The Art of Perfume
By AFONSO OLIVEIRA
Myrurgia Catalogue cover page, 1922
Finding the true source
Because there was contradictory information about the founding of the company from various sources, I contacted Esteve Rodes Monegal, grandson of the founder of Myrurgia to verify who was involved in the start-up of the company. Esteve informed me that his great-grandfather Ramón Monegal was a chemist and owner of a pharmacy (Drug SAM) in the centre of the city of Barcelona, Spain. Ramón helped his son Esteve Monegal i Prat with funds for the start-up of Myrurgia and gave shares of the company to the good customers of the pharmacy (he was not totally convinced of the success that his son Esteve would have). Later, Esteve’s father had to travel all over Spain in the 1950s recovering shares as he did not have a majority stake.
The Founder of Myrurgia
Esteve Monegal i Prat
This brand was founded by the Catalan family of Monegal in Spain in 1916. Esteve Monegal i Prat (Barcelona, 1888-1970) was a sculptor, musician and poet and studied in both Barcelona and Paris. Esteve left his artistic career to take over the Myrurgia Company from his father Ramon Monegal , at the age of 28. Due to his background (he had training in Perfume), he was very instrumental in the company “look” and direction for many years.
Origin of the name Myrurgia
Normally perfume brands nave the name of the creator or family surname, but it wasn’t like that in this case. Sources generally attribute the name Myrurgia to mean the “Art of Perfume”. But the grandson also advised that the name came from MYRRON (myrrh which is a fragrant or sweet oil/perfume) and URGE (Industry) so it could have also meant perfume industry or perfume factory.
An artistic touch in everything
Esteve applied all his knowledge and culture to the labels, bottles, boxes and advertising. Some of the bottles were designed by Julian Viard, and others by Esteve Monegal himself.
The French artist Julien Viard was also a sculptor and received numerous awards, such as the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1907. He exhibited his products between 1900 and 1908 at the Société des Artistes Français in the decorative arts section.
The design of the bottle for the perfume Mimosa de Oro was one of the creations he made for Myrurgia.
Myrurgia in my collection. Perfumes and advertisements embraced the cultural movements like Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Surrealism periods
1917. Mimosa de Oro
One of the earliest bottles in my collection is Mimosa de Oro dated from 1917.
The bottle stands on a round base and the bottle has a slightly oval shape, with the oval pattern repeating in the center front of the bottle.
The stopper is clear crystal inlaid in cork.
At the bottom of the oval label is an oval medallion of a feminine figure that appears inspired by a Greek Muse.
1917. Promesa Powder
This powder box dates from 1917 and has been done by the Industria Brasileira. Promessa means commitment. On the powder box is a drawing with 3 people at a fancy ball. The man appears to be trying to talk to a lady, who is turning her face away from this gentleman. There is a third young lady standing by the gentleman, perhaps there was a misunderstanding on who promised the next dance?
1918. Maderas de Oriente
Even though machine technology was used in production of the bottles and boxed presentations, hand work was also used. Maderas de Oriente (1918) was placed in a Moorish Style wood box that had a hand painted bottle with a piece of sandalwood inside. The wood box also had a colourful wool braiding coming of the top of the box. These bottles were designed by Julien Viard. The large bottle is hand painted and the small has a paper label. It is speculated that the sandalwood was placed in the bottle as a “curiosity” but Helen Farnsworth advises the fragrant wood reflects the name of this perfume – Woods of the Orient.
New designs for Maderas de Oriente flasks
Through the years, Maderas de Oriente proved to be a very famous and long standing fragrance that had different presentations like the modernistic bottles in this photo. The perfume bottle is now rectangular with rounded panels on each side, a black painted crystal stopper and a beautiful gold foil label in the center front. In the interior of the bottle, is the ever present sandalwood stick.
In 1929 Maderas de Oriente changed the bottle and label design again. The bottle is now an art deco shaped clear glass bottle with four soft shouldered steps on each side and a black Bakelite screw cap. The paper label is blue and white. The label appears to be a melding of a mosque or minaret design complete with onion shaped roof at the base in contrast to a tall white skyscraper off to the right. The label is cut into an art deco sky scraper design to further reinforce the “modernistic” look. The powder box has the same image as the perfume bottle label. A beautiful oriental graphic appears on the exterior box labelled Colonia el Extracto (extract cologne) that carries over the original 1918 bottle label design.
Maderas de Oriente Advertisement: 1918 (left) 1931 (right)
Christie Mayer Lefkowith in her book “Masterpieces of the Perfume Industry”, wrote about this bottle on pages 130 and 131, she advised: “Julien Viard had many clients in France and also in England, Italy and Spain creating masterpieces for two Barcelona companies, Myrurgia and Cortes Hermanos, with themes and decorative motifs inspired by Spain.
He created a very unusual stopper for Myrurgia resembling, in my opinion, the fountain water jets of Arabic and Spanish patio. This stopper design was adopted to the special requirement of large lotion bottles and was refined for smaller perfume flacons. The most extreme form of this jet stopper model was exaggerated and delicate stopper for the perfume ‘Maja’. A luxurious version of ‘Maja’ was produced in gild black glass. The large size ‘Maja’ boxes were decorated with a Spanish shawl motif”.
Around the box it reads: “Todas las flores de España en un solo perfume” which translates to: All the flowers of Spain in one perfume. The oriental influence could be to honor the Arab people that have lived in Spain since the middle ages and made many contributions to the development of the perfume industry. (The Moors – Arabs – conquered Spain in 811 and were there until 1492 and hence Spain alone in Europe has a very significant cultural heritage from the Near East, Arabs and Islam’). Other credits are to the Spanish woman as Maja means in slang a pretty street woman, hence one who is available.
MAJA Advertisement: 1918
1922. Suspiro de Granada
One of the most original perfume bottle presentations is the one for Suspiro de Granada. I believe this creation was inspired by the red hats of the Granada folk costumes. This bottle was designed by Julian Viard and made by Depinoix in 1922. The label on the box was designed by Eduard Jener. The bottle is protected by a red bakelite container, hand painted with flowers and with two red and two black pom-poms. The black glass bottle has a gold rope finishing wound up around the neck and a ball shaped stopper decorated with gold motifs.
Within the collection of the Myrurgia brand, one can find certain cities and neighborhoods of Spain featured in: Suspiro de Granada (Sigh of Granada), Embrujo de Sevilla (Spell of Seville) and Sol de Triana (Sun of Triana). The majority of the remaining fragrances all use flower names. Maja was inspired by the dancing of Tórtola Valencia and her figure became the distinctive image of Maja. Again we have the appeal of Spanish patriotism.
Orgia was launched in 1922 and shown here are two Portuguese advertisements from 1927. Translated into English the name would be Orgy…. it’s doubtful this name would be used in today’s world, or is it?
1925. Flor de Blason
Flor de Blason was launched in 1925 as a male fragrance and was very popular in the North American market. The label is gold and blue and based on heraldic motifs.
1929. The New Factory
In 1929, Esteve Monegal ordered Spanish architect Antonio Puig Gairalt to design a new factory due to the success of the brand and its need to expand. Several Spanish artists were involved in this project.
1933. Embrujo de Sevilla
Embrujo de Sevilla dates from 1933 and this particular bottle is an extract. The bottle is made of clear crystal, painted in gold and finished with a gold colored stopper. The gold label represents a Seville lady with her fan, “peineta” (a large tortoise shell or colored comb, used to hold up a mantilla) and a large hoop skirt which was at the height of fashion in the 1600’s.
Joya was introduced in 1950 and means Bijou, a small dainty jewel that is highly prized. The extract comes in a crystal bottle shaped like a jewel. After the Spanish Civil War, in the 1950’s and 1960’s, Myrurgia was Spain’s leading perfume house with Gal being their chief competitor. In July of 2000, Myrurgia became part of the Puig Beauty & Fashion Group. Puig is a 3rd generation fashion and fragrance family business located in Barcelona, Spain.
Container for bulk sale
All the bottles shown belong to the collection of Afonso Oliveira
Afonso Oliveira, has worked in the perfumery industry for over 30 years. He is a collector of antique perfume bottles and is the ex-Vice President of the International Perfume Bottle Association. One of the great passions of Afonso is researching the golden years of international and Portuguese Perfumery.