Wild and Perfect Flowers

April 21, 2017

Wild and Perfect Flowers

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden, 
and softly, 
and exclaiming of their dearness, 
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling, 
their eagerness
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
nothing, forever?

--“Peonies” from New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver 

Who wouldn’t hurry to take in peonies in full bloom! We are flower obsessed; our Instagram feed is full of floral designers and flower pics. Floral design is everywhere. Flowers are simply beautiful; and they are also the perfect archetype of the fleeting moments we treasure.

Being a perfumer John Blocki wanted to capture the scent of flowers but he also wanted to preserve their physical beauty. The Blocki perfumery created many different perfumes but it was the Flower-in-the-Bottle line that made them famous. It was one of the longest lasting perfume lines from the early era having been in production for almost fifty years (about 1900-1950).

The name is descriptive; each bottle of perfume had a beautifully preserved natural flower inside the bottle to match and embellish the scent. A rose perfume would contain a preserved rose bud; a violet perfume would contain a preserved violet; lily of the valley would contain a sprig of lily and so on.

The process of preservation remains a mystery. A 1919 article in Dun’s International Review reveals only that the process of preparing the flower is the result of a life study and is a very tedious operation. It took weeks to prepare the flower for the bottle. Once it was placed inside, the perfume was aged with the flower before it was ready to sell. John Blocki was awarded a U.S. patent in 1907 for this novel process (the illustration that went with the patent application is printed on the side of our perfume cartons).

Like many inventions this one may have been born of necessity. The patent application says the idea is to reveal at a glance the nature of the scent in the bottle. In the 1800s labels were not as persistent as they are today and Blocki wanted his customer to know what was in the bottle even if the label deteriorated. This was also a time of mass immigration to the U.S. and many newcomers could not read English so the visual cue was helpful.

Another practicality was that early American perfumers had to get creative to draw people to their products. Consumers had such a strong preference for French perfumes that it was a challenge for American perfumers to get a foothold. The flower preserved in the bottle was something new and attractive; many retailers reported the line selling on-sight.

One random source of inspiration may go back to the Blockis origins in Prussia and Poland. Bison grass vodka, an herb flavored vodka from that area dating back centuries, contains a real blade of grass to "season" the vodka. It is likely that the Blockis were familiar with this spirit. Maybe some ancient alchemy at work but we will never know; we have not found any journal notes regarding the source of inspiration.

Whatever the purpose or inspiration behind the flower-in-the-bottle, the Blockis obsession with flowers flowed through to their philanthropic efforts. They were active in the Wild Flower Preservation Society of Ameria and worked with landscape architect Jens Jensen putting together wildflower education exhibits at the Art Institute of Chicago. Each visiting school group was encouraged to take the name of a wildflower and make a pledge to protect it.

In the whirlwind of building and growth at the turn of the century the flower-in-the-bottle was a crystalline reminder to appreciate the beauty around you before it is gone. While we chose not to recreate the original flower-in-the-bottle perfumes with our revival, In Every Season is our flower in the bottle perfume: an enormous bouquet of lilac, rose, jasmine and carnation in full bloom for a moment before it fades forever.

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