Vigny’s Golliwogg (1919)

[On June 10, 2014, I posted some photos of my newly acquired Golliwogg perfume bottle on a Facebook perfume group. It created a fire storm of comments and subsequently the post was deleted. However, the whole thread was archived and I am putting the abridged version here. I have changed the names of the people who made comments.]

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

[On June 10, 2014, I posted some photos of my newly acquired Golliwogg perfume bottle on a Facebook perfume group. It created a fire storm of comments and subsequently the post was deleted. However, the whole thread was archived and I am putting the abridged version here. I have changed the names of the people who made comments.]

[Victor] I want to share with you my prized collection – Vigny Golliwogg Perfume (empty) and a parfum/cologne set. The children’s book illustrated character “Golliwogg” was created by Florence K. Upton in 1895. Vigny of Paris introduced the perfume in 1918. The bottle stopper features the character’s head, with seal fur hair. I acquired the bottle and set separately; I eagerly wanted to know what Golliwogg smelled like. Now I can tell you it smells quite like Chanel No. 5. For more information:

[Reader Diana] Unfortunately, this historical character is complicated and many feel it contains a fair dose of cultural insensitivity.

[Reader Lawrence] WTF?! Lmaoooo this racist piece of crap lolol I’m sure that you don’t see it, but this is offensive as hell! It should fade into oblivion along with the relics of the past it came from.

[Reader Silvia] They are a part of history. I agree with a comment Whoopie Goldberg expressed on such objects. You can’t erase the past, you learn and grow from it. It’s when you try to bury and forget our past mistakes, that we are bound to repeat them.

They were speaking about this character on ” the view” last week. Sherrie like yourself found them offensive. She felt everything about them should be rounded up and destroyed, never to be mentioned again. Whoopie had a different stand on the subject. Instead of destroying it. You talk about it openly. Use it to teach the history of that time period and what those characters represented.

[Reader Lawrence] This imagery is offensive. It perpetuates stereotypes and has overt racist messages. The only place it should be talked about is in damnation and we see none of that in this post. So Silvia what’s your point? A news anchor once called a black lady a ‘golliwog’ & she claimed innocence saying its just something she saw in her childhood … so I don’t want my children growing up in a world where such offensive stuff is just something that they see.

[Reader Adam] I see what you are saying Silvia, I myself encourage not to hide the past but to use it as an educational tool. However there is a difference if the intent is not present (one we seek). If you use this item as a prized possession (with respect to the OP, I know you are not intending any racist slant here), but without reference to the negative connotations, this figure serves as the backward representation it seeks to portray, dressed up in a cutesy manner. It’s like me going around my Jewish friends and saying my prized possession is an original 40s copy of ‘Mein Kampf’. I would have to explain a little more …

[Victor] I did post the wiki link in this post and it tells the history and the negative association with this character.

[Reader Lawrence] Victor, your post does nothing to indicate how hurtful the imagery is. The wiki link is an attachment that is just shoed in and all everyone sees is the imagery.

As a matter of fact it seems to glorify it. And it is telling that after being educated on the social malady of this racist iconography and being told that it is hurtful you continue to patronize it and glorify it, showing no respect for other people. This is not an attack, it is just highly disappointing.

[Victor] I want to make a few points:

1) If these photos have offended people, please accept my apology. I am not racist and have no intention of offending people.
2) I will let the group admin decide whether this post should be taken off this group.
3) I personally find the Golliwogg character very cute. I even want to own a plush like the one shown on the wiki page. When I was a kid in Hong Kong, Robertson’s Jam of England used Golliwogg as their mascot. (I didn’t know its name until recently.) They made cute lapel pins for people to collect. Hong Kong never really has a lot of black immigrants, and we almost never see any black people walking down the street. But a lot people found this cartoon character very cute, and never thought of it as a racist character.
4) May be I am not particularly sensitive to caricatures, but I think I can tell between harmful, racist cartoon/jokes and just a cartoon depiction of a certain race. Here is an example:

These egg cups, called “Mr. Chin”, designed by Alessi of Italy, show a cartoon character of an ancient Chinese servant. I find them very cute, and also cliche that they draw their eyes as fine lines. I don’t think the designer is racist, but may be a bit stereotypical.

I am not a black person, so I can’t say I feel the painful history of black discrimination. So, again, sorry for being insensitive to this subject matter.

[Reader Lawrence] Victor, You’re a good guy. And Im a 100% sure your intentions were and are good. I guess we can all learn as we coeXist as bothers in arms, we may be come from different places but perfume brings us together. What is hurtful to one person may not be to another.

[Reader Adam] I don’t think anyone is pointing fingers here. I do understand the frustration however, as innocent looking caricatures often depict institutionalized racism that were deemed normal at the time, but are profoundly damaging.

For example, in my early days I was raised in Germany and blacks were not hated or anything, however they were viewed as inferior. Our children books depicted them as sorry characters, we played playground games with teachers called “who is scared of the black man”, and we had desserts called “negro kisses” where dark chocolate was poured over white marshmallow. All these things have been phased out now .. though in the mid 00s!!

As kids we didn’t look into it much, but growing up it makes you realize that many now-adults do have reservations about black people despite being open minded and upright individuals.

[Reader Linda] I think we all could be offended by something. This whole world is too PC. We need to get over ourselves. As Arthur Ashe said “Racism is a waste of time”. We could put any “ism” in there we could imagine. We’re all friends here with a love of perfume.

[Reader Joseph] PC or not PC, I NEED this (bottle)!

[Reader Lawrence] There’s a difference between PC and racially offensive content. There are so many dimensions to this it’s not even funny. Adam as usual u flatter yourself with your showing of class and an awareness that surpasses your immediate person. Once again I am thoroughly impressed.

[Reader Adam] Thanks Lawrence. My frustration is that we all stand up for the same rights. I.e. freedom of speech and rights of all etc. But there are multidimensional elements to topics that require mentioning.

For example, Joseph, for our shared passion for fragrances I would love to smell the scent, but not necessarily want it because of the caricature. I do not want anything with the caricature. I am not saying pour the juice away, that is robbing away our ability to exercise our shared passion. But the character of Golliwogg is not ‘fragrance’. It is a touch more delicate and in spirit of free speech which I personally defend above all else, we should be able to give value to the multidimensional element to it so that we can remember.

In fact, I would be disappointed if this entire post gets deleted. The OP did not intend to make a racist post, merely share a fragrance find we can respect. Merely some of us dissected certain connotations which are more than relevant to break down.

[Reader Joseph] I agree with Victor as I guess I’m too young to associate any kind of backlash this figure had, although obviously I can imagine, for me it’s just cute looking, and these days history aside (although of course no one wants to get past that) it’s not much more offensive than a barbie doll.

[Reader Mary] Everything could be problematic – this article I have found at Kafkaesque about Chanel: The issue of Coco Chanel’s anti-Semitism and war-time collaboration with the Nazis is widely known, though rarely discussed….And many ingredients (especially incense, olibanum, etc) are harvested by children – so you also support child labour. Many of my Jewish friends don’t buy Amouage….Where is the beginning, where is the end? Everybody must make his/her decision according to his conscience.

[Reader Carol] Well it is part of history and burying it will not change history. We should learn from mistakes from the past and not blow this post out of proportion . I personally find these bottles fascinating. What a cool collection you have Victor.

[Reader Tom] I agree, even though the past may be a dark time in our country’s history, it is still a piece of it and as Carol stated, any action we take today will never change that. We must learn from the past and keep our sensitivity to non-malicious threads in check on [this Facebook group]. I am an Italian American from New Jersey and I see stereotypical things day in and day out that I could take as offensive or even racial against Italians, but I take it at face value and move on from it. I don’t believe Victor’s post was meant to offend anyone in any way, shape or form and I commend him for apologizing even though he meant no harm by it. Let’s take this for what it is, a piece of fragrant history, albeit a darker time in history. 1918 was very different from 2014, so let’s try to understand that.

[Reader John] Just to toss in 2 cents – it might be partial culture shock. I remember going into an antique store in Florida and being (frankly) shocked by some of the ‘humorous’ black figurines from the past century. It wasn’t that I hadn’t seen pictures of them before, I just wasn’t used to seeing them displayed! Here in the northeast, I think these things are usually kept politely away and usually accompanied by some sort of disclaimer.

[Reader Lawrence] I’m glad that this post has served as a learning tool for many. However we do not embrace our evil past. What we do is we condemn it. We cannot walk through life pretending that things such as these do not affect people in a very serious and negative manner. The intent of the post was not malicious but the effect is the same. It is highly offensive to me and it makes me very uncomfortable. To chuck it up to people being too sensitive is not a constructive perspective at all. The legacy of this imagery us heinous and should be condemned. It is not something people should learn to live with and deal with. It is a blight in the record of humanity.

[Reader Tom] Lawrence unfortunately this time in our history happened and there is some level of human sensitivity attributed to this. Society has become extremely racially sensitive in recent days and things tend to get blown out of proportion. If Victor had racially charged comments attached to this picture, you’d have a leg to stand on. I understand that you may feel uncomfortable with this post, and I respect that as it is your right to feel however you want, but nothing was done wrong here and to remove the post sends the wrong message to members of [this Facebook group]. I think that politics and personal sensitivities to posts that may not sit well need not be brought into the group as [this Facebook group] is not a place to preach politics or world history, especially for a non-malicious post. This has been blown way out of proportion IMO and it needs to stop here.

[Reader John] Tom, I think it’s a valuable conversation to have, though – and that’s good. Ironically I do think there is a bit of politics in perfume (look at the current regulations!) and I think that the discussion is valuable. I was intrigued with your thoughts on the Italian American experience.. I always thought that that is very heavy with patronizing stereotypes, and I’m sure it’s not pleasant for many people to have to hear them all the time.

[Reader Adam] Again, this post should not be deleted. From both camps it could be agreed that we shouldn’t forget the past. This is what happened in this entire post. I proposed the validity of the OP from the beginning as he never intended anything of race, but merely shared a scent of the past.

Freedom of speech enables us to discuss around topics and in this case the overt image of institutionalized racism was indeed brought forward apart from the scent itself.

Through some degree of debate in Germany, the dessert “Negro kisses” was changed to *something else* kisses. Race was taken out. This was not a political correction attack, merely a consideration to past stereotypical tendencies or the potential for it.

Political correctness is not one small camp, it has degrees. Freedom of speech should include everything, but the ability to think and remember is better than to repress and say “get over it”.

[Reader Lawrence] Tom, I strongly disagree. I agree that the post is not malicious and everyone should feel free to post what they want however within reason.

This has nothing to do with any preaching. I do not think that a posts, though innocent in intent, that maybe offensive to a social demographic should be encouraged.

I know you dont see the attachments and connotations this this stirs up. If I knew a post was offensive to women or inflammatory to LGBT people, I definitely wouldn’t keep it up or defend it.

Victor this is not an attack on you or your character. However there is a lot of ignorance about the impacts of this here. This insensitivity is shocking.

[Reader Adam] Another point I would like to address namely the example of Chanel etc.
(All of these things are terrible [in relation to the examples given above related to this])

Chanel’s association with the Nazis and Golliwogg are the same … but differ as Golliwogg overtly shows the negative stereotyping. It is a symbol.

Symbols are far more powerful. An example would be “Arbeit Macht Frei” written on the gates of Auschwitz. It merely means that when you follow the rules, work hard, you’ll get out. Innocent, completely. BUT, despite obviously being a lie from the Nazis who used it, it symbolizes genocide in a cruel manner. Can you imagine it being written in any other prison institution? Despite it meaning something very basic and logical on its own?
Of course not.

[Reader Mary] And I as woman hate absolutely Tom Ford’s ads – you can google them: Tom Ford perfume ad banned! Disgusting! But I will never judge anyone. If this person loves Tom Ford’s perfumes for what they are: perfumes I am fine with it. Panty dropper is also a derogatorily term. And I am fed up with the stereotypes what ppl associate with Austrians (Sound of Music is the yet the most innocent one….and I guess many people could laugh about Brüno – but not me! How low can you get: “Brüno: the biggest gay Austrian celebrity since Hitler”:(((

[Reader Lawrence] One thing that gives me great hope is that as Joseph said he has no racial conteXt for this iconography.

The world is becoming a better place and these things will fade away. These things used to be mass produced, imagine if people had said ‘people are too sensitive.’ The reason why it is such a rarity is because it has been widely condemned. This post does not live in that spirit of progress. It actually it retrogressive.

Symbols like this depicting a race as a caricature of humanity do more subconscious harm than any overt racism could. It covertly and subvertly ingrains an ideology that takes hold in the mind without people even knowing. Now it may not be the case as it is so rare to see and thankfully we have better imagery of people of African descent. But its legacy is such and we should all be talking about how such a thing even reached as far as perfume culture.

Mary, it is for this reason that I do not use that term – panty dropper. Though it is a term I do not use in a derogatory manner or one intended to offend … but I understand the impact it has on many women (especially in our community) and I respect enough to eliminate it from my vocabulary. My respect and consideration will trump my need for the use of that language/imagery.

[Victor] “One thing that gives me great hope is that as Joseph said he has no racial context for this iconography.” I may be naive, but actually I think that most people (well, people in this group) think the same way as Joseph when they see that cartoon character.

[Reader Joseph] Uhuh Victor, I know there is racist meaning and caricature behind it, but then Barbie is I’m sure offensive to the overweight with red hair or whatever who self harm and turn to bulimia over famous images like this of the perfect woman. But then, everyone’s sensitivity is different too… If there was once famous icons or cartoons of some super camp cartoon character called “Faggot” used by heterosexual people to mock them back in the day, I can’t imagine I’d be offended by it today though? I dunno. As I said… to me, the Gollywog is just cute, nothing else – and SEAL HAIR?!?! I still want this so bad :’) Victor you’re so lucky. It’s gotta be the most adorable perfume bottle I’ve ever seen 😛

[Reader Larry] Not me, Victor. I know you had no racist intent or feelings whatsoever, but I was pretty shocked to see the Golliwog. Stunned, actually. It’s very rare to see that imagery these days, thank God, due to the connotations. Some younger people may be unaware of it, so that’s a positive, but I don’t think you can say “most” people are. The imagery is akin to “black face” in its depiction, so it should be pretty clear that there is something beyond mere “cuteness” behind it, but that is my opinion.

All that aside, I have loved this discussion and the civil, courteous manner in which it was conducted. I hope none of it is deleted. It is good to have a thoughtful, intellectual debate here, especially about the past and with sensitivity to all opinions. I was particularly interested in Adam’s comments about Germany and how recent some of those occurrences were. That playground game he describes was pretty appalling. So, thank you to everyone for a truly interesting discussion.

[Reader Tom] Lawrence it’s your God given right to disagree with me as it is my God given right to disagree with you. You took offence to Victor’s post, one individual in the entire group, and you made it a point to put Victor on blast initially until you read other comments and calmed down. What it did was incite a political debate on a fragrance forum. Yes as John said, with IFRA restrictions, there are a bit of politics in fragrance but that’s not the case here. I’m a bit upset that personal sensitivities filtered into an innocent post. Lawrence you need to understand that there are many different cultures present here, people from all over the world call [this Facebook group] home, and things are viewed very differently depending on where you are from. This could have been taken offline in full. Not that the outcome would have been any different as there was no malicious moral or ethical violation in this post. As I said, racial sensitivity has hit an all time high as of late and it causes a huge divide in this world we live in. People just need to be more accepting of one another and a bit more understanding of other cultures and stop living in the past. No one is condoning slavery Lawrence, I for one certainly do not condone it as it was mortifying for Americans to act that way toward others during those days. As I said, Italians are stereotyped regularly and most stereotypes are racially offensive, but I don’t let it eat me up and ruin my day. I honestly don’t give a crap how people view me, as I’m confident in the person I am. Be confident in the person you are, not live with what happened way in the past. We can’t control or correct what happened in past centuries, but we can look forward to the future where racial, sexual, and religious equality will prevail.

[Reader Betty] Ok, a lot of you know that I try to think a subject through before I speak. Soooo… I can see how this could seem racist to some people. As for discrimination in my life, I know I have received sexist comments from men in the past, heard hurtful cultural things about hillbillies and Appalachia (yes, we wear shoes, are smart, and have teeth), and heard endless dumb blonde jokes. Anything that I do slightly wrong some people jump quickly to say “well, you *are* a blonde.” I find it a little hurtful! I graduated at the top of my class in high school and college. It should be said that I am human, and sometimes make mistakes! Anyway… I wouldn’t have any friends if I dwelled on it too much; I know my friends don’t really mean badly and really do love me. So on this topic of vintage art/advertisements/ collectibles… I will leave you with this ad from the 1950s that is really offensive to women. I hope that we can learn from all these historical items and use these things to be thankful for the changes that we and our forefathers (foremothers?) have witnessed in the past 100-200 years. I don’t mind these ads as it does reveal the past and show that there is hope. Plus, if we forget the past, how are we to honour our forefathers and what they survived? Will we be doomed to repeat the things they endured? I hope not! I love you guys. We are all humans who sometimes make mistakes. And that’s ok. We can even agree to disagree. Just show love.

[Reader Adam] It is natural to react and it is important to react too. As Larry mentioned and I hope others agree, all in all, this discussion has been as courteous as can be in a fragrance group.

I agree with you Tom, your points in your last post are solid. But assuming that you have real all the comments so far, I can assume that you know that the discussion was not directed to slavery per se, but the image of the Golliwogg more specifically. Symbols are also much more sinister and are treated with more sensitivity than other passing comments per se. I can give examples but, … I would love to think about my SOTD tomorrow. 😉

[Reader Larry] I disagree that Lawrence was being too sensitive. The Golliwog is one of the most racially loaded images around. Had it been something else or more minor, then, I think your point would be very valid, Tom, but not for the Golliwog. I think it is the equivalent of Nazi caricatures depicting Jews with hooked news and as money-grubbing parasites. The Golliwog has *that* degree of a loaded meaning.

I also, respectfully, very respectfully, disagree that it is the equivalent of stereotyping Italians or Italian-Americans. That is a national group and not one with the same history as African-Americans in this country or black people elsewhere. Calling someone a “wog” is not the same as what black people have gone through as a group. It would be like equating verbal insults with the image of a noose.

I think you are very right about the degree of sensitivity — racial or any other kind — in today’s culture, but not all things are created equal and some things have such a lengthy, weighty meaning behind them that I can fully understand Lawrence’s feelings. Would you be as dismissive if someone had posted a historical photo of a Jew looking like this: 

[Reader Adam] 😉 Betty, you’re right. In the end, of course we will have to agree to disagree. I hope I never disrespected anyone but added points that I deeply believed ought to be considered as well. Silence is never good 🙂

Larry, that is my view too. We underestimate ‘symbols’ with other comments that can die away. It’s like “Arbeit Macht Frei”, it’s a terrible and sinister symbol now and not merely a work ethic of some kind.

[Reader Larry] Adam, in all honesty, I’m much more interested in your comments about Germany than in discussing the Golliwog. LOL. Victor meant nothing, the bottle was a historical thing, but the playground game you described? SHOCKING. “Who is scared of the black man”, seriously?!! I don’t know which stunned me more, the fact that teachers came up with the game, or that you say this was phased out in the mid-00s. I think it is the latter. Then again, there was a story in the news today about a teacher in Idaho….. Anyway, this is all veering highly off-topic. Victor, enjoy your historical fragrance and thank you for starting such an interesting conversation. Lawrence, hang in there. I get why you became so upset. Have a great day, all of you.

[Reader Tom] Yes agreed Adam, I know that the image of the Golliwog was the crux of the discussion but it’s racism in general where this discussion stemmed from. It’s perfectly ok to have an opinion and some things can be viewed as offensive to others and not so by another set of individuals. All I can say is that if you or anyone else found this post to be offensive in any way, hide the post so you don’t see it anymore. There are ways of restricting what you see on FB so instead of inciting a racial debate and escalating the issue to where us moderators have to take action, take your own steps to hide from view what you don’t like. I’m not trying to be a hard ass here nor seem insensitive, but this was taken a bit too far IMO. Once again, this is 2014, let’s live in the present not that past! No harm was meant by this and Victor apologized to those who may have taken offense to this post so let’s drop it now and move forward!!!

[Reader Adam] Yeah but Tom, I don’t think this post came to a point where it clearly had to be deleted …

One can turn a blind eye, but I have heard that somewhere before. Besides, there is nothing wrong with stating something within reason.

I fundamentally refuse to stay silent at something that can shock others regardless what forum it is.

The beauty of the state of man in 2014 is that we can choose the method with which we choose to raise our points.

[Administrator] Adam, the points were made. No need to rehash and rehash and rehash. Personally, I think the original post had NOTHING to do with racism and there was no malicious intent from Victor. If that were the case, this post would have disappeared hours ago.

[Reader Betty] Can we just hug it out now?

Vigny Golliwogg Perfume

© Victor Wong
© Victor Wong

Author: Victor Wong

A perfume lover - niche, designer, modern, vintage, I love them all. I am also the owner of Zoologist Perfumes, a small Canadian perfume house. Please visit or for more info!

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