It seems like the right time of year to look at a vintage perfume advertisement like this one!
This is an ad for three perfumes by Lancôme: Flèches (“Arrows”), Tropiques, and Marrakech. It’s dated 1948 and its illustration was created by E-M. Pérot.
Pérot’s design quotes from a very famous work of art: Botticelli’s Primavera, or Allegory of Spring (1477-1482). According to the Artstor blog,
“To the far left of the painting stands Mercury dissipating the clouds of winter with his staff for spring to come. Next to Mercury stand the Three Graces, who represent the feminine virtues of Chastity, Beauty, and Love; the pearls on their heads symbolize purity. Next to them, in the center of the composition, is the Roman goddess Venus, who protects and cares for the institution of marriage. Above her is her son, Cupid, blindfolded as he shoots his arrows of love towards the Three Graces.
On the far right of the painting we see Zephyrus, the west wind, pursuing a nymph named Chloris. After he succeeds in reaching her, Chloris transforms into Flora, goddess of spring. The transformation is indicated by the flowers coming out of Chloris’s mouth. Flora scatters the flowers she gathered on her dress, symbolizing springtime and fertility.”
Got all that? (Don’t worry: Renaissance scholars are still trying to decipher the allegory and symbolism in this painting.)
For the Lancôme illustration, Pérot isolated the figure of Flora. He kept her pose, the gesture of her arm, and the effect of the drapery fluttering behind her. However, instead of dressing her in a flowered gown, he formed her body from an assortment of flowers, including roses, jasmine, and orchids, and he transformed her trailing skirt into the sillage of the flowers’ scent.
The result is a bit more surreal than Botticelli’s goddess, more ethereal and more remote. Flora makes eye contact with us as if to include us in the story, but Lancôme’s flower nymph is eerily blank-eyed, all olfaction and no vision. Rather than a woman wearing a perfume, she is the perfume itself.
I wonder whether the artist was also thinking of the work of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the Mannerist artist whose “composite heads” are shaped from thematically related objects.
Here’s Arcimboldo’s Flora (ca. 1591).
I wish you a Spring season filled with festivity and fragrance!