“Small pieces of glass architecture” — that’s what designer Marc Rosen calls the original perfume bottles he’s created over the past four decades and the vintage examples he collects. Fragrance holders take on new resonance as works of art in the Nassau County Museum of Art’s “Glamour Icons” exhibit, showcased in what once was the Georgian-style mansion’s dining room.
A FITTING SETTING
In the first museum exhibition in America celebrating cosmetic packaging as an art form, the elegant containers glisten — like the rhinestone and silk gowns once worn by dinner guests at the Frick-owned estate. The bottles are displayed against the gallery’s recently refurbished Palladium windows, classic paneling and marble fireplace mantel, details that had been hidden from view by false walls erected in front of them.
“It is a jewel of a room,” says Karl E. Willers, the museum’s director.
Architectural illusions present themselves as soon as the visitor enters the curved corridor leading to the exhibit. A photograph shows Rosen’s sophisticated fragrance bottles arranged to emulate a city skyline. Twenty-one Lucite vitrines showcase large vendor replicas of his designs surrounded by original drawings and personal photos, as well as his artfully packaged beauty products and scents.
Signature pieces range from the lunette-topped Red Door for Elizabeth Arden, where Rosen spent 12 years before founding his own company in 1989, to the arched glass bottle for Il Bacio by Borghese, with its russet glass stopper shaped in an Etruscan love knot conveying the romantic implications of a kiss. Nearby, a white lacquer Art Deco dressing table that Rosen says “you’d expect Jean Harlow to have sat at,” on loan from Palm Beach’s Silver Fund antiques shop, is the ideal stage for stars from Rosen’s personal collection, whose dazzling éclat has inspired his own seductive vessels.
“The poor little bottles really have to work hard,” Rosen says. “As silent salesmen, they have to elicit a tactile commitment, they have to entice us to pick them up and smell them.”
With this in mind, he slyly designed Karl Lagerfeld’s famous KL bottle as a modern crystal fan, an accessory once seen as a weapon of flirtation, so that consumers feel a hint of danger when they handle it, almost as if it might cut their fingers.
While Rosen has created winning package designs for fashion houses Fendi, Halston and Oscar de la Renta, he also was among the first to foray into celebrity fragrances, producing a round cut-glass receptacle for Dahlia suggesting an abstraction of the flower for the red-haired MGM actress and beauty entrepreneur Arlene Dahl in 1976. The collaboration eventually led to their marriage.
“They said it wouldn’t last,” Rosen says of the couple’s May- December romance (he is 18 years her junior). They’re celebrating their 33rd anniversary this summer. Their relationship, much like the designs Rosen showcases in this exhibition, endures.
“Glamour leads us on, and, if it is ultimately an illusion,” he wrote in a book on the topic, “it is one to which I have happily succumbed.”
WHEN | WHERE 11 a.m.-4:45 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays through Nov. 5 at the Nassau County Museum of Art, 1 Museum Dr., Roslyn Harbor.
INFO 516-484-9338, nassaumuseum.com
ADMISSION $12 ($4 ages 4-12)