These Vintage Hennessy Ads Will Have You Thirsting for a Bygone Era

A deep dive into the Cognac maison's archive.

Source: © Jas Hennessy & Co

 

Raise a glass to Hennessy: A Toast to the World’s Preeminent Spirit (Rizzoli 2017, $55), a smooth new volume suitable for the coffee tables and the wet bar alike. As assembled by Glenn O’Brien, the text splices together history, hagiography, and interviews with Cognac experts including master blender Yann Fillioux, who presides over the house’s tasting committee, and brand ambassador Nas, who claims, “I was the first one to rap about Hennessy.”

Accordingly, Nas’s old notepads and tour riders may someday fall into the hands of Raphael Gerard, the archivist responsible for the millions of documents generated since the 1765 founding of Jas. Hennessy & Co. These include 10,000 advertising images that range from the strikingly beautiful to the amusingly kitschy and beyond, telling their own story about tippling in the age of mechanical reproduction.

Guided by Gerard, his colleagues, and other commentators, come with us on a historical tour of the luxury brand’s luxuriant branding. 

In contrast to the worlds of vermouth and amaro, poster art “is not a real tradition in the Cognac world,” Gerard says. “Hennessy didn’t produce a lot.” This exception to the rule is the work of the exceptional Rene Ravo.
Source: © Jas Hennessy & Co

 

In 1937, illustrator Lucien Boucher—most famous for his work for Air France—looked back to the previous century, celebrating the steamship in an image combining nostalgia, power, and patriotism.
Source: © Jas Hennessy & Co

 

In an early example of celebrity endorsement, Lily Pons, a superstar French-American opera singer, greeted the repeal of Prohibition by posing with 500 crates of Hennessy Three Star.
Source: © Jas Hennessy & Co
A 1934 booklet titled "The Art of Mixing" attempted to elevate the standards of U.S. drinkers who’d spent Prohibition choking back bathtub gin. In a way, it foreshadowed the 1992 invention of the Hennessy Martini by the ad agency Kirshenbaum & Bond. An account director invented the cocktail—and paid actors to order it flamboyantly in cool New York bars—"as a way of transforming what had always been a regal but slightly dusty way to consume Cognac into a trendy cocktail," according to the firm's principals
Source: © Jas Hennessy & Co

 

This 1960s window display indicates "the way Hennessy supported women's liberation in those years," says Gerard—though he is the first to note that a 1980s campaign for Hennessy XO, with photos featuring, for instance, three French maids serving bottles to the man of the house, "is kind of opposite of what I was explaining about women's liberation."
Source: © Jas Hennessy & Co

 

With a globetrotting 1950s ad campaign, the trés French brand promoted itself as the regular order for citizens of world, "insisting on the fact that Hennessy is both tradition and modernity," as Gerard puts it.
Source: © Jas Hennessy & Co
Beyond this 1950s delivery truck, the company has emblazoned its name on trolleys, double-decker buses, and a commercial helicopter that once shuttled between Paris and London.
Source: © Jas Hennessy & Co

 

In 2016, sculptor Arik Levy created a mind-bending carafe for Hennessy 8, a private-client limited edition. An octet of Baccarat-crystal rings circles an elongated version of a blender’s traditional lab bottle.
Source: © Jas Hennessy & Co

 

The myth of St. Bernards wearing casks of brandy emerged after the artist Edwin Landseer painted Alpine Mastiffs Reanimating a Distressed Travel (1820). Hennessy returned to the motif a few times, to the frustration of its U.K. ad agency. Twenty years after the campaign was axed, the public remembered it fondly. “This was somewhat aggravating,” a veteran adman once wrote, explaining that “the dog campaign had been axed because it had been good for the sales of St. Bernards but had no effect on Hennessy sales.” 
Source: © Jas Hennessy & Co
The cover of Hennessy: A Toast to the World's Preeminent Spirit, with illustrations by Jean-Philippe Delhomme.
Source: Rizzoli