Adrian - “Saint” and “Sinner”
Adrian had an art and sculpture studio in 1927 followed by antiques and interiors businesses beginning in 1931 which he closed in 1939 when he married Janet Gaynor and anticipated the birth of their son. The businesses were identified by large signs featuring Adrian’s signature with the word “interiors” below it. At the time of the lawsuit, his signature was done in neon sign outside his Rodeo Drive salon and stitched as the label art in both his women’s line, “Adrian Ltd.,” and menswear line, “Adrian Designs for Men,”
Adrian rightly saw the role of the couture designer as providing all the fashion amenities to his patrons, not unlike Paul Poiret with his “Rosine” perfume and of course, Chanel.
When he was operating his Beverly Hills and New York Salons from 1944 to 1952, they offered his customers all the conveniences one would expect to find in the establishment of a top rank couturier. Not only were there the off-the-rack Adrian designs labeled as “Adrian Custom” but there were also the special one-of-a-kind creations labeled “Adrian Original.” In the salon were also a number of accessories that were licensed and/or designed by Adrian including hats by John Harberger (“Mr. John”) shoes by Delman, and perfumes by Adrian, named “Saint” and “Sinner” which came in rectangular bottles made by the Wheaton Glass Company with stoppers in the shape of Adrian’s trademark symbol, the Greek Ionian capitol. This was secured to the neck of the bottle with gold foil twine, and secured to plastic bases in a modified ionian capitol pattern with a single scent name on it for each fragrance or, in the case of the ¼ oz. set, both scent names. The most common sizes appear to be 4 oz., 2 oz., ½ oz and ¼ oz.
The agreement to produce the perfumes using Adrian’s name was initiated in March of 1944 between Adrian and Wolf J. Overhamm in New York. Overhamm had been an executive in the perfume industry since the late 1920s. The perfume was then initially manufactured by Parfumerie Harad, the name which appears on the back of the first of the perfumes manufactured under the agreement. Advertisements appeared in “Vogue,” “Harper’s Bazaar,” “Town & Country” and “Life” magazines, often photographed in combination with Adrian’s very successful couture designs. Not long after their introduction, the perfumes were relabeled with “Parfums Adrian Inc.” as the manufacturer and distributor. By 1948, though, all was not well.
According to sources, including Janet Gaynor’s widower, Paul Gregory and Adrian’s son, Robin, Adrian became dissatisfied with the perfume product being distributed. It has been asserted that the chemist who developed the scents had passed on and the subsequent scents were not the same as originally developed or that Parfums Harad had gone out of business. The only firm fact that can be documented is that in 1948 Adrian did begin legal action against Wolf J. Overhamm based on Overhamm’s violating a condition of the original agreement which was that perfumes bearing Adrian’s name would not be sold for less than $20 and ounce. Mr. Overhamm had also failed to pay Adrian $13,000. Owed for perfume sold, In that original agreement was also the condition that both parties would submit any disagreements to arbitration rather than proceed to suit. Adrian, who never liked to fly, was forced to travel to New York June 14, 1948 to appear before an arbirator, but Overhamm never appeared, although he was granted extensions first to June, then to July, 1948. The arbitration was settled in Adrian’s favor and in addition to requiring that Overhamm pay the amounts owed and arbitration costs, the arbitration deemed the agreement between Adrian and Overhamm, which allowed the production and distribution of “Saint” and “Sinner,” was null and void.
Adrian was under the assumption that the manufacture of the perfume was discontinued and the bottles disposed of which would enable Overhamm to pay the award due Adrian. Only through an accident did Adrian discover this was not true.
Each holiday season, Adrian’s assistant and salon manager, Chris Ghiatis was in charge of buying gifts for the models and employees of Adrian Ltd. During the 1949 season, when Chris went to a local department store in Beverly Hills to select gifts, he came upon the presumed discontinued bottles of “Saint” and “Sinner,” bringing them to Adrian’s attention and renewing the legal conflict over the use of his name.
Overhamm’s business had suffered significant reverses during 1946. He had entered into an agreement with the Evelyn Westall Company for exclusive rights for the American distribution of perfumes by Hartnell, English couturier to the royal family. A multi-party disagreement ensued over royalties and payments in which Overhamm, in his attempt to keep the product line, became overextended in complications and legal fees. After his business went into receivership and was sold, the new owner Irving W. Unterman believed he had the right to manufacture and distribute the Adrian-branded products and did so until Chris Ghiatis‘ discovery. By this time, Overhamm had moved to California and established a new company, Cadillac Perfume.
Adrian found the Unterman perfumes decidedly inferior to the original and selling at chain drug stores for under a dollar. Adrian filed suit against Unterman and Overhamm in 1951.
When the case came before a judge, the delay between the sale and Adrian’s suit was considered too long a period and allowed Unterman to continue using the name on a Civil Rights basis. Adrian filed an appeal based on unfair competition and trademark infringement as the bottles still bore his signature.
The appellate court in December of 1952 found the earlier ruling unfair as Overhamm’s agreement with Adrian had been dissolved in 1948, and that at no time had Adrian agreed to the sale of his name, only the use. They also found that Adrian, Inc. and Adrian, Limited were already copyright protected names owned by Adrian and his wife, Janet Gaynor. The appellate court reversed the earlier ruling, although they did not require Unterman to compensate Adrian for the post 1948 sales of the perfume. Unterman did retain the use of the names “Saint” and “Sinner” which continued to be sold through 1953.
A serious heart attack forced the closure of Adrian’s Beverly Hills and New York salons in 1952. He continued with the menswear line, of which the ties were still being manufactured through his death from heart failure in 1959.
There are a number of unusual Adrian bottles which have appeared in the collectibles marketplace over the years. In addition to the bottles initially described, there are bottles without the bases, and cologne bottles without the base or the Ionian stoppers, just black screw top caps for “Sinner” and white screw top caps for “Saint.” A number of bottles have only small beige paper labels reading “Saint by Adrian” or “Sinner by Adrian” with an additional different style label on the reverse indicating the ounce contents and another with a wooden capitol painted gold attached to a gold screw top cap. The black and white boxes which the screw top Adrian perfumes came in are modified in the last version by the elimination of the “Adrian” signature while retaining all other design features, and the black rayon satin covered deluxe twin ¼ oz. packages and the white rayon satin 2 oz. packages lined in black rayon satin with the dramatic double drop panels in front do not appear to have been consistently manufactured in the later years. It is likely there are even more examples than are currently widely known, based on the length of the legal struggle over the use of the name.
What is true is that the Adrian perfume bottles and packages have become sought-after items not only for Adrian collectors, but for perfume bottle collectors as well.
Richard Adkins, a designer in the entertainment industry and actively involved in the preservation group, Hollywood Heritage, Inc., is currently finishing his comprehensive biography of Gilbert Adrian “Adrian - American Designer,” scheduled for publication in 2011.