Monday, January 14, 2008

Optical scentsibilities: the allure of the sofa

Many times a simple object holds a fascination beyond its functionality. Like sofas... They are lovely to cushion our derriere, but have we paused to think how they also suggest an atmosphere of nonchalance that is eminently befitting perfume images?
Not surprisingly the thought has crossed the minds of perfume photographers and illustrators for a long time. For Coco, the baroque oriental by Chanel an equally decorative sofa from the appartment of Coco Chanel on Rue Cambon has been selected to hold the porcelain curves of model Shalom Harlow.

While for Christian Dior it was Dioressence and illustrator Rene Gruau that took the sofa into the realm of the decadent and sybaritic. One can almost feel the feline look in the eye of the woman in the ad, as her face is partially masked by the big, colourful cushions resting atop a schematic sofa.

But there also less classical examples of perfumes that use the reclining on a sofa pose to very good effect....
Isabella by Isabella Rossellini, a warm powdery floriental

Still by Jennifer Lopez, a limpid floral

Byzance by Rochas, a warm and deep oriental

Perhaps one could trace this tendency way back to venues other than perfume. To art and its effect on the collective subconsious that tends to find similarities and recall familiar images, even if not consiously perceptive.
After the ball by Margaret Dyer uses an impressionistic palette and brushstroke to show the contemplation of the heroine, hand under chin, reminiscing about the highlights of the event; such a formal occassion should have demanded her best perfume, surely.

Natasha Gellman by Diego Rivera was painted in 1943 and is full of the usual clear, bright palette of Rivera in almost an illustration which depicts a glamorous lady of the times reclining on a sofa amidst white blossoms which seem to emit their own rich aroma.

But of course the archetype is probably Madame de Pompadour by Francois Bouchet, painted in 1757 and rounding off the theme of contemplation, elegance and languor, as expressed in the trails of beautiful essences that must have adorned her lavish clothes.

Pics of ads from parfumdepub and okadi. Paintings: After the ball by Margaret Dyer, Natasha Gellman by Diego Rivera and Madame de Pompadour by Francois Bouchet. Courtesy of, and


  1. Anonymous10:20

    Thank you helg, for these studies. I've always loved that Coco ad, as it captures the character of the perfume very well. I am perhaps not the only one to think of other examples in art like 'La Maya desnuda' and 'La Maya vestita' or 'Olympia'. A classical theme, this one.

  2. Such glorious women...
    What a lovely way to start my day.

    Isabella, BTW, is on my list of "Real women my DH must hook up with if I kick the bucket"- that I've compiled for his well-being...
    Just in case.
    [Too bad, he hasn't reciprocated in kind, with a list for me !]

  3. N, dear, you're very welcome. They're quite a joy to post, I assure you :-)

    The Maya duo by Goya is a classic, to be sure. Good thinking! In fact it is the pride and joy of Prado, in which it is prominently displayed.
    I will keep it for another post though, because of the different position of the body and general position ;-)

  4. Thanks I, honey.

    Isabella is very down to earth. She had visited here at some point and everyone was quite taken with how approachable and human she looked.

    LOL about your hub; I am sure he will not find another fiesty personality like yourself easily. If he's similar in male form, then maybe he knows there is no substitute?

  5. Anonymous17:35

    Hi Helg,

    Whenever I see perfume ads that use a couch as a prop, I always think of the Fainting Couches of the Victorian era. I have always been fascinated on why these were needed. Read below:

    Info from

    The fainting couch was made for women, especially since so many women in the 1800s wore corsets. Corsets kept a woman breathless, making it much more likely she would faint. Some homes, and hotels even had fainting rooms, where women could catch their breath on a fainting couch.

    Some modern versions of the fainting couch have a partial back. *** This part is particularly intersting --->About half to a third of the top half of the fainting couch may have an upholstered rising back with a suggestive feminine curve.<-----

    :) Dawn

  6. Now, this is why I love Perfume Shrine: thanks to posts like yours Dawn, I learn something new every day :-)

    Fainting couches! What a concept. And nicely shaped too!

    Of course smelling salts were also an invention mainly for the corseted ladies as well. So one should expect something like that.

  7. The theme of the reclining woman is as old as Antiquity -- I cannot strongly recommend enough the reading of Kenneth Clark's masterful "The Nude" which takes us through centuries of this sensuous theme (and many others),in the history of painting and sculpture. Of course, as Lillie says, both of Goya's Majas, Manet's Olympia are prime examples, as well as the Hellenistic Sleeping Hermaphrodite and innumerable Matisses... No wonder perfume advertising drew its inspiration from this age-old figure.

  8. Yup, D, as you say. Thank you!

    BTW, there is also some interesting Greek death sculpture that utilizes it, but it is a tad more sinister than the scope of this article. I will have to see if there is some tie with perfume, but I think only BPAL would have those affinities (?).

  9. Anonymous15:03

    You are welcome dear Helg. :)

    I forgot about the smelling salts being used also for the corsetted ladies. What a time, eh?
    I can't even imagine wearing something like that now. Oh, the things women endured. Well, the things we still endure.


  10. Like you say, Dawn: the things we still endure.

    It seems to me that things have shifted from the temporary enhancement (wigs, corsets, makeup...) to the permanent transformation (straightening/permanent curling, liposuction, plastic surgery...).
    The meaning of progress??

  11. Anonymous09:12

    Exactly,for a sofa there should be a fruitful perfume smell.It gives the quality of the sofa.And may gives the blossom look of it.


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