March 16, 2024

All things Perfume Passage Foundation on one website!

A Note From The Founders...

One of our favorite ways to preserve the history, beauty and artistry of perfume bottles is when we've had the opportunity to meet the perfumers, designers and artists who created the bottles that are part of our collection.

Unfortunately, these can be fleeting moments, and we do treasure each opportunity we've had over the years.

In 2006, we met French artist and perfume bottle designer Serge Mansau. We were aware of his bottle designs, but not of him as the artist. We realize that others might not be familiar with Serge as the designer of bottles they love, yet they most likely own one or more of his creations!

So for this issue, we thought we'd share our stories about Serge, his bottles and their history!


Jeffrey and Rusty, Co-founders

"I often say that making a perfume is the same as putting on a play: with the fragrance itself in the role of the text, with the box in the role of decor, and the bottle performing as a star actor. The bottle is an interpreter; it carries the play of the text, makes one feel the juice, which is not really photogenic. The sense of smell highly depends on the inspiration of the sight."

 – Serge Mansau

On a trip to France in 2006, we shopped the famous Paris Les Puces flea market (below) in search of treasures for our growing perfume bottle collection. It's still one of the largest and best places to shop for antiques and collectibles in Europe.

And of course we found items that have now made their way into the displays at Perfume Passage!

Whenever we travel, we love to connect with our International Perfume Bottle Association collector friends. Of course, a visit to Paris always includes meeting up with fellow collector Jean-Marie Martin-Hattemberg, among others.

It was Jean-Marie who suggested we attend an art exhibit with him, hosted by a friend of his - Serge Mansau.

Meeting Serge...

We attended Serge's art exhibition, held at his gallery, which was part of his home, outside of Paris. Jean-Marie introduced us to him, and his wife Estelle and Serge talked with us about the art on display. We saw a variety of his art glass, perfume bottles and sculptures and chatted about the pieces. "I think he realized our passion for perfume bottles and designs but also realized that we weren't familiar with most of his work!"

After the exhibition was over, he led us to a wall cabinet at the end of the room and opened the doors. "We'll never forget that first look behind the doors, as every bottle he designed over the years was on display on the shelves!"

In front of us were prototype and concept bottles that he started designing in the 1960s! "My eye was immediately drawn to Kenzo Pour Homme, as it's always been a favorite," said Jeffrey.

"We saw some bottles that were familiar to us, and we could see his eyes light up when we asked about his designs and inspirations behind some of his creations."

Serge told us that he would describe himself as a sculptor, as he considered his bottles to be mini sculptures.

He also confirmed the story about how he first met Helena Rubinstein when she hired him as an interior designer for her salons. He said she was impressed with him as a designer and really did challenge him to create a bottle design for her Skin Dew scent!

There was a courtyard at the back of their home, and we sat outside, had drinks and smoked cigars. He loved his cigars!

What was so amazing about what we saw was that he actually kept the prototypes for each presentation he made for all the perfume houses and companies that he worked with over the years! He said he was inspired by nature and that Estelle would bring him items from the outdoors for inspiration.

His Early Years...

Serge Mansau was born in 1930 in Paris, and as a child, he moved quite often as his father was an aviation engineer. Serge had said that at one time, his whole life could have fit into a suitcase. He also said he didn't have many toys or teddy bears as a child.

He credited his relationship with his uncle and the stories he told him about his travels for instilling an interest in nature, creativity and imagination. Serge began painting everything that came to his mind and whatever he saw that interested him.

As a young man, he became interested in the theater and began his career as a production designer for Charles Dullin, a French theater manager and director. He also met the famous mime artist Marcel Marceau, who introduced him to the meaning of gestures and forms.

Serge met cosmetic entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein in the 1950s when she hired him to decorate the windows and interiors of her Paris salon.

In a conversation with Helena, Serge criticized the design of the bottle that was created for her new fragrance, Skin Dew. Helena then said, "If you think you can do better, do it!"

And so he did. That was the start of his 50 year career designing nearly 300 perfume bottles for companies including Guerlain, Givenchy, Hermes, Lancôme, Kenzo and Guy Laroche.

In 1960, Skin Dew was released, bottled in Serge's successful design. While he wasn't aware of it at the time, the impact of his first foray into perfume bottle designs would result in international recognition in the perfume industry. He founded his design studio in 1964 and began to immerse himself in the creation of perfume bottles.

Serge's Designs...

Cristalleries de Saint Louis (The water of Saint Louis) bottle in colorless lined crystal and garnet. It measures almost 10" tall.

Le Masque Venitien (The Venetian Mask) is a 4" x 4.5" bottle that has a partially frosted, molded wolf decoration.

Organza Indécence on the left, was launched in 1999. On the right is the original Organza, launched in 1996. First Light was the third, much lighter than the original, and was launched in 2004.

Cerruti 1881 is a decorative advertising bottle in the shape of a frosted square and presented on a molded plaster base. It has a hammer or chisel at the base and measures 17" tall and 6" wide. 

1881 Men by Cerruti is an Aromatic Fougere fragrance launched in 1990. Nino Cerruti opened the first Cerruti boutique in Paris in 1967. Their first line of women's fragrances appeared in 1976.

Declaration by Cartier is a woody floral musk fragrance for men, launched in 1998.

Climat by Lancôme is a floral fragrance for women, launched in 1967.

Fidji Eau de Toilette by Guy Laroche is a floral fragrance for women, launched in 1966. Fidji stands for the name of the islands in the south Pacific.

Serge created this unusual looking 16" glass sculpture with a center bottle, surrounded by five matching smaller bottles, on a molded plaster base. Dolce Vita by Dior is an amber woody fragrance for women, launched in 1994.

Serge's Prototypes...

A perfume bottle prototype is an early example or release of a bottle, often used to evaluate the new design and to make changes and enhancements before it's mass produced and released on the market.

A perfume house hopes that the consumer will want to purchase their fragrance before they even test the scent, and if the design of the bottle can draw your eye, they hope you'll purchase it.

The perfume maker often has a vision for the bottle design and will usually work closely with the artist to convey his opinions. The designer will decide what's possible in creating the bottle and what will be cost effective for the manufacturers and suppliers as well as the customer.

Serge often said that in addition to being an artist, he felt like an eternal child who played with stones, glass, leaves and branches, as he tried to mix several of these materials in his creations, emphasizing the relationship between nature and art.

Perfume Passage was fortunate to have the opportunity to purchase several of Serge's prototype perfume bottles at auction, following his death in 2019 at the age of 88.

Five prototypes of bottles that Serge designed for a line of men's cologne. He said he was inspired by Sumerian plates for the design.

This 16-1/8" prototype of an advertising bottle by Serge was made in chromed metal and methacrylate (an acrylic resin).

A prototype by Serge of duo bottles in methacrylate, carved with a heart. It measures 7-5/16" tall.

Hands of Buddha (Mains de Bouddha) prototype bottle by Serge, measuring 7-1/2" tall. It's made of methacrylate and a gold lacquered resin.

Serge's Collaborations...

These two solid blown glass bottles include a spiral (left) and honeycomb decoration. Serge collaborated with internationally-recognized French glass artist Antoine Leperlier. They both measure 9" and were purchased at a Paris auction.

Did You Know...

  • Serge believed that a child lives in each of us, so in addition to designing perfume bottles, he created the design of bears for Daum, one of the oldest glass houses in France. They were approximately 6" tall and weighed two pounds and came in a variety of colors!

  • Serge was awarded The Order of Arts and Letters (Ordre des Arts et des Lettres) in 2010 by the French Minister of Culture, an honor given to significant figures in the arts.
  • On September 27, 2020, nearly 300 pieces, including perfume bottles, (including prototypes), sculptures and accessory items from Serge's workshop, were sold at the Enghien-les-Bains auction house in Paris.

  • This 6-1/2 foot Leaf Man sculpture in resin with a sheet of gilded and sandblasted glass from the auction is on display in the Vault gallery at Perfume Passage.
  • An 18k gold plated pendant, that was an adaptation of an original Serge sculpture, was a free gift with the purchase of Guy Laroche's J'ai Ose perfume. This ad appeared in the September 23, 1979 Lexington, Kentucky Leader newspaper. Serge also designed the bottle!

Serge's Presentations...

A maquette is used to visualize and test ideas without the efforts and expenses of producing full-scale pieces. Serge often made maquettes of his bottles in wax or clay to assist perfume houses is visualizing the final product.

He also used maquettes when designing his sculptures.

Perfume Passage has several of Serge's original maquettes!

This 1977 maquette was a limited edition of 160 copies. Serge designed it for Guy Laroche's J'ai Ose fragrance for women. It's an amber scent, launched in 1978. The maquette included a book, bronze sculpture and bottle of perfume.

Serge's 18" x 33" maquette was created in 1995 for Hermes 24 Faubourg eau de parfum. It's a floral fragrance for women and the sculptural bottle he created evoked a silk scarf flooded by sunshine, ruffled by a light breeze

24 Faubourg is the well-known address of the first Hermes store, located on Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honore in Paris that opened in 1880.

Serge created this beautiful 18" x 33" maquette in 1991 for Gucci's L'Arte di Gucci, a Chypre floral fragrance for women, launched in 1991.

Perfume Passage Journal...

The Perfume Passage Journal subscription program for 2024 begins with our Spring publication about a fascinating US company--Vantine's. Established in New York around 1870, the company introduced Asiatic goods to local buyers, including rugs, household items and toiletries, along with a variety of perfumes.

If you have not yet renewed your subscription or if you're interested in subscribing, do so today! Click on the image to the right.

Perfume Passage Is On Social Media...

There's no doubt about it, social media has become a part of the everyday life for billions of people and businesses. According to an online article from Search Engine Journal, there are over 400,000 new social users every day.

Perfume Passage is no exception and we continue increasing our presence on several social media platforms to share our collections, upcoming events, publications and all things perfume and vanity! Click on the highlighted links below to view some of our videos, stories, collections and interesting finds.

You will find links to our past PassageWay newsletters, video content such as the virtual tour by Erin Parsons, and much more!

You will find everything on one site. Check out our

Interested in visiting the collection?

  • As a private residence, we are not open to the general public except through pre-arranged tours.

  • Experiencing the collection is best when done in smaller groups, therefore we limit admission for an up close and intimate experience. See the link below for upcoming available dates. 

  • We also offer private group tours and many other events throughout the year. 
Contact us for more information

Our mission is to preserve the history, beauty and artistry of perfume bottles, compacts, ephemera and related vanity items. Through education, outreach, and awareness of the Perfume Passage collection and library, our goal is to inspire art lovers, collectors, arts and curators to keep this history alive. 

Perfume Passage Foundation

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