NEW YORK — Before René Lalique (1860-1945) made his first vessel for noted perfumer Francois Coty in 1907, perfume bottles were commercially produced things to store perfume in, which were typically thrown away after the perfume was used up. In the innovative glassmaker’s hands, however, these receptacles became works of art and gained their own name: flacons, a term describing small decorative bottles that have a stopper or cap. Today, their value lies not in their contents (most collectible bottles are displayed empty, regardless), but in their design.
Lalique and Coty’s work on that first perfume bottle was a game changer. “Their collaboration revolutionized the perfume industry: never before had fragrance bottles been so desirable, so collectible, in their own right. Many were numbered and signed – and fetch heart-stopping prices at auction today,” according to the Perfume Society’s website. Lalique and perfume bottles became synonymous, and by the 1930s, most of Europe’s perfumers were calling on Lalique to create bottles for their fragrances.
“There is an automatic mystique that comes to mind with the name Lalique. One pictures a frosty acid-finished bottle of unusual form and delicate presentation,” said Ken Leach of Perfume Bottles Auction of New York City. “Following his legendary success at the Paris Exposition of 1900, the Lalique name has been recognized worldwide — synonymous with artistry, imagination, technical execution, and luxury.”
Many of the most desirable Lalique perfume bottles are the early ones, especially those designed by René Lalique himself or clearly made under his guidance. Lalique is known to have collaborated with other glass artists such as Andre Jollivet and Lucien Gaillard, “but I’m certain that he had first and last say on every design issued,” Leach noted. “The earliest experimental bottles by his hand have sold in the six figures, and those of his own inventive molding techniques, dating to 1900 to 1920, typically command higher prices than later models. Results vary depending on if something is rarely seen, or [if] one in complete and untouched condition would appear.”
A standout is a 1912 René Lalique Oreilles Epines perfume bottle that attained $70,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2022 at Perfume Bottles Auction. After designing bottles for the perfume industry between 1908 and 1910, Lalique began to design vanity items for his own firm, including perfume bottles. Several were like this one, which had ‘ears,’ or handles, extending from the sides of the main perfume chamber. While Lalique moved to Paris at age two, he was born in Ay in northeastern France and often summered there, instilling in him an appreciation for the natural world. His interest can be seen in his Art Nouveau designs, as embodied by this bottle.
“The bottle ‘Oreilles epines (Ears with thorns)’ is one of three designs Lalique created in 1912 featuring a unique shape and a molding process of Lalique’s invention, where the conical body was cast with solid protruding handles, or ‘ears’, impressed with entwined thorns, and a separately molded base fused in reheating,” Leach said, adding, “A colored patina was applied to the thorn pattern on the stopper and bottle to accentuate the design.” The brown patina of the thickly molded glass used in this bottle, letting light shine into certain areas, also adds to its naturalistic look and gives it a three-dimensional quality. “Very few of this model are known to exist, which led to a well deserved result,” he said. “This bottle had remained in the same family since it was newly purchased, and it was featured in an episode of Antiques Roadshow.”
Lalique’s interest in natural themes shaped much of his work. “His earliest glass designs incorporate a combined fantasy of classical imagery, mermaids, fairies, foliage, and fauna,” Leach said. “As his contemporaries moved on from the sinuous Art Nouveau style to the static Art Deco, Lalique often clung to his mythical and organically inspired motifs into the 1940s.”
Evocative of the Art Nouveau era is a circa-1912 clear and frosted glass Fougère (Ferns) perfume bottle that brought $18,000 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2023 at Heritage Auctions. Ferns and naturalistic decoration festoon the perfume chamber, and the medallions on each side depict an attractive young woman.
Another Lalique bottle sporting ‘ears’, as does the aforementioned Oreilles Epines flacon, is a Perroquets (Parrots) glass perfume bottle that made £15,000 ($19,070) plus the buyer’s premium in July 2021 at Kinghams Auctioneers. It was designed around 1919 and has a stopper in a fan form. Black stain on the ears enhances and reveals the parrots. According to the auctioneer’s notes, no other example in this design is known.
Also having an Art Deco feel is a circa 1920s-1930s Trois Groupes De Deux Danseuses perfume bottle, which brought $47,500 plus the buyer’s premium at Akiba Galleries in April 2022. It features relief decoration of dancing nude women.
Lalique proved himself a master glassmaker with clever designs such as his 1924 flacon for Isabay’s fragrance A Travers La Voilette, which translates to ‘through the veil.’ This bottle made $15,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021 at Perfume Bottles Auction and features clear glass hand-painted on the shoulder and a darker hue near the base. The veil pattern was repeated in the accompanying box.
The presence of a Lalique perfume bottle’s original box can enhance the lot, as seen with a 1928 flacon for Canarina Les Yeux Bleus (The Blue Eyes) in blue glass, which was graced with Egyptian-style decoration. The bottle and its embossed paper box made $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2022 at Perfume Bottles Auction.
Interest in all things Lalique has long been healthy and pronounced, but perfume bottles tend to appeal to a broad audience. “Over my 60-plus years of watching the antiques market cycle through highs and lows, trends and fads, the consistent interest in vintage Lalique glass objects took a turn in the late 1970s from a mostly English and American male-dominated collecting focus of vases and hood ornaments to include a new interest in perfume bottles,” Leach said. “Prices rose significantly as women and Asian collectors stepped into the auction arena.”
Building a Lalique perfume bottle collection is a possibility for every taste and budget. The factory produced bottles for at least 60 perfume companies, some in limited editions and some in massive quantities. “Because of the great variety of choice, prices can range from literally $20 for the beginner to over $100,000 for the sophisticate,” Leach said. “Lalique bottles were so beautifully designed that often they have been kept empty on display all these years.”