Analysis: new gestures in luxury packaging

Pascale Ruchon

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Analysis: new gestures in luxury packaging

As part of our summer series, we bring you in-depth content from our sister magazine Formes de Luxe. This week, an analysis of the influence of gestures on packaging developments.

Life is about movement, and making packaging come alive means giving it that special something. With the complicity of consumers who touch, open, turn and unfold… gestures play a key role in the luxury experience. This can be functional, aesthetic, hedonistic, playful, theatrical or even ethical; an opportunity for brands to better tell their story and assert their uniqueness.

Coming into contact with an object, touching it and using it are essential in the world of luxury, where every detail counts and must be thought out. Packaging plays a primary role here. A bottle that is awkward in hand, a cap that is hard to open, and there goes the dream! But a packaging solution that invites the consumer to touch and discover will magnify the product. Thus gesture becomes a component of design which, when carefully conceived, can be very instinctive.

“There was a time when design agencies brought in ergonomic specialists given that ergonomy was viewed through somewhat of an ‘orthopedic’ lens. But the profession is very subjective. There isn’t one, but many ergonomics, with each choice imposing itself on a case-by-case basis and often relying on good sense,” remarks Sébastien Servaire. For his design agency, Servaire & Co, this could mean flattening the 100ml format of Diptyque fragrance bottles, for example, so that they can fit in hand like a small container, without modifying the oval shape. Elementary!

When function reigns

Foremost in a gesture is function. Facilitating how a pack is opened is a classic criteria and there is no lack of ideas when it comes to improving existing solutions. A few examples: a zamak overcap created by EOS Innovation for large-format champagne bottles; a wood case with rounded corners whose lid is not nailed down, but slips into grooves, manufactured by Caisserie Adam for a prestigious edition of Château Haut-Bailly wines; Albéa’s Quartz Slide makeup compact whose lid rises up after having been slightly pushed back thanks to a special hinge system. This last product is well designed for seniors.

Indeed, adapting to well-defined consumer categories could be one objective. Among Albéa’s plastic mascara brushes, the La Petite model is ideally suited to Asian women’s shorter eyelashes, while the Mango model corresponds better to Middle-Eastern consumer tastes, letting them coat their lashes generously in just a few movements. “It’s important to avoid difficult gestures that must be repeated,” observes an Albéa spokesperson. The primary area for functional accessories is indeed the makeup category. Pencils, brushes and all types of eyeliners are regularly being improved to cater to extremely precise technical gestures. “Today given the influence of bloggers, beauty gestures have become almost professional, so brands are focusing on the applicator. We look to come up with designs that don’t resemble any other—an element that can have an impact on creative packaging,” observes Sophie Gaspin, sales director at Texen Beauty Partners.

This trend is also gaining ground in skincare, where brands often look to reinforce a formula’s efficiency through massage. Guerlain takes this approach with its doubleball metal applicator known as the LRoller, launched alongside its Orchidée Imperiale night serum. This is a way to ritualize the skincare application moment, to make it “precious”.

The materials used for these massage tools are also growing in scope: silicone, zamak, porcelain and even natural stones, which supposedly are endowed with beneficial properties. This market also offers packaging solutions with applicators that both distribute and apply the formula. Cosmogen for example, a specialist in this area, launched a range of tube bottles with Qualiform that are equipped with a system of rotating closures and various dispensers (spatula, ball, brush, flocked…). TNT Global Manufacturing’s R2AD, meanwhile, is a rechargeable airless bottle tipped with a removable steel ball that is attached via a magnet. As for its airless technology, it means that the product can be applied when held in any position. Texen, meanwhile offers a cosmetic jar whose lid is topped with a facial massage applicator made of MuCell, a plastic material with a sensual feel that can be molded with different surface textures and eventually removed and washed.

Time slows down

Obviously, luxury products aren’t content to stay within the realm of strictly utilitarian gestures. They need drama, narratives, symbolism… “We incorporate ergonomics and basic functions in all our designs and, when appropriate, we add a dramatic gesture as well,” explains Vincent Voisin, strategy and sales manager at Linéa, a French design agency specialized in wines and spirits. In this sector, gestures often take on a ceremonial dimension, which is meant to ‘slow things down’. Time-honored terroirs and prestigious domains, mature wines, the acknowledged expertise of cellar masters, the rituals of sommeliers plus the olfactory, visual and tactile aspects of wine tasting… the world of wines and spirits invites consumers to take their time.

This idea can be evoked through materials: the wood of an old tree, tanned leather or polished metal, for example. For Human, its inhouse promotional project, Linéa worked with handmade paper from Moulin du Verger made of linen fibers recycled from vintage bedsheets. The paper is placed on the bottle when damp and it shrinks as it dries. As for textile specialist Seram, the supplier created a whisky collection sheathed in warm tweeds where each object incites the user to take its time: a bottle to take along on a walk and a notebook to jot down notes. The approach could be even more sophisticated. Linéa covered a cognac bottle from Tesseron with a wire muselet. Traditionally reserved for sparkling wines, the muselet (produced by Meynard) introduces an unusual, slow ceremony of pulling out a heavy glass stopper (Les Bouchages Delage).

This concept of slowing down in no way contradicts the surprise element, where gestures play a key role. Opening a product goes hand-in-hand with the pleasure of discovering it. This can be spectacular, as with certain glorifiers used in nightclubs. Thus for Martell, designer Eric Berthès designed a bottle holder surrounded by spheres shaped like grape seeds that are opened to remove the glasses nestled inside. For others, the ritual can be taking the time to turn a key.

Design agency Carré Basset recommended this approach to Boutary for its Premier Cru caviar that is sold with a tiny golden key to open the box. Fine foods brand Comtesse du Barry also included a lock on its Christmas gift boxes though a trompe l’oeil effect. “Our theme was the key to knowhow, the key to secrets,” says Nelly Ramilhon, product innovation director at Comtesse du Barry. Made in two or three levels as drawers or as pivoting boxes, the objects (by Sonepro) have an unusual construction in a bid to offer “as much pleasure opening them as we do receiving them”.

Alternately, a gesture can transmit values of energy and modernity. This is the interpretation offered by Ayala’s Silver Edition gift box–a jeroboam of Brut Nature champagne produced for the holidays in a numbered series of 200 bottles: four, paper-hinged flaps unfold to reveal the inside with a trompe l’oeil effect of textured metallic facets. “This refers to our winemaking that is done in small stainless steel vats,” according to Ayala ceo Hadrien Mouflard. “We want the packaging to convey a contemporary image and the idea of movement that reflects our dynamics as we are currently in the proces of reviving the company.” This coffret, manufactured by Sonepro, is in MDF sheathed in polyester film.

What are the challenges?

Staying current can also mean using gestures that break with the codes of a given universe: the Diptyque room fragrance that is turned over like an hourglass to set it in motion (Servaire & Co and Techniplast), Mini Moëts, or champagne bottles meant to be sipped (Carré Basset), an oval lipstick for “pursing” lips that Albéa sells well in Asia, just to name a few. The fragrance market, in a bid to stay current and appeal to millennial consumers, is a goldmine of research on unexpected gestures, including from brands who are looking to divert packaging meant for other uses. Inspired by the nomad trend, Chanel launched Chance perfumed pencils, Chance Eau Tendre gel in cushion format and N°5 L’Eau hand cream in a bottle that can be nestled in the palm of one’s hand or easily tucked into a purse.

Thierry Mugler developed three of its fragrances in a rechargeable penbrush (Texen). Diptyque has also been playing with different mediums: a cord perfumed via microencapsulation that is dispensed in a roller mechanism is cut and attaches to the wrist like a bracelet, a brooch that holds a perfumed ceramic piece or perfumed patches, for example. The classic spray is also growing more sophisticated when it comes to application gestures.

Azzaro gave its Wanted Girl bottle a sophisticated spray cap (TNT Global Manufacturing) that can be activated in two ways: either by pushing the fake trigger or via the traditional push button. According to Servaire, personalization can be pushed further: “There are fragrance bars where one can choose one’s own label or ribbon… so why not select a specific pump? The consumer could be seduced by the possibility of choosing the type of perfume ‘cloud’ he or she prefers”. And suppliers do indeed have a wide selection of pumps to choose from! Servaire & Co collaborated on enhancing Aptar’s latest launch, Dolce, a partnership with Dutch company Medspray that holds the patent for a nozzle that integrates fifty different channels. The result is an airy mist with a silent spray, and whose pressure can be modified depending on how much one presses down on the actuator. An emotional, poetic gesture that makes the traditional spray seem downright aggressive!

Innovation can also be stimulated by digital technologies. “The user experience is extended thanks to QR codes, which is what we used for de Neuville chocolates,” observes Nelly Gengoux, creative director in charge of packaging at Carré Basset. “Millennials scan everything with their smartphone and glean information online before buying and then they look at the packaging. The gesture must be integrated into the pack since it can influence its shape.”

Social networks, meanwhile, have become the place for product expression. And the greater their dramatic potential, the bigger their chance of being publicized by influencers. “To help sommeliers serve our double magnum of cognac that weighs more than four kilos, we designed a metal pouring cradle that highlights the bottle. It is now used in prestigious hotels (ShangriLa in Paris, The Ritz in London, Negresco in Nice …) and neighborhood bistrots as well. Some barmen even post it on Instagram, which has helped rejuvenate the cognac category,” rejoices Delamain ceo Charles Baastrad. Designed by Ludovic Drouineaud, the cradle is made by hand by Bruno Fontaine at atelier Escourbiac and retails for 200 euros.

Manufacturer Diam Pack just launched a collection of Blogger Boxes to provoke a “wow” effect when opened: a faux vintage radio that opens like a cassette player, a box integrating a Polaroid-style camera, a gift box that unfolds like a flower to reveal a miniscreen... This trend joins the “unboxing” phenomenon where videos show people unpacking products while commenting on the experience. It has encouraged a multiplication of packaging elements since it adds a spark to this idea of “undressing”. But on the flipside, influencers could denounce it as generating waste.

Ecology and gesture

Indeed, ecological awareness has also begun to have an impact when it comes to gestures. A typical example is magnets: while they facilitate a product’s closure, some brands refuse to use them as they are considered polluting and pose problems in the recycling stream. As a result, they are looking to replace them through clever engineering as with Albéa’s Attraction makeup compact that features a patented hinge that integrates neither magnet nor metal shaft, yet offers the same feel as a magnet mechanism.

Finally, the concept of refills is a growing trend that is sure to shift consumer habits, despite the fact that changing a refill is neither easy nor glamorous. How to emphasize this gesture? This is a challenge for both designers and manufacturers. Precursors, such as fragrance brand By Kilian, have perfected a fairly elementary method with the creative help of Carré Basset: the fragrance refill is screwed upside down on the original bottle (once the pump has been removed), which means no funnel is needed, and the transfer stops automatically when the bottle is full thanks to an anti-overflow system.

Guerlain introduced luxurious refillable jars in its Orchidée Imperiale range. The refill is attractive enough to be used on its own and is inserted into a porcelain jar manufactured by Bernardaud. Beautiful objects won’t be discarded, and even less so if they are useful. This is what a well thought out gesture is all about.

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