The rice-growing region in Japan’s Niigata Prefecture is renowned for its excellent sake (made from fermented rice) and its colorful ornamental carp fish, called Nishikigoi, or koi for short. Tokyo-based design agency, Bullet, was inspired by this regional icon when developing the packaging for a recently released sake product produced by Imayotsukasa Sake Brewery, based in Niigata. The sake brand named Nishikigoi features the distinctive bright red and white mottled patterns of the carp on its bottle and a white box cut-out in the simple silhouette of a carp. Stunning and stylish, the packaging displayed together in a retail setting look like a school of swimming Nishikigoi fish.
The ornamental carp originated in Niigata around AD 1500 when rice farmers began using the common carp as fish food, raising them in the reservoirs above the rice paddies. Around 1800, farmers began seeing colorful mutations of the fish and cross-bred them to create and stabilize new strains in vibrant colors and patterns. The ornamental carp were largely unknown outside of Niigata until they were sent to the 1914 Tokyo Taisho Exhibition as a unique product of the prefecture. By 1938, they were being exported as decorative objects to other parts of the world. Today they are prized as their own unique living art form gracing the ponds of many home gardens — and on the bottles of premium sake.
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SKYY, the American-made vodka, is transforming cities across the country into a knitted wonderland by taking everyone’s favorite ugly holiday sweater and wrapping it around everything from city buses in San Francisco, to bus shelters in Boston and downtown Chicago, to art installations in Manhattan’s Union Square and the Meatpacking District. Available for a limited time during the holiday season, SKYY’s iconic cobalt blue bottles are actually wrapped in blue and white Fair Isle knit sweaters. “Ugly sweaters have become a big pop culture trend, with people theming entire parties around them, and vodka is the number one spirit consumed during the holidays. It was a natural fit to combine the two, ” explains Umberto Luchini, Vice President of Marketing at Campari America.
Boytjie Braai Sauce describes itself as “South Africa in a bottle.” It boasts that every part of the barbecue sauce product is sourced and produced locally in South Africa, from the raw ingredients and manufacturing to the packaging design. Muti, a creative agency in Cape Town, worked with Malinco Foods to develop the logo and labels for the line of sauces. Eschewing the use of slick food photography, Boytjie built its packaging identity around bold and quirky hand-drawn letters and illustrations. The name of the flavor and key words are expressed in a different vibrant colors with fleck of black from the background peeking through like peppery spice. The effect is rich with personality.
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Zombis, made in Iceland by Kjöris, is a soft ice cream product sold in single-serving-size packets, but what makes Zombis extra special is the story built into the packaging. Designed by Reykjavik-based Brandenburg, the packaging for Zombis Freezer Pops features 24 zombi personalities, each with its own name and “death-ography.” Inside each zombi is a colorful, squishy “brain” that tastes exactly like strawberry, raspberry or pistachio-flavored ice cream. Buyers are instructed to snip off the top of the zombi’s head and suck out the brain. Eating ice cream has never been so ghoulish and fun.
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More than 3,000 mourners came to the rural Japanese village of Kinokawa last weekend to pay their final respects to Tama the super stationmaster of Kishi Station, the last stop on the Wakayama Electric Railway line. Tama was elevated from stray cat to stationmaster in 2007, at a time when the regional rail line was $4.7 million in the red, forcing the layoff of all employees at Kishi Station and leaving the stop unmanned. Reluctant to evict the charming calico cat that hung around the station, the railway’s president announced that he was appointing Tama the super stationmaster of Kishi Station — a position that included free housing in the ticket booth, her own litter box, and an annual salary paid in cat food. For her official duties of meeting and greeting passengers, Tama was outfitted in a tiny custom-made stationmaster cap and cape.
What started out as a playful marketing ploy to raise awareness of the railway’s plight quickly turned into a media sensation with tourists from across Japan and around the world flocking to the village to see Tama at work. Train ridership increased significantly, and Kishi Station itself became a tourist attraction.
The railway’s management capitalized on Tama’s appeal and developed an extensive line of souvenir items bearing a cartoon likeness of Tama, including T-shirts, coffee mugs, stuffed animals, and even a full set of dining room furniture featuring carved silhouettes of cats. In 2009, Wakayama Electric Railway rolled out a train car decorated with cartoon images of Tama, and redesigned the exterior architecture of Kishi station to resemble a cat’s face.
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Designed by Futura, a Mexican branding agency in Monterrey, the packaging for Mezcal Buen Suceso looks like a joyful shower of multi-colored confetti. A premium artisanal form of tequila, made from the heart of agave plants. Mezcal Buen Suceso is handcrafted in the Oaxacan village of San Juan del Rio. The vibrant hues of Oaxacan houses inspired the bright colors of Buen Suceso packaging. Rather than print the pattern on the exterior face of the mezcal bottle, Futura called out the pure crystalline quality of the drink by displaying the colorful geometric shapes through the clear liquid and transparent glass. The festive pattern is also presented on the inner lining of Buen Suceso boxes, company stationery, promotional materials, and a rain of tiny confetti dots on Buen Suceso’s website.
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It might be considered tacky to give a bar of soap as a gift, but not if it is beautifully wrapped.
Established in New York more than 30 years ago, Michel Design Works found its niche merchandising tasteful gift products in lovely garden-themed designs and packaging. Scented bar and bubble bath soaps, body lotions, paper napkins, coasters and placemats, kitchen towels and potholders, and the like are delightfully decorated with antique botanical prints. In the case of the soap, the wrapping paper makes the product look like a luxury item, but is inexpensively priced to give as an appropriate hostess thank-you or as a shower party favor. The packaging for the soap even features the Michel Design Works’ elephant logo as a hot-wax seal. What makes this soap “gift-worthy” is not the actual bar of soap (however good it is); it’s the packaging. The packaging defines the brand.
The credits for Elephant Gin read like a project conceived by the United Nations. Handcrafted by London Dry Gin, the product is distilled in Hamburg, Germany, using 14 botanicals including African ingredients like Devil’s Claw, Baobab and Wormwood. The packaging design by South African designer Simon Frouws was inspired by the pioneering spirit of early explorers in Africa. In keeping with the theme, the packaging design features a finely drawn map of South Africa and an old-fashioned cork label with a seal wrapped around the bottle neck with twine. Produced in small batches of 800 bottles, each batch is named after past great elephants or those that the group is committed to protect. The names are handwritten and numbered at the bottom of each label. Fifteen percent of the sales profits are donated to two African elephant foundations. Great packaging, good cause.
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Anyone who doubts that we live in a global economy needs to look at packaging and products from the far-flung reaches of the planet. These lovely labels for sauces and marmalades were made for Italbu Charcuterie in Burundi, a little landlocked country in Southeast Africa, bordered by Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Italbu Charcuterie is a deli shop offering organic products made from original Italian recipes.The design firm Ya Ye lists studios both in Zagreb, Croatia, and Bujumbura, Burundi. Ya Ye’s design has a contemporary universal quality that could have just as easily been produced in New York, London or Sydney. Cultural design differences were more distinctly identifiable before air travel and multinational retailers. A World War II vet once told me that if a soldier was parachuted onto foreign terrain, he would know where he landed by the typography and architecture, even before hearing the spoken language. With the Internet today, the whole world is exposed to the same visual references and design styles can’t be pinpointed to a particular culture or part of the world.
Who would have thought that a box of No. 2 pencils could exude style, sophistication and Art Deco flair? But leave it to New York-based designer Louise Fili to use her mastery of typography, pattern, color and all things Italian to create a product that you would be proud to present as a gift – and thrilled to receive. Invited by Princeton Architectural Press to design a line of elegant gift products, Fili came up with a boxed set of 12 double-tipped pencils. Fili felt that the two-sided pencils seemed perfect, thus the name “Perfetto.” On her website, Fili explains that her design was inspired by her collection of 1930s Italian pencil boxes. “Our most preferred are the two-color, double-sided pencils, commonly in red and blue, for teachers to correct homework…red for a minor infringement, blue for a serious offense.” Fili says that they chose not to use blue because it was our least favorite color. Instead she says, “We opted for our signature red and black.” There’s no eraser because that would spoil the beautiful symmetry.
Only a few decades ago, a common belief was that the more contemporary the design of the label, the more mediocre the quality of the wine inside. The legendary luxury wines of Europe remained faithful to the centuries-old tradition of featuring labels with ornate script lettering, fine line engravings of chateaus, gold foil borders and corks sealed and stamped with red wax. Only upstart nouveau wineries in places like California ignored proper wine labeling etiquette by hiring graphic designers to come up with something colorful and stylish.
But perceptions have changed. Fine wines are being sold in supermarkets, online and even Costco. Wines from around the world compete for consumer attention and shelf space. The assumption that bottles with traditional labels contain better wine no longer has validity. Wine packaging and labels are projecting unique brand personalities, and not shying away from presenting a look that is bold and innovative.
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Kombucha Dog is one of those “only in California live-your-passion” stories. According to the Kombucha Dog website, the beverage company was started in L.A. by Michael Faye, a successful commercial photographer who loved traveling the world on assignment, until he found that the photo business was beginning to require spending more time on the computer than on location. That’s when Faye sold his studio and set up DogIsArt, a dog portraiture business, combining his avid love of dogs with his professional talent.
The kombucha link comes in because Faye, who was raised as a strict vegetarian by a mother who even made her own yogurt, was strongly into the raw food movement and yoga. An early adopter of kombucha, Faye started drinking the fermented tea back in 2005, but had to stop when actress Lindsey Lohan failed an alcohol test. Lohan’s attorneys launched a “kombucha defense” saying that drinking lots of kombucha caused a false positive on the test. The controversy caused L.A. retailers to pull kombucha from the shelves, forcing Faye to experiment with brewing his own.
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The Dutch Simavi Foundation, an organization dedicated to promoting safe drinking water, sanitation and hygiene in the poorest regions of developing countries, launched its own line of body soaps to help fund their programs. There’s no need to appeal to public’s sense of duty to get people to buy Mama Sopa soaps and bath gels, however. The playful yet sophisticated packaging of Mama Sopa rises to the level of any high-end branded product on retail shelves. Consumers will want to buy the product simply because they like it, not just because they see this as a way to make a charitable donation. Ina Meijer and Marjolijn Stappers of Con-fetti design agency created the playful hand-drawn identity of a woman with curly tall hair and big eyes. A muted color palette of apricot, taupe and seafoam blue gives the packaging a spa-like style that projects a clean, warm and relaxed look. Mama Sopa undoubtedly makes buyers feel good – doubly so knowing that they are helping to give poor regions sustainable access to safe drinking water, a problem that afflicts more than a billion people today.
Mexican food is not considered exotic to locals in Mexico, which is why Habibis, an Arabic-Mexican taqueria in San Pedro Garza Garcia, emphasized the Arabic side in its brand identity. A municipality that is part of the Monterrey metro area, San Pedro Garza Garcia has a large third-generation Arab population that has infused intriguing flavors into the local cuisine. In transitioning from a taco stand to an alluring taco cafe, Habibis looked to Monterrey-based creative agency, Anagrama, to build a brand that conveyed the fine fusion quality of its food, while preserving its street-friendly and casual ambiance.
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Explaining its views on coffee, illy argues “If coffee is experienced with all five senses, the very objects that hold coffee should please the eye.” Given that brand philosophy, the Trieste, Italy-based coffee company sought to elevate the humble coffee cup “to meld the sensory pleasures of coffee and art.” In 1992, it commissioned renowned architect Matteo Thun to design what is now the iconic illy espresso cup. From there, illy asked some of the world’s foremost artists to use the white ceramic surface as a canvas for their original art. The illy Art Collection was born. Over the past two decades, some 70 artists, including such contemporary masters as Robert Rauschenberg, Jeff Koons and Julian Schnabel, have contributed to the collection. The cups and saucers in the illy Collection can themselves be appreciated as works of art worthy of display in galleries and exhibitions.
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Wine packaging is steeped in tradition and sometimes unfounded biases, and connoisseurs are quick to form opinions about the quality of wine inside by the bottle’s shape, color and design. The cork versus screw cap debate, for instance, has been going on for well over a decade. So, it will be interesting to note the wine-drinking market’s response to Paperboy, packaged in a bottle made entirely from compressed recycled paper. UK packaging producer GreenBottle teamed with California wine producer Truett-Hurst to unveil the world’s first paper wine bottle. It is being sold in Safeway supermarkets on the West Coast now, with plans to offer it across the U.S. soon. London/NY-based agency Stranger & Stranger designed the Paperboy label graphics, which were printed with natural inks.
GreenBottle reports that the paper bottle, with a liquid-tight insulated plastic bladder inside, has a carbon footprint that is one third of an equivalent glass bottle. The bottle is feather-light, weighing about an ounce when empty, thus reducing shipping, handling and energy consumption costs. Despite its lightweight, Paperboy bottles are said to be rigid and strong, and ice bucket safe for three hours. Sounds good. Now let’s see if wine snobs can get past the fact that they’re drinking a brand sold in a paper bottle.
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