Luxury packaging sets the pace

They showcase the latest techniques in packaging. So what is the luxury goods industry telling us right now? Charles Orton-Jones reports


If you want to steal ideas for outstanding packaging, then the luxury sector is the place to start. After all, if brands can’t convince buyers to pay often outrageous premiums, then they die.

Luxury brands have the biggest budgets, the most sophisticated consumers and the most ambitious designers. If an idea works here, it is just a matter of time before it filters down to the mid-market.

So what are the latest trends in luxury goods? Who better to ask than Alison Church, event director for easyFairs’ Luxury Packaging Exhibition, the UK’s only luxury packaging event.

“The packaging industry is constantly evolving. When I first started working on the show, sustainability was topping the agenda,” she says. “It’s still important, but a key driver behind innovation in the last year has been pack differentiation.

Shelf stand-out has always been paramount, but increasingly brands are looking at how to engage with their customers beyond the shelf, which has led to an increase in companies creating an experience around their product through their packaging, and linking closely with their social media and marketing strategies. As a result, packaging innovation to some extent is being driven by consumers who directly interact with brands to influence their decisions. In general, brands today are listening and initiatives such as personalised packaging are booming.”

One-offs and collaborations are a reliable way to generate this sense of uniqueness. Hayley Ard, head of consumer lifestyle at trend watching consultancy Stylus, points to Dom Pérignon champagne’s September 2013 collaboration with American artist Jeff Koons as a prime example.

Increasingly brands are looking at how to engage with their customers beyond the shelf

“Koons designed a range of vividly coloured, limited-edition gift sets for the French house’s vintage champagnes, influenced by his playful, bubble-shaped sculptures,” she says. “The packaging, which aligns the champagne bottles with inflatable toys, appeals strongly to the youth market. A bottle of Rosé Vintage 2003 is concealed in an eye-catching adaptation of Koons’ Balloon Venus sculpture – a sea of reflective curves in bright fuchsia.”

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Another trend is stripped back typography. Ms Ard says: “As consumers overwhelmed by product choices tune out loud signals, luxury brands are promoting packaging with pared-down typography, sparse layouts and short strings of numbers. Sophisticated monograms replace logos. This strategy appeals to consumers who value humble brand transparency and who choose products based on essential information.”

Unusual materials are playing an increasing role. Design agency Sedley Place created a new look for Johnnie Walker whisky. Sedley Place director Ron Cregan says: “Diageo’s Johnnie Walker Willow Pattern Limited Editions, created for the Johnnie Walker houses in Shanghai and Beijing, are made of porcelain in a direct homage to the Willow Pattern porcelain so beloved by previous generations. The bottles have a weight in the hand which is also cool and smooth to the touch because of the porcelain finish. Other limited editions, such as Johnnie Walker’s Epic Dates range, feature inset pewter labels and engraved bottles.

“When packaging uses the finest materials in this way, it assumes a visual language that conveys brand aspects such as quality, authenticity, heritage and sheer pleasure.”

Coley Porter Bell’s revamp of Perrier-Jouët took a similarly restrained, but outré, route. “The subtle artisan craftsmanship evident on the print finishes, neck foils and monogram seals were refined to reflect the brand’s distinctive colour palette and enhance the luxury codes in a subtler, more harmonious way,” says Coley Porter Bell chief executive Vicky Bullen.

Ostentation is out. Restrained, refined, unique and subtle are in. Naturally, the lower-tiered products will follow suit, meaning the luxury brands will soon need a new iteration. But for now, that’s the dominant ethos.