Day to day data

Every copy of this calendar is different in every way – except for the paper.

By John L. Walters

The 2021 edition of the Fedrigoni 365 calendar is a mind-stretching feat of digital print production – 4000 copies in which nearly every printed element is different.

This is the fourth edition of a project that began four years ago, when London-based agency TsevdosMcNeil (TM) designed a 2018 calendar printed on Sirio Ultra Black for Fedrigoni UK. The studio’s founders Danny McNeil and Johnny Tsevdos conceived Fedrigoni 365 as a ‘community’ venture, for which they would invite designers they knew (or knew of) to design a page each.

At first it was a challenge for McNeil and Tsevdos to get designers involved. Happily the open invitation – to which people could apply online – was welcomed and spread quickly online and by word of mouth. Soon, there were 100 more designers than they had space for. The successful applicants were given a day of the year to interpret, and a deadline by which they had to upload their final artwork.

The designers explain that Fedrigoni UK, who commissioned the project, wanted a product that would be welcomed by existing clients and that would also help their Paper Consultants start conversations with new customers.

Fedrigoni 365 ignited a spirit among designers that was both competitive and co-operative. The mix of conceptual, decorative, typographic and illustrative approaches from a large number of professional designers helped the company forge stronger links with the design community, many of whom proudly showed snapshots of their page via social media.

The more the merrier

TM’s aim with the Fedrigoni 365 was that it should be ‘warm and inviting’. The invitation gave designers ‘a chance to do something without a creative director hovering over their shoulder,’ says Tsevdos. ‘Every year we’re trying to find a new way to do it. Black stock, then white, then recycled with Woodstock. It usually comes out of a conversation with the marketing team about what paper they want to market.’

Editing down potential contributors became a bigger challenge each year. So for the latest Fedrigoni 365, TM decided to re-imagine the calendar as a variable data project, which meant they could involve everyone.

‘This time round, we said “yes” to everyone who wanted to take part,’ says Tsevdos. ‘But we had to give them a more constrained brief.’ Each contributing designer was given a number from 1 to 31 (for the day of the month) and one of around 150 ‘seed’ words (such as ‘float’ or ‘unit’ or ‘geometric’) to provide further creative inspiration.

The idea was that each copy would be unique, with its own combination of different designers’ work. TM knew that in addition to having myriad combinations of designs for the dates in the calendars, they could change the colours, have a different cover and jacket for each copy and personalise them, so that each designer would be sure to receive a copy with their artwork in it.

‘We’ve made each book up algorithmically, so every page of each book is different. From the start to the end of each book, the sequence is entirely unique,’ says McNeil.

To get an idea of the hard sums involved in this challenge, TM discussed the project with Andy Campbell, Ricoh’s application and innovation manager, whom they met through Fedrigoni UK managing director Simon Pilkington.

Ricoh, a Japanese company founded in 1936, is perhaps best known for pioneering the first high-speed fax machine. Its digital printing machines are widely used for transactional printing and other sectors, but are perhaps less known in the creative sector.

‘Andy knows the project better than anyone, better than us,’ says McNeil. ‘He’s pulled together all the technology, all the software needed to make this work. They have an American division which has helped write the code. Andy’s been like the conductor of the orchestra.’

They used a Ricoh five-colour Pro C7200sx press that could add a fifth high-impact colour – neon yellow or neon pink or white – to four-colour CMYK printing. Each cover is made by randomly combining two differently shaped gradients which are paired through generative code. ‘You can achieve a huge gamut of colours that wouldn’t be achievable with traditional print,’ says McNeil.

Binding by barcode

The whole thing was printed on three different stocks from Fedrigoni’s Digital range: Freelife Vellum for the pages; Splendorlux for the cover; and translucent Golden Star K for the jacket.

The wraparound, see-through jacket is a subtle yet complex example of variable data printing, since it includes all the names of the designers who contributed, typeset in Founders Grotesk Medium. Each jacket is different, with the names of the designers not featured set in a light (40 per cent) tint; the 365 designers actually featured in that particular version are highlighted at 100 per cent.

To bind the calendar, the team worked with Meccanotecnica in Bergamo, Italy, a leading manufacturer of automatic book-sewing machines. Organising a production line that would thread-sew a book in which every page is different presented a special challenge.

‘Meccanotecnica has the capability of matching the book block with the cover,’ says Campbell, ‘so we put barcodes on the book block and barcodes on the cover, and we can match those together during the finishing process. Without that, this project wouldn’t have been possible.’

McNeil and Tsevdos take great satisfaction from the way the project has evolved over four years, and the increasingly complex processes that make it possible.

‘It’s not just about us,’ they say. ‘It’s about getting as many interesting designers as we can to get involved. It’s to show how diverse the UK creative scene is, and to then give them an opportunity to work with Fedrigoni paper and perhaps become an advocate for it by using it.’.

Paper and planet

Plastic to paper, fossil to fibre

Achieving a sustainable, circular economy requires both immediate action and long-term thinking in the materials we use.

By John L. Walters
Illustrations by Mike McQuade

Environmentalists, progressives and futurologists in spheres both public and private have long argued that we should reduce our dependence on fossil-based materials such as plastic, and that we should reduce waste and emissions by questioning each product’s use. American writer Bruce Sterling, in his 2005 book Shaping Things, argued that we should examine critically every stage in every product’s life-cycle, from inspiration to landfill, from manufacture to re-use.

The trend for ‘plastic to paper’ is far from new, but it is becoming more evident in the ways big companies are packaging and displaying their goods, using paper and card where plastic used to be the norm. In sectors such as food, fashion, technology and cosmetics – where packaging design is a crucial part of the product’s appeal –designers are having to think harder about the materials they specify.

Juan Mantilla, head of creative at Kiko Cosmetics (see Pulp 15), notes that not many designers thought about an object’s life cycle until very recently. ‘Put simply,’ says Mantilla, ‘you should start designing by thinking how your object – whether publication, label or package – will end its days.’

Mattia Bernardi, associate partner at Bain & Company consultants, makes a similar point: ‘Innovative paper products can replace traditional plasticised papers used for so many things, from book covers to mono-portion snacks or food supplements, from garment tags to shopping bags as we move from multi-material to a renewable mono-material.’

You could frame ‘plastic to paper’ as ‘fossil to fibre’. There is an urgent need to replace plastic with materials that are not derived from fossil fuels – and paper, as Fedrigoni’s Chiara Medioli pointed out in Pulp 19, is a renewable resource. Despite its ubiquity and usefulness – not least in personal protective equipment (PPE) – plastic contributes to global warming in its manufacture, while plastic pollution wreaks severe environmental damage, as demonstrated in many documentaries and reports about the devastating effects of plastic waste on ocean life.

Breaking The Plastic Wave (a 2020 report from The Pew Charitable Trusts and Systemiq) finds that 21 per cent of plastics are economically recyclable, but only fifteen per cent are actually recycled. Meanwhile, an increasing amount of plastic
waste leaks into the sea each year. ‘If we continue with business as usual, there will
be more plastic than fish in the ocean by 2050,’ says Ellen MacArthur, celebrated sailor and founder of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, whose 2016 report Rethinking The Future of Plastics was highly influential.

Ambitious targets

European papermakers’ association Cepi recently announced 4Evergreen – an alliance of brands, board producers and carton converters to promote ‘fibre-based’ packaging to replace single-use plastic. This was a response both to increased consumer awareness, and the European Union’s Single Use Plastics Directive (2018), supported by a huge majority of MEPs. The Directive obliges EU member states to achieve a ban on items such as plastic cutlery, cups and plates by 2021 and a 90 per cent collection target for plastic bottles by 2029.

Long-term, strategic thinking is essential, but Kiko’s Mantilla prefers a more ‘hands-on’ approach. ‘There are issues that can be addressed in the short term by replacing some plastics with paper,’ he says. ‘Always ask your suppliers for certifications on how easy the materials (foils, lamination, UV coatings, pigments, polymers, etc.) are to recycle or dispose of.’

Another route to reducing waste is through innovation in materials. Last year drinks company Diageo announced the creation of a plastic free, paper-based recyclable bottle. And we have seen the old-school plastic cup largely replaced by fibre-based paper cups in time for the EU Directive. But such products are not without their problems when it comes to the ‘whole life’ impact of their materials, manufacture and transport. British designer Sophie Thomas sounds a note of caution: ‘Just because paper has a recovery waste stream available does not mean that the energy and resource used to make the product in the first place is less or equal.’

While plastic and other materials derived from fossils have a limited future, paper comes from renewable raw materials. Sectors such as magazine publishing have moved their packaging from polywrap to paper in recent years. Major food companies are increasingly keen to replace plastic-based packaging with paper-based alternatives where possible. And companies that have steered production towards more sustainable methods tend to be rewarded with increased investment.

At a recent online forum with Fedrigoni, Bain’s Bernardi made a strong case for setting ambitious targets. Emission reduction is highly complex, he said, and moving from fossil-based materials to renewable ones, – which includes replacing plastic with paper – is only one element in any company’s move towards a more circular economy.

Such issues are no longer of peripheral concern to big business. As the dire social and economic effects of the climate emergency become ever more clear, companies are being pushed by legislation, pulled by consumer demand and steered by stern targets for reduced emissions, waste and a lower carbon footprint. It’s rare to find a company report that doesn’t mention the circular economy.

As Ellen MacArthur said, launching Breaking The Plastic Wave: ‘We need to circulate everything we produce, be that plastic or a biological component which replaces it. […] This is the vision that over 450 organisations, including the biggest companies in the world, have signed up to.’ Achieving a circular economy requires both long-term thinking, and immediate action. And as Juan Mantilla says, it’s also a matter of design, craft and execution.

There is an urgent need to replace plastic with materials not derived from fossil fuels – and paper is a renewable resource.

Paper and Planet

Pulp’s new series about sustainability.

An interview with Chiara Medioli, vice-president of Fedrigoni, about the challenges posed by environmental issues when choosing and using paper.

By John L. Walters
Illustrations by Rob Loweaka Supermundane

People’s commitment to sustainability is going to be stronger after the crisis caused by the pandemic,’ says Fedrigoni’s vice-president Chiara Medioli. She is aware that companies are under the spotlight when it comes to making sustainable packaging and materials, whether they are big manufacturers like Fedrigoni; famous brands that use paper and board for communication and packaging; or smaller firms such as design studios, who play a crucial role in specifying materials and advising on their use and consumption. So it is vital to think clearly about choosing the right paper for each job. Virgin, non-recycled paper is a suitable choice for a book or art catalogue that will be treasured for years, while recycled board may be the most sensible option for an item of packaging that will be discarded soon after use.

Medioli uses the analogy of a good cook who is concerned about the quality of the ingredients, but also sensitive to the guests about to eat. ‘Sometimes people think they are doing everything they can with the sourcing of the ingredients, but if they make something indigestible (i.e. unrecyclable) it becomes someone else’s problem down the line.’ To understand paper, one has to understand what it is made of, and the role of its raw materials in the ecological big picture. ‘We use water, minerals and pulp to make paper,’ says Medioli. ‘You use water and it goes back into the cycle. The minerals (for coated paper) are mainly calcium carbonate, essentially ground stone, and there is an abundance of stones. The third raw material is pulp, which comes from the wonderful, renewable machine that is a tree.’

Fibres and forests

Medioli explains that humans have relied on forests for thousands of years, using timber for shipbuilding, construction and energy. Today, paper and board production accounts for twelve per cent of wood production worldwide. It is in the interest of those who manage the world’s forests trees are healthy and grow fast: during the growing phase (the first ten to fifteen years) a tree absorbs the most CO² from the atmosphere. Papermaking is essentially an electrochemical reaction between fibres that enables the paper to hold together. Using trees for pulp is a relatively recent development. Originally the fibres came from cotton, hemp and linen rags – in the past from discarded clothes and more recently from the tiny threads around the throwaway part of cotton buds, after the textile industry has taken the best, longest fluffy fibres. True examples of a ‘circular economy’, these recycled fibres are long enough to be soaked in water and beaten; they then interweave, naturally, in random patterns. But they are expensive. The process using wood pulp was discovered in the late eighteenth-century. Wood was cheaper and could meet the huge demand for all the paper needed for books and newspapers following the industrial revolution, when schooling became widespread in the West.

Performance, virtue and beauty: pick two

The demand for paper from well managed certified forests – a fully renewable resource –came first from publishing companies, who had experienced pressure from lobbying groups such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund, and from their own customers. Then came the packaging sector. Since the paper industry is among the most sustainable of businesses, Medioli warns against what she calls a ‘blind environmental enthusiasm’, focused solely on the use of recycled raw materials. This can lead to challenges in terms of quality, utility, performance and aesthetics. Fedrigoni’s technical labs have conducted numerous tests on folding and creasing, establishing beyond doubt that paper made with fresh fibres from well managed forests is three times more resistant to repeat folding. ‘The problem with recycled fibres is that you have to renew them,’ says Medioli. ‘You could choose to de-ink them, but whatever you choose to do you have to put them in the pulper again. You crush them once more and in doing so the fibres become shorter. You can only do that five times, after which the fibres are so short they cannot blend. Since recycled paper doesn’t have a sticker on it saying this has already been recycled three times and only has two uses left, recycled paper has to be a mixture of new and old fibres to work. The higher the proportion of recycled papers, the lower the performance of the paper.’ Medioli is keen that paper users understand that recycled stock that uses post-consumer waste is ideally left grey or brown, which is fine for shipping boxes, or for shoebox board – a much bigger market than the specialty paper sector. ‘If you use aggressive bleaching to make the paper white, you end up with lower performance and higher environmental impact because the paper has travelled more, and there is higher water consumption and more pollution because of the chlorine used to remove the ink from the paper.’ One form of recycled paper that avoids this conundrum uses ‘pre-consumer waste’. Medioli explains that this paper ‘comes from processes immediately post-paper mill, from unprinted excess paper or leftovers from die-cutting envelopes, and is a better alternative altogether.’

Designers and brands have to think hard about their priorities when choosing materials. Medioli says: ‘Only in a fairytale world can you get fabulous results from 100 per cent recycled paper without giving up the beautiful, consistent colour quality synonymous with the brand.’

Paper Box

We had to make it to know it would work. You can only design for paper on screen for so long. London studio Graphic Thought Facility devised and designed the minimalist-maximalist Paper Box for Fedrigoni.

By John L. Walters
Photographs by Angela Moore

There is an aphorism attributed to Albert Einstein that ‘everything should be made as simple as possible – but no simpler!’ It’s a sentiment that applies to Fedrigoni’s new Paper Box, a box of three books of paper samples.

Designed by the London practice Graphic Thought Facility (GTF), Paper Box is a Fedrigoni paper sample book with no precedent – a restrained yet quietly spectacular feat of design, print and production.

From one point of view, it is a simple tool that every designer, printer and specifier will want to have on their shelves. From another angle, it is an exquisite design object, a satisfyingly heavy black obelisk that could become a minimalist design icon for stylish photo shoots. And yet it is also maximalist and ‘completist’.

The three sample books that slot into the matt black outer case (or box) demonstrate every uncoated white paper, every uncoated colour paper and every coated paper (coloured or white) in the vast range of papers manufactured by Fedrigoni in Italy.

Paper Box is as simple as possible, but no simpler!

To those who have observed GTF’s work since the early 1990s, the studio seems perfect for the job. Led by principals Paul Neale, Andy Stevens and Huw Morgan, GTF’s designers have always had a keen no-nonsense relish for materials, working in sectors such as fine art, museums, retail, wayfinding and fine art publishing. (See pp.30-35.) However this is GTF’s first commission for a paper company, and the studio has addressed the task with its customary diligence and zeal. Paper Box is the first of several new products they are designing for Fedrigoni, including swatchbooks, posters and an image library.

The commission to make Paper Box stemmed from Fedrigoni’s need to make a single item that could sit within reach of every person likely to make decisions about paper, wherever they were in the world.

Previous sample books have dealt with separate paper ranges, often speaking to customers in different graphic languages, or featuring content directed at particular sectors or cultures. GTF’s approach eschews any creative ‘nudges’ or influence in favour of utility and practicality. The task of showing how different ranges and weights of paper perform when printed with text and images has been left to a big set of posters and the image library, of which more later.

Book in a box

From the beginning, GTF sought to make Paper Box like a book –something you would treasure and keep – rather than an item of marketing ephemera. The designers requested a sheet of every single paper so that they could start working with the materials. ‘The first mock-up was made from an old book that had been sitting on our bookshelves,’ says Paul Neale. ‘We took it to a local printer and got someone to guillotine it into three parts. We then did some glueing and binding tests.’ Neale explains that the most useful design tool for making Paper Box was the spreadsheet program Excel, which he and designer Alex Ecob used to organise every Fedrigoni paper into three books with 62.5mm wide spines that will fit snugly in the box.

‘There’s quite a bit of maths involved, ‘says Neale. ‘Alex was king of the spreadsheet in this.’ While half their time was spent working out the selection of papers this way, the other half was taken up making models of the sample books. ‘We had to make it to know it would work,’ says Neale. ‘You can only design for paper on screen for so long.’ Restrained and robust The GTF team was conscious that a sample book exists to sell raw materials, and that the design had to be restrained and simple. They chose the typeface Forma (a 1968 sans serif designed by a team of prominent designers for the Italian foundry Nebiolo) for its ‘strong shapes and weighty forms’. The box (case) for Paper Box is made from black-core board, lined externally with Imitlin Fiandra Nero 125 g/m².

Neale and Stevens have been enthusiastic users of Imitlin for a long time. ‘It’s a trusted “go-to” coverlining material,’ says Neale. ‘Not only is it robust, it also feels robust.’ The designers appreciate the fact that this stock has been in Fedrigoni’s collection for at least five decades. To help promote Paper Box, GTF, in collaboration with Studio AKA’s Kristian Andrews, has made a short animation that demonstrates the book’s beauty and utility. The 25-second video clip is underscored by a percussive soundtrack that composer Dave Pape created from the sound of paper pages being flipped– a stroke of digital marketing genius for such a tactile, analogue product.

Dreamscape of images

To complement Paper Box, which puts the emphasis on the materiality of Fedrigoni’s entire paper range, GTF was also tasked with creating an image library. This exists to demonstrate the ways in which different images, textures and designs can be printed on different papers. ‘If I have a white uncoated paper, what do I need to demonstrate?’ asks Neale rhetorically. By showing a consistent family of images, the image library shows paper specifiers how the images reproduce on myriad papers, using different processes such as regular litho, UV and Indigo digital printing.

Neale explains: ‘We use the idea of the ladder and mash it up with printers’ colour control strips to make a family of ladders we can use for photography, and extend into illustration and other graphic representations.’ GTF eschewed computer-aided design in favour of creating a full-size ladder with coloured stripes that could function as a control card while calibrating reproduction, and placed it within a three-dimensional set with walls and a window. They also made a maquette of the set, which made it possible to create many variants: landscapes viewed through the window, geometrical objects, hands, playing cards, a cat and 3D paint blobs flying through the space, along with many variations on ladders of different colours and sizes.

The result is an engaging series of images based around the shape and outline of a ladder. The ladder symbol is seen on every Fedrigoni product, embedded in the company’s crest, and it is a symbol of Verona that dates back to the thirteenth century (see ‘Verona’s ladder’, page 14). These images evoke both Surrealism and Italian style, a dreamlike fusion of Giorgio de Chirico and the Memphis Group with a nod to the Renaissance.

The test images can be used to demonstrate the way images change when printed on coloured or uncoated papers and the effects of overprinting, using photography, illustration, linework, texture and pattern. The GTF team had no wish to impose its tastes on paper customers– who may come from many different cultures and stylistic traditions.

A range of silkscreen Sirio posters gives clients a chance to see a mix of image, ink and coloured papers in different combinations, while the new Sirio swatchbook puts the images through their litho-printed paces.

The Fedrigoni brief has confirmed GTF’s enthusiasm for the papers their Paper Box design promotes. What excites GTF about working with the company is the vertical nature of its business: both manufacturing paper and selling it. Neale says: ‘We’ve had issues with paper merchants who have suddenly changed mills, or they’ve changed the paper recipe and don’t tell you. Fedrigoni has been making paper themselves, in their mills, for years. That continuity is why we, as users, go to them all the time.’

Never fit in

With fierce competition between products, how does design studio Stranger & Stranger make a 10cm label on a bottle of wine or spirits stand out?

By Sarah Snaith

Design studio Stranger & Stranger – which has offices in London, New York and San Francisco –is a forerunner in packaging and label design for alcohol brands worldwide.

Its client list includes big producers such as Martini, Jose Cuervo tequila, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Rye and The Kraken Black Spiced Rum, as well as less familiar ones such as Eristoff vodka, Spicebox Canadian Spiced Whisky and Prayers of Saints and Sinner winery, which has a glow-in- the-dark label.

The studio’s motto

‘Don’t fit in. Stand out.’

is evident in graphic solutions that include embossing, foils and die-cuts. Work for clients such as Scotch whisky-maker Dewar shows that standing out can take different forms for different clientele. Research for Dewar’s global refresh in 2013 used its archive in Scotland, and the new presentation boxes, labels, bottle shapes and a custom typeface all reference the company’s heritage. Stranger & Stranger is keenly aware of the product’s target consumer and the potential longevity that a bottle such as much sought-after and long sold-out Dewar’s 30-year-old Ne Plus Ultra – printed on Manter Savile Row Tweed Dark Grey – may have in the home.

Stranger & Stranger’s founder Kevin Shaw and group managing director Ivan Bell say: ‘To make a great alcohol pack you’ve got to know your consumer inside out, you’ve got to know what their world looks like and what rocks it, you’ve got to know when they shop, how they shop, what they are buying now. And then you’ve got to find the magic bullet that will scream out to them above all the other bottles on the shelf … and make the competition look inferior.’

The tactile experience is also of utmost importance. Enchanting billows and swirls dominate the delicate glass bottle for Maison Ferrand Sélection des Anges Cognac, and angelic cherubs further its appeal. The aesthetic for the award-winning design of Compass Box No Name is more terrestrial, with embossed whirls of smoke coming from a temple that appears on both the handsome black box and label, alluding to alchemy and the magical mixing of ingredients. ‘Tactility is evident in our ongoing partnership with Compass Box,’ say Shaw and Bell. ‘We’ve built a portfolio of rich storytelling for the brand over the last decade with their signature releases. The core element of this pack is the specific chosen paper, as it allows for heavy sculptured embossing and debossing with perfect ink and foil application. Label paper selection and specification is of key importance to us in all the label projects we undertake for our clients to complement our brand storytelling.’

Stranger & Stranger is careful to find solutions that speak to the unique features of a brand and its product range. For Redwood Empire’s whiskeys, this meant picturing philosopher and naturalist John Muir (a great advocate for California redwoods) in a variety of forms – in woodblock-printed, single-colour illustrations. In contrast, for aperitif Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto, the hard work is done by the bottle design, which harks back to the innovations in glasswork of the mid-1920s that welcomed the invention of automated bottle production. These crafted bottles often have a second life: ‘We get lots of runaway successes,’ say Shaw and Bell, ‘but we only really consider a brand a success when people start making the bottles into lamps or getting tattoos of them. The Kraken had a range of goods produced – including a shower curtain and a lamp.’ In addition to the studio’s commissioned work, it makes limited-edition products (such as Bitter & Twisted bitters) as client gifts to celebrate Christmas each year. Shaw and Bell posit that with alcohol, there is seldom the opportunity for consumers to ‘get a sneaky taste’ before purchasing and bottles maybe competing with as many as 1000 others. Each winemaker is ‘promising the same rich fruity complement to your meat pie’, and consumers are ‘making a value judgement on the contents based solely on the four-inch piece of paper. Imagine if all the books and magazines in the bookstore had the same synopsis on the back cover and you weren’t allowed to look inside.’

People and paper

“Wine is all about being rooted to the earth and the local. We try to strip the label design back. It’s really all about the wine.”
For Fernando Gutiérrez design is about relationships, dialogue and letting things speak for themselves.

By John L. Walters. Portrait by Robert Billington

Fernando Gutiérrez is a ‘designer’s designer’, whose thoughtful work for clients in the worlds of magazines, museums, luxury goods and wine labels have been subtly influential.

Born in London to Spanish parents, Gutiérrez studied in the UK and took on his first jobs there, but came to prominence after moving to Barcelona in the early 1990s. He founded design studio Grafica with fellow designer Pablo Martín and designed Tentaciones, a weekend magazine supplement for the newspaper El País.

In 1995 he co-founded Matador, an annual independent magazine that won awards worldwide and led to many other prestigious projects. In 2000 Gutiérrez joined Pentagram’s London office as a partner and in 2006 he left to establish his own studio in north London. His most prominent clients include the Prado Museum in Madrid and the Design Museum in London, but many other projects, large and small, give evidence of his unique blend of enthusiasm and fastidiousness. Recent work includes the logo for the Fedrigoni Top Award, fine art and photography catalogues for private and public galleries, exhibition graphics, a perfume bottle for Givenchy, work for restaurant El Bulli and catalogue and exhibition graphics for Museo de Bellas Artes de Bilbao and Centro Botín in Santander and Club Matador, a private members’ club in Madrid which continues the spirit of Matador magazine.

Late last summer, on a rainy day in north London, Gutiérrez sat down to discuss his interest in designing wine labels, a longstanding passion that he considers to be a form of editorial design. His drinks clients include The Botanist, Poças, Alta Alella, Valdesil, MonteRosola, Domaine La Casenove, and his longterm client and friend Spanish winemaker Telmo Rodríguez.

John L. Walters: Your first wine label for Telmo Rodríguez was very different, very typographic …
Fernando Gutiérrez: Yes, because I didn’t know anything about the wine business. I just wanted to do something strong that would stand out.

I guess you knew it was a quality wine?
I didn’t even know if it was good quality! I trusted Telmo. He had a strong passion for wine and the culture of Iberian wine, and he wanted to do something different. His family had a beautiful vineyard in Rioja. Telmo took a brave decision to move away from the family business and start a new wine project on his own; he wanted to make wines in different points of the Iberian peninsula, rediscovering grape varieties and agricultural traditions that had been lost.
He bought a field in Toro with vines and he had to work it. There was nothing glamorous about it.
I just expressed what I thought wine should look like. I put dry transfer type directly on to the bottle and mocked it up. And I sent it to him in the post, a real bottle so he could visualise it!
Nowadays, it’s all so digital. You approve almost everything on screen. That package made it real.

I’m intrigued by the simplicity of your labels, often one letter, one graphic shape …
We try and strip it back as much as possible. It’s really all about the wine. The design is not a big deal.
I just want to complement the project. The wine buyers know Telmo. The design helps, but it’s really about him explaining the project, what he does and how he does it.

How does Telmo brief you?
It’s a conversation where he talks about his hopes and vision for each vineyard and the local history. Design visualises our thoughts.

There’s a sense that this is someone with a contemporary taste …
You’re right. He thinks internationally, but he wants to communicate a unique wine story about Spain and the Iberian Peninsula. Wine is all about being rooted to the earth and the local. The whole Iberian Peninsula, including Portugal,has had a renaissance in winemaking. Telmo kept buying up vineyards that were down at heel, looking at areas that were not so famous for winemaking but had potential. For a lot of his wines, he was a pioneer.

Using Alan Kitching for the Matallana label was a surprise: a very British, wood-type letterpress-printed design.
I worked with Alan on developing a look and feel for Matallana. But we’re constantly evolving the labels. Music is a reference point. How do youkeep your music relevant and, in a competitive market, transmitting something unique?
We want Matallana to become one of theclassic Riberas, so it’s an ongoing project for us. I like bringing in people who have nothing to do with wine. I do know a little bit more about wine now, but when I got involved I didn’t, and I think that brings a little freshness and a different perspective.

Tell me about some of the other collaborators.
I’ve worked with illustrators Andrew Davidson [Duratón], Chris Wormell [MonteRosola] and Sean Mackaoui, a Scot living in Madrid making great collages. Sean helped me on the original Lanzaga. Sometimes the images start off as little inside jokes, but then we evolve them. It’s a visual dialogue that expresses a little bit of what Telmo’s trying to do with the wine.
What I wanted to do with Valdesil (Valdeorras) was something emotional and abstract. This land, it’s all granite and slate. It’s a unique wine area, going back to Roman times, facing the Atlantic. It’s quite hard to cultivate that area because it’s on steep slopes that go down to the river. They have a grape called Godello that’s causing a buzz in the wine world.

Do the lines represent the slate?
Yeah, it’s that sort of hard-edge thing. I drew it because there was no budget. You have to really make do with what you can.

I liked the pencil handwriting on the Valderroa Carballo and Montenovo labels for Valdesil.
There’s a hard, contemporary, sharp feel and then the pencil is a nice contrast, a handmade edge. They’re a well known family of Madrid-based lawyers. It’s from their ancestors, this land. They were very passionate about bringing it all back to life.

What challenges do wineries face?
The sales aspect. You rely on other people to sell for you. You’re competing against big international businesses and preconceptions. It’s really hard if you want to be authentic. It’s intense. You can’t be naïve about it.

Matador and editorial design

The launch of Matador was a watershed in your career, wasn’t it?
Matador for me was big, it was where I was able to put all my editorial ideas into one place,so it’s like a book, it’s a magazine, it’s in the arts, it’s culture. That came out of working with El País.
While I was art directing Tentaciones, Alberto Anaut, the El País deputy editor, left the paper, and one of the new projects he wanted to do was an arts magazine. We thought Matador was a good name – Spanish, but international. He had a great idea: to do a cultural newspaper, but with time, coming out once a year. We had a large format. It was all about printing beautifully.

Your involvement in wine began with Matador, when you did labels with artists Sean Scully and Sol LeWitt …
For subscribers we would work with a Spanish winemaker to produce a limited edition. They’d pay for the wine, but it would be specifically for them. With every issue of Matador, we always had what we call a sketchbook where we’d work with a contemporary artist. We would use one of the images and call the wine after the artist of that issue. We asked Telmo’s father Jaime Rodríguez for a wine for the first issue. When he handed the project to Telmo, he said: ‘I want the guy that’s doing Matador to help me launch my new wine project. We’ll do it on the condition that the designer works with me.’

A pleasing connection between editorial design and wine!
Exactly. And it is editorial design, and wine is editorial, totally. Matador was the beginning of a big art and cultural project in Spain, based in Madrid. It became a photo festival, it’s become so many things. It has many events. It has a course on arts management for students, like a masters course. It’s a shop. It’s a members’ club in Madrid. They’re involved in the Madrid Design Festival, PHotoESPAÑA. Matador was the sounding board, the springboard, to all these different cultural projects. It’s a publisher as well. [Parent company] La Fábrica is publishing books, mainly on photography.

Have you been tempted to use more photography in your wine labels?
I don’t like photography on labels. It’s hardly ever worked for me, though I have done one that I love, Valderiz. I love photography, but on a label, it looks weird. It’s too much.

Look around a wine store now, and you see lots of faces on labels.
If you have a face, you’re going to sell. If they’re looking straight at you, you’re going to sell more, like Vogue. The fashion magazines have all got a face, so on wine, why not? But it’s not my approach.


Tell me a little about your work for the Prado.
The Prado is one of the most amazing museums in the world. I’ve always worked with photography and illustration, but this was working with fine art and the great masters, and that took me into a whole other world that I love. What I wanted to do was an anonymous thing of quality. We did things that were invisible.We upgraded the whole museum without people necessarily knowing.

Were you setting out to make something new?
Yes and no. They had like six or eight logos. They were stuck in the past, and very academic. It had a terrible gift shop. It took ten years to resolve it. Slowly we had to convince them that design had a benefit, because they initially saw us as superficial. And you’re like, ‘No, this little leaflet is going to be gorgeous. All the text is going to be legible; it’s all going to fit, it’s all going to be in order.’ So I’ve really got into classical art. It’s beautiful. Working with imagery, you’ve got a Titian or a Raphael or whoever, Vermeer … you can do so much with so little. The image will tell you what to do based on your format, and then you go from there. We covered a whole building in a Titian – you can’t go wrong! We had The Bacchanal [of the Andrians] right across the building in the centre of Madrid. Huge. It must have been about an eight-storey high building and it was stunning. That, for me, is graphics. Everything led me to the Prado. It’s all about relationships, staying close to what you love and enjoy.