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Keeping up appearances?

Today’s luxury is all about a private voyage of discovery.  Robyn Lewis considers the tools for today’s tamer jet-set

"PEOPLE ARE LOOKING at luxury in a new way now," claims Charlotte Cornish, managing director of the Future Foundation Group, a strategic research and consultancy firm who recently completed a report entitled the Future of Luxury.

"When we look back to the yuppie era in the 80s we can see that people associate luxury with the traditional products like big, well-known whisky and champagne brands that were linked with affluence," she says.

"Now, however, more people have more disposable income than ever before and can therefore afford better things and that has an effect on the luxury market.  The real top end consumers have moved slightly in terms of what they perceive as luxury and are not buying for status symbols but because that product does something for them.

It is now more about quality and authenticity, for example not a big well known whisky what we did with the packaging was to try and get those elements of craftsmanship of 1958 into the design.

So it’s a solid wood box with brass inlay and a bespoke bottle that has the cues of a bygone era.  We are keen to always match the packaging with the product so, for example, with our Auchentoshan 1962 we took a totally different approach.

That’s a lighter, more modern spirit from a more urban distillery and the packaging reflects that.  There’s a lot of room for innovation and originality even within more traditional luxuries like Whisky."

Part of the reason why the look of top-end products such as these (Auchentoshan 1962 at rrp £1,800 claims to be the most expensive lowland malt ever released) are so important, according to Moore, is that very often they are put on display.

"For the collector market in particular, where the Whisky isn’t necessarily bought to be consumed, the look of the product is important and it must look like the rare, exclusive item that it is."

Future trends

As well as the collector market, the importance of the Asian sector to luxury products has also given the packaging element of prestige products greater significance, as Martin Grimer, creative director at design agency Coley Porter Bell tells me.

"The main market for a significant amount of these products is likely to be in the Far East where the bottles are put on the table and displayed at the same time as they are consumed, so packaging is an important aspect.   It’s much like perfume where the bottles are displayed on a dressing table as ornaments almost."  Grimer says he fully expects the influence of the Asian market – where opululence is the key – on luxury packaging design to continue".

More and more packaging is seen as a core media and must exude brand values.  Trends I’m watching out for include handcrafted and bespoke packaging, even in big FMCGs now, like Innocent smoothies, feel as if they’ve seen some human involvement or think about the Ben and Jerry’s icecream brand and how they’ve used language.

I also see what we call brand theatre becoming more and more important.  We did some work with Chivas Revolve for instance, which is a Whisky, packaged in a very new, modern way that spins and think about the way the box for the Johnny Walker Blue Label slides to open.

It’s a bit like the Tiffany’s experience with the bag and the box and the bow, I mean even on the high street stores now you get tissue paper and bows.  Customisation is another growing factor, think of the Gap ads, where the same clothes are seen differently on each person, its about customisation.

Think too about the Moët & Chandon tulip glasses from this year or the Matthew Williamson Coca-Cola limited edition bottles." 

Champagne is the way

 Another design guru, Paul Foulkes-Arrellano at Wren and Rowe adds to this,suggesting that as well as the world of ice-creams, soft drinks and fashion, the cosmetic market is also a useful sector for luxury drinks brands to watch.

"A lot of what is happening at the prestige end of the drinks industry in terms of packaging is influenced by the perfume sector, in particular," he explains. 

"There is a lot of metallic colours and not just silver, gold and bronze but almost lipstick or nail varnish shades, mother of pearl finishes, shimmery foils coming through from perfume to luxury drinks as well.

There are also a lot more curves appearing; it’s all very feminine.  Take the re-design we did on GPort for example or something like Otima Port where the bottles are feminine and sexy and therefore really stand out in a very traditionally male market.

As people fight to get their brand picked off a shelf there’s been a move away from banal colour schemes and materials as well are becoming more modern.  I see more and more metal around and the Champagne houses in particular have been picking up this trend.

Nicholas Feullaite for example this Christmas has done 20 or 30 different gift pack designs that are fabulous.  I’d say they were definitely style leaders in terms of drinks packaging design."

Keeping in shape

As well as the Champagne houses taking the initiative in luxury packaging, Foulkes- Aurellano also points to brands like Bombay Sapphire.  "The bottle design of this brand is very strong but is only half the story.

There’s also the fantastic equity they have with that colour that is key and the way they innovate.  So, for example, the Tax Free gift pack they have out with a bottle and an aftershave made from the botanicals in the gin; it’s taking the whole tax free mix to another level."

Staying on top

There is always a need for innovation, of course and perhaps particularly now with the consumer expectation of luxury shifting slightly this is more true at the prestige end of the market than anywhere but there are drinks categories that are being left behind.

Tim Wilkinson, marketing director of Wine Box (whose new venture WSPC deals in branded and corporate packaging design) cites still wine as an example.  "With many wine brands when you look at retailer’s shelves you can see that packaging has been treated as more of a mechanic than a real opportunity.

Contrast that with Whisky for example or the Champagne brands who do spend on premium packaging and who are great innovators.  They look at the markets and trends, work with that information and as a result are keeping their game up."

With the luxury market now expanding and shifting it would seem a good time for wine brand owners to take the cue from other categories.  The new luxury, with its emphasis on knowledge, discovery and rarity would seem the perfect foil for selling some of the world’s best wines but the question is, will anyone be quick enough to capitalise on the trend?

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