The history of Lalique is inextricably bound up with the history of perfume itself. René Lalique, the most innovative glass designer of his time – almost certainly of all time, in fact – created the flacons for many of the world’s most exclusive and iconic perfumes.
Born in 1860 in Aÿ, in France’s Marne district, Lalique moved with his family to Paris aged two. But he returned regularly for summer holidays, which are believed to have influenced his naturalistic approach to glasswork. While at school, at a young age he discovered a love of drawing and sketching, enrolling for evening classes at Paris’s École des Arts Décoratifs from 1874-1876. Then, we were surprised to learn, Lalique actually spent a couple of years in London, at the (appropriately-named) Crystal Palace School of Art in Sydenham, honing his graphic design skills.
Back in Paris, Lalique worked as a freelance, designing jewellery for Cartier, Boucheron and other leading French houses. But by 25, he’d opened his own studio, starting to create his own jewellery – and the glass pieces which made his name. By the age of 30, Lalique was recognised as one of France’s most inspired and gifted designers of Art Nouveau jewellery – and went on to become the most famous in his field. He became known, in fact, as ‘the inventor of modern jewellery’.
As Art Nouveau’s fluid, flowing lines evolved into the more graphic shapes of the Art Deco era, Lalique‘s star rose even higher: he created walls of lighted glass and stylish glass columns for the dining room and ‘grand salon’ of the state-of-the-art ocean liner SS Normandie. For St. Matthew’s Church in Millbrook, on the island of Jersey, he produced a gold cross, screens and even the font, known as ‘Lalique’s Glass Church’. At the same time, Lalique – described as ‘the Sculptor of Light’ – was designing exquisite car mascots, to ornament radiators on the world’s priciest automobiles’.
But it’s his design work for perfume houses that put Lalique on the radar of many, around the world. He worked most closely with François Coty, at the beginning of the 20th Century. Their collaboration revolutionised 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.
By the 1920s and 1930s, the houses of Worth, Molyneux, d’Orsay, Houbigant and Roger & Gallet were all seeking out Lalique‘s design genius and craftsmanship, which so perfectly expressed the essences inside. His most famous bottle, however, has to be the crystal dove for Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps – created just after the war, gracing countless dressing tables around the world. It has been honoured as ‘flacon of the century’, and was a collaboration between Marc Lalique – René Lalique’s son – and Robert Ricci.
With a name synonymous with luxurious fragrance, then, it was a natural evolution for Lalique to launch a perfume line of its own. But it was the designer’s granddaughter, Marie-Claude, whose inspiration it was to create Lalique de Lalique, the debut scent – combining the know-how of crystal glassmaking with the art of perfumery itself. Developed by Max Gavary and Béatrice Piquet, it fuses rose, jasmine, wallflower and iris in the top notes, a tart whisper of blackcurrant leaves and wild blackberry, and the most sensual dry-down of vanilla, white musk and sandalwood. The geometric bottle, meanwhile (see it below), is etched with intertwined honeysuckle.
Every single bottle, of course, is exquisite. But since 1994, Lalique‘s own fragrances have also been available as limited, signed and numbered editions: the Lalique artisan glassmakers’ chance to showcase their talent for creating and finishing curves, and sculpting the detail for which the glass house is world-renowned. (On the right, see some of Lalique’s artisans, working in the glass foundry in time-honoured tradition.)
Lalique has continued to work with the world’s top ‘noses’, for each new creation: more than a dozen, for women and for men. (Lalique Encre Noire, by Nathalie Lorson, was hand-picked for our Co-Founders’ book, The Perfume Bible – to be published autumn 2014 – as one of the 10 men’s scents in the world that you simply must smell. Preferably, on a man’s neck…)
Perles de Lalique (also by Nathalie Lorson) hints at the 1920s: a touch libertine, and so-so-feminine. Bold Bourbon black pepper, orris, Bulgarian rose and patchouli make for a voluptuous yet contemporary scent, with the perfume concentration showcased in a bottle that’s truly stands out from the crowd: it features a hand-made, black-and-white feather collar, around its glamorous neck.
For Lalique Le Parfum, meanwhile, celebrated perfumer Dominique Ropion took his inspiration from one of Lalique’s most famous works, the ‘Masque de Femme’ (Mask of Woman), which is sculpted onto the flacon: the most opulent of Orientals, bursting with flowers at its heart (heady jasmine and heliotrope), on an inviting bed of vanilla, tonka bean, sandalwood and patchouli. Satine is as sensual and fluid as it sounds, an indulgent swirl of gardenia, heliotrope, tonka bean, vanilla and sandalwood.
Lalique‘s beautiful bestselling Amethyst – lush with blackberries, blackcurrants and raspberries,used in such a sophisticated way that it’d surely convert anyone to the delights of ‘fruity-florals’ – will be joined in autumn 2014 by Amethyst Éclat, in which the floral notes have been played up: magnolia, Bulgarian rose and peony – often used by the artist in his Art Deco motifs.
In autumn 2014, there’s something very special happening with Lalique which we’ll share with you on this site – and in The Scented Letter. It’s a feast for the eyes – and for the nose – and will mark new chapter in Lalique’s extraordinary history. So watch this space…
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