so you know for sure it's French!) But the really interesting part is that this ad, although an older advertisement, isn't that old as could be imagined. It's not a print ad from a 1920s magazine, nor even from the 1930s, or the 1940s….Can you guess?? It's a print ad clipping from a ……1974 magazine!!!! The Great war is irrelevant for all practical purposes by then, the "deep deep memories" echoing the trenches in which soldiers fought all over Europe are but a subconscious bond of "perfume as Proustian madeleine", a notion that is the bread & butter of any aspiring beauty editor experiencing writer's block. In this particular case it comes sheathed with seduction purposes too; desire and connection through language, orchestrated with Lacanian skill. The emotional bond with the product is part of what makes for repeat purchases. It also creates brand awareness.

But the mythology of Guerlain is firmly in place (yes, even by the mid-70s). The genius concept of presenting two of their legendary ~and commercially successful, let's not forget~ perfumes, L'heure bleue (1912) and Mitsouko (1918), as bookends to the first world war, is already gaining momentum. The reality is different: L'heure bleue, conceived to represent the love of its perfumer for Impressionist paintings is destined for the blondes shopping at his Parisian boutique, whereas Mitsouko, paying homage to the orientalia rising at the time of its creation and into the 1920s, is meant for the brunettes.

But you can clearly see where this is going: that which begins as a brilliant advertising campaign very soon becomes perpetuated into history guides, into fragrant lore, into our very perception of how things  are supposed to be….


  1. annemarie09:36

    Oh hey, I picked it as the 1970s. Something about the design and styling suggests it could not be much earlier. By then, of course, enough time had passed for the First World War to be remembered with nostalgia, not horror. This ad could not have run in the 20s of 30s; that would have been too soon.

  2. AMC,

    glossing over the past. Happened since forever.

    Brava on distinguishing era correctly! The soft focus feminine face does betray it a bit, I suppose, though it's not totally unfamiliar during earlier eras either.

  3. Miss Heliotrope02:37

    The female doesnt look WWI-era at all. But then, surely anyone in the trenches wouldnt be all alone & still alive? Not to mention, you'd have to not know much about the history of the war to find it very romantical or, indeed, the French officer stuff that attractive -

    In some ways, neither war was much discussed by the men fighting immediately afterwards, only with time & distance - & often the loss of the actual generation who fought it - did they become public in any way. & to question the superficial narrative of what happened is still a dangerous action outside of academia.

  4. The lady gives it all aay, eh? Right.

    I believe man glosses over the past when there's enough distance from it to feel safe in doing so. It's so from time immemorial (the "Golden Age of Cronus/Kronos" etc.)
    I also believe that indeed the intended audience (US) isn't too informed about WWI (in contrast to WWII), seeing as more of a "European" affair. So it does make sense.
    It's a superficial narrative, you thought of a great phrase to describe it, but it works exactly for the reasons you mention.


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