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.’