The Art of Perfume Advertising: Estee Lauder Modern Muse, Isaac Mizrahi Fabulous, and the Guggenheim


One of the major mainstream fragrance releases for autumn 2013 was Estée Lauder’s Modern Muse, with the tagline “Be An Inspiration” and an advertising campaign featuring the model Arizona Muse.

In the initial advertising for this fragrance, Muse (the person, with the perfume!) made an appearance at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York.

In the print ads, including the one above, she poses inside the Guggenheim, which is immediately identifiable by its spiral ramp and its circular skylight…


In the television ad (watch it here), she strides gracefully along a side street on the Upper East Side, enters the museum, gazes upwards, mingles with the other guests at some sort of gala opening, and (naturally) becomes the center of attention. Because of her perfume, you know.

flw with guggenheim.png

The Guggenheim Museum is located at Fifth Avenue and 88th Street, and its iconic building was designed by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. (I try not to throw the word “iconic” around too often, but in this case, it’s appropriate.)

In the above photograph from the Guggenheim’s archives, Wright (holding his hat) stands with collector and museum trustee Hilla Rebay and Solomon R. Guggenheim himself, regarding an architectural model of the museum building.

The museum opened on October 21, 1959, just a few months after Wright’s death.

I’ve always thought of the Guggenheim as a classic and groundbreaking example of mid-20th century American architecture, and a landmark of uptown Manhattan, but as part of my parents’ New York (my mother clearly remembers all the excitement surrounding the opening in 1959).

Corbis 1961.jpg

The Guggenheim was featured as a background in many fashion shoots and cosmetics ads of the 1960s; I know of a few, which I’ll share here! This young woman in this Condé Nast image is a “college girl visiting the Guggenheim Museum” circa February 1961.

Her outfit would still be stylish today, with a few small tweaks, and her confident smile completes the portrait of a smart young woman-around-town.


Speaking of smart: here we have the Monroe Monro Matic Calculator of 1963, juxtaposed with a distinctively clad model (look at those gloves!) and, yes, the Guggenheim. In just a few years, the Gugg had become shorthand for everything contemporary, forward-thinking, streamlined.

Vogue Sept 1 1966.jpg

And, although the Guggenheim had yet to become an international brand with museums dotting the globe (that came a few decades later), it made a cameo appearance in a magazine advertisement spotlighting sharply cut wool garments for “the people that Go Places.” Jet-setters! or, as they’re called here, “The Jetaways.” This ad was published in Vogue on September 1, 1966.

Isaac Mizrahi 2012 Fabulous.jpg

Mizrahi Fabulous Guggenheim.jpg

When the Guggenheim popped up in this ad campaign for Isaac Mizrahi’s Fabulous fragrance in 2012, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by these shots by photographer Terry Richardson.

The model (named Bambi Northwood Blyth—I kid you not) is so very young and blank-looking that I can’t read much fantasy or mystique into these photos. The dresses just look, well, cheap. And I don’t even think poodles are the dog of choice on the Upper East Side.

Modern Muse Be An Inspiration.png

I’m trying to figure out why I enjoy the vintage photos of women posing at the Guggenheim so much more than these recent ads.

Maybe it’s because the Guggenheim really was modern in 1960. And maybe it’s because the women in those images are, to paraphrase the “Jetaways” ad, “people who Go Places, Do Things.” They’re going to college, working, traveling. In my eyes, at least, they’re not just twirling around and inspiring other people. They, themselves, are inspired by their surroundings. That makes a big difference.

For additional posts in this series, see here.



  1. You know, I wonder if part of it is that the vintage photos weren’t PhotoShopped, while the new ones clearly were. The vintage photos look more “alive” and lively to me, while the newer ads look stiff.


    • I wonder whether that’s part of it! Even though the Mizrahi and Lauder images were made on-site, they seem SO ironed-out and weirdly lit. I’m sure there was some hand-retouching in the 60s, but the women and the places still look “real.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s