Little Big Things: Masterpieces from the Storp Collection

Inside the Palazzo Mocenigo, Venice's fabled textile museum, a rare collection of perfume bottles has gone on display, including a flamboyant gold creation designed by Salvador Dali for another eccentric, Elsa Schiaparelli.

"Little Big Things," which opens today (September 6 - January 6, 2015), displays around 200 bottles from the Storp family's 3,000-piece collection, dating back 6,000 years.

(The Storps are the founders of the German fragrance company, Drom.)

One of the oldest pieces, is a terracotta Egyptian oil jar which is thought to be from the second or third century BC.  And other historic designs, include a perfume egg, made of pearl, glass and onyx from  1870. It opens to reveal two crystal flacons.

In a design that could be found replicated, like many here, more recently, one design is shaped like a ring.

"There are older precedents for most modern designs," said Andreas Storp who runs the family business with his brother, Ferdinand, in Munich.

A series of placards explain the development of perfume,  its changing uses and the evolution of bottle designs.

Visitors learn that the rise of Christianity marked the decline of the secular use of perfume.  Then, scents became a protective elixir and bottle designs became more secretive and ostentatious.

Drom have, until now, shown the collection in a private museum in their Munich headquarters. "We wanted to give it a wider audience," Mr. Storp said.

In addition to this temporary exhibition, other bottles from their collection are featured in the new perfume museum which launched last year at the Mocenigo, showing Venice's role in the perfume industry.

The Storp family founded the Munich-based company Drom Fragrances in 1911. It now has revenues of around $180 million a year, and produces around 5,000 new fragrances a year. Its customers include major fashion houses which it creates scents for.

"Perhaps not for Chanel," said Andreas Storp on a tour of the exhibition on Friday which includes iconic bottle designs from all of the major fashion brands, as well as a display dedicated to the jewelers Van Cleefs and Arpels,  the first jewelers to create a perfume in 1976.

"The thing about creating perfumes, is that there is not much to show, just liquid. So for us the bottles show something beautiful from our industry," said Mr. Storp.

Once the premise of perfumers, couturiers developed their own perfumes alongside clothing, beginning in 1911, when Paul Poiret introduced his first scent.

Then came Chanel with her Chanel No. 5 in 1921. The floodgates opened. Others followed, including Charles Frederick Worth, Lanvin and Rochas. After WWII,  Carven, Balmain, Christian Dior and Nina Ricci debuted their scents.

Some of the fashion houses most iconic bottles are on display here, like a Jean-Paul Gaultier bottle designed in the shape of a woman's bust. It is based on a Schiaparelli design for her Shocking scent from 1937. The two are shown side by side.

Also on show is the bottle for Nina Ricci's Coeur Joie from 1945.

Highlights include a Roman Empire bottle from the 2nd - 3rd Century AD in cobalt blue glass with iridescent facets, which is shaped like a pear, and a Holy Balsam Jug from Egypt, showing a woman in an erotic pose from the 2nd or 3rd BC.

A Wedgewood Phial from 1790 is delicate and beautiful, as is a Coty Amber Antique from 1910, or a glass bottle in the shape of an alabaster showing four women draped in gowns.

"One has to be careful collecting," said Mr. Storp who estimates the Storp collection to be the largest out there. "Sometimes they come with counterfeit bottle tops."

The exhibition was curated by Chiara Squarcina of the Mocenigo with Gabriella Belli responsible for scientific direction.

The Mocenigo re-opened last year, following a restoration overseen by Pier Luigi Pizzi.