Friday, January 15, 2010

Frequent Questions: All about the Guerlain "Umbrella" Bottle

There is such a plethora of bottles designs at the historical house of Guerlain that the perfume bottle collector is spoilt for choice: With a history that can be traced back to 1828, when Pierre-François-Pascal Guerlain opened his first shop on Rue de Rivoli in Paris and covering almost two centuries, Guerlain has produced over 300 fragrances and an equally impressive number of bottle designs. Out of them all some are more worthy of mention either due to their beauty or their proliferation. One of them which covers both grounds is the "umbrella bottle", thus referenced due to its elegant shape that resembles a closed umbrella pointing downwards.

The "umbrella" bottle (officially known as "flacon de sac", bottle for the purse) started its illustrious career while head perfumer was Jacques Guerlain, in 1952 and continued under his grandson's, Jean Paul Guerlain's tenure as well. Its span of production covers easily more than 2 decades, until the end of the 1970s. All the perfumes that were circulating during that time-frame in extrait de parfum (pure parfum) were encased in this famous design, with the single exception of Nahéma (1976).

Despite several sellers on auction sites and Ebay stating it as Baccarat crystal, this design is assuredly not. The official Guerlain archives state three verreries producing moulds for it:
Pochet et du Courval, Brosse and Saint-Goabin -Desjonquères, all in the quarter of an ounce size. Rarely however is there a mark of which verrerie produced the flacon style in question, contrary to some other bottle designs in the line. Early specimens of the "umbrella bottle" have been sporting the name-label directly on the flacon, while later ones have a string from which two ends unite under a hang tage with the name of the perfume. Each of the extrait presentations had a different box, reflecting the themes and colour-schemes that inspired the original fragrances as well, as depicted above. From left to right, we can see the pink and green case with the two G interwined for Chant d'd’Arômes (1962); the zebra-printed Vol de Nuit presentation, inspired by far away travels and corresponding to the Saint-Exypéry travel novella of the same name; the chequed ivory of the legendary Jicky (1889); in silver tones lies the Jean Paul Guerlain creation inspired by Chagan's novel Chamade (1969); next there is the classic lithography of L'Heure Bleue (1912) and Mitsouko (1919); the iconic Shalimar is encased
in regal purple velvet, while the aqua-toned sleek box is for Parure, a plummy chypre creation by Jean Paul from 1974.

Ebay prices for these flacons fluctuate between $75-125, depending on the condition of the bottle and label as well as the existence or not (and subsequent condition of course) of the presentation box.

Less usual versions are those including a leather-pouch such as the one depicted for Liù (1929): It was a special edition for the USA only. (The very concept of this flacon is carrying it in the purse, hence "flacon de sac" being its official name in archives, yet the ideal of luxurious travel via American airlines ~very en vogue during the 1950s and 1960s~ was the source of inspiration for several 'travelling" paraphernalia of which some specimens are truly beautiful).

Much rarer and thus highly collectible is a special edition of Vol de Nuit which is commemorating the nuptials of Prince Rainier of Monaco to Grace Kelly in 1956. The box has a lovely inscription on the inside silken panel, dedicated to the marriage of the prince and the Hollywood actress, bearing the date of the wedding as well (Monaco, 15 Avril 1956). Guerlain always knew how to romanticize their art, allowing us to dream a little...

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Guerlain series, Fragrance history, Frequent Questions

thanks to Dominique Chauvet/Milan for original photography.


  1. Fiordiligi21:24

    What an absolutely wonderful treat to read about these marvellous bottles and their place in Guerlain history! Thank you so much, my dearest E.

    I have managed to obtain a few of these; it would be brilliant to have the complete set wouldn't it? The little leather carrying case is the epitome of chic.

  2. I have several of these little charmers-Mitsouko and Shalimar (the latter being the best smelling of my vintage versions-nicely animalic).

    I'm also enthralled with the "rosebud stopper" bottles-which predate the umbrella by several decades. I've found Mitsouko and L'Heure Bleue in these bottles-but they sadly haven't been good, with top notes and more a bit turned.

    I'd love to hear more of these bottle stories!

  3. I love the rosebud bottle!

  4. Always love learning some more history about my favorite house. Thanks E.!
    Have a wonderful weekend. ~Donna

  5. Anonymous17:43

    Thank you for the interesting post! I have a few of these--I purchased a set of four on ebay a while back-- the original owner obviously handled them a lot, for the box shows a lot of wear-- I feel privileged to be able to use and finish these bottles which were so obviously well kept and treasured! The four in my set are Shalimar, Mitsouko, Vol de Nuit and Chantd'Aromes--

  6. Great history about bottles... one never thinks about them... but they are so much a part of the mystique of the brand...

  7. How lovely Guerlain once was Helg.

  8. D,

    you're most welcome honey. They're ever so elegant. And yes, the leather pouch is soooo cute!

  9. Hello Louise and thanks for commenting!

    Glad you liked the piece and enjoy your treasures in good health, these are glorious versions.

    To the best of my knowledge the rosebud flacon was introduced in 1955 though, it's the "Ode" bottle (referenced because it first held Ode). There are also similar bottles to the Ode now which are called "amphores" (because they have the curvaceous lines of an ancient amphora; they're not indistinguishable from the former, although they have minor differences)
    Now the turning of said scents: It might have to do with bad keeping on the part of original owner (too bad...), or your "umbrellas" might have been more recent specimens than your rosebud flacons? I'm just hypothesizing of course. What do you think?
    It's all very interesting.

    And thanks, perhaps I will do more bottle stories; they come in useful for readers.

  10. Karin,

    it's certainly most elegant!

  11. Donna,

    you're welcome, have a most enjoyable weekend as well!


  12. Anon,

    you're spoilt for choice, what wonderful perfumes you've got! They come from an era when they were shining as they should too.

  13. LPR,

    in my personal opinion very much relies on packaging, story-telling and advertising. Even more than the juice itself, as that often requires an approach which takes more studying to fully appreciate than the visual and auditory signs; which most people know how to decipher through their general culture!

  14. M,

    *sigh* How can I disagree...

  15. Ah, Ode! I have only seen one bottle of Ode in the old bottle, and sadly couldn't afford the auction.

    It makes sense thatI think my Ode bottles have indeed contained older juice than the Umbrellas. On several occasions I have bought sealed bottles, good in color, in their original boxes. On unsealing, the perfume (once with Mitsouko, another with L'Heure Bleue) was heavenly-but went off quickly, within weeks.

    What do you suppose caused the sudden change in scent? Is the modern air simply too shocking?


  16. Fiordiligi13:56

    Oooh, I've got the Ode in the proper Ode bottle. I have erased the memory of how much it cost, but it was worth it to me!

  17. I see there is another set of four of the umbrella bottles in the scents mentioned above, that just came on ebay. At least it just turned up in my search alert. I wish more than Shalimar worked for me, I'd be tempted.

  18. Louise,

    could be modern air is very different and hurts their artistic sensibilities! I'm kidding. Some bottles and some perfumes keep better than others, nobody knows why exactly it seems. It's all very variable, alas. Sorry about what seems like perfectly wise purchases which however proved to be short-lived in their success.

  19. D,

    I'm sure it was! And Ode is such a beautiful perfume too. :-)

  20. Dorrit,

    yes, they seem to have sprang forth all of a sudden. I usually notice that once a certain design appears, then more of it surface later on. It's as if there is some osmosis or divine coincidence ;-)

  21. Nice post, finding a good perfume is not a difficult job, but finding a perfume in antique bottle is quite difficult.

  22. Second attempt--

    This article was fascinating and very timely. I recently purchased a "mystery" umbrella bottle from ebay in the purple box. My question, was it only Shalimar which was sold in the purple box or do you think Ode and Jasmin could also have been sold this way? My mystery perfume has very strong rose and wood notes with a powdery (musky?) base. I was hoping it was Ode but it smells nothing like my Ode sample from TPC. What do you think?

    Many thanks,

  23. Anonymous10:36

    I have my mums shalimar in this design, except with 'Guerlain' on the inside lid, drop tag with French writing and serial number on the back of the tag. It was a Xmas gift mid 80's, so the design must've continued until then?

  24. Alfie,

    sorry for being (probably) eons late in replying, just saw this. :-/

    To give you an answer, I wouldn't really know without smelling. There are so many theories around, but one thing I do know from a perfume insider (and I mean IN the business, not writing critics) is that companies continue to use the packaging materials until they run out. So if there is something that is remaining, high chances is it will be used for something along the way.
    I suppose it can't be Ode since that was discontinued years ago, but it could be something which was still in circulation in the 1980s. Maybe Chamade? Although not really celebrated for its rose (but rather for its woods), according to testimonials people do perceive the rose in it clearly.

  25. Lynley,

    please see above my reply to Alfie.

    If there was remaining stock of packaging materials (as I explained above), some odd bottles might have circulated later on due to that reason. The "rule" is the one mentioned in the article, but maybe there are a couple more floating around.
    If the source is reputable beyond doubt and the date affirmed (not just going by memory, or if so that that memory can be clearly corroborated), then we can be certain it's a legit bottle.


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