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Clear Design Inspiration

Jeff Falk

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Strategies: Fragrance Package Design

GCI magazine spoke with Denis Boudard, designer and president, QSLD; Davide Nicosia, principal and creative director, NiCE Ltd.; and Eric Lee, senior design manager, Avon, about the challenges they face and what they see as key design elements for today’s successful fragrance packaging.

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What design elements are key for success in today’s market?
Denis Boudard: I truly feel that there are two … creating a guaranteed high perceived value and staying true to the brand.
First, we are talking about a luxury product, which one must never forget. Even if fragrance is an attainable everyday luxury, there is still a level of perceived value that we must maintain. I feel that many people forget we are dealing with a luxury product; however, a designer cannot be one of them.

Secondly, I think that the most important factor to success is staying true to the brand, to its values and DNA. This means that the designer must consider the brand’s history and also its evolution within the creative process in order to stay connected with the brand’s actual audience and create a link with potential customers. It’s true for any of the fashion houses we are working for. When Puma, Perry Ellis or Lacoste asked us to envision their fragrance products, we designed for the brand first without trying to impose a style (pragmatic approach). Then we showed our vision of how the brand could be “stretched’ (dialectic approach/part of risk/innovation). Besides, a brand must be “credible” to its own crowd, especially when its name appears on a fragrance product—that’s also true for any celebrity name. If the design is not appropriate—sadly cheap or unrealistically sophisticated—it could be a failure that would, in turn, affect the whole brand strategy. Bottom line, I think that brand aficionados must recognize their brand and embrace the fragrance expression of it.

For me, these elements have a direct influence on the creative process, if the objective is to succeed, of course. The brand is the driving force behind the fragrance; we cannot have a fragrance without an initial understanding of the brand and its history.
To conclude, to reveal the “luxury” part of a brand, a designer must have a sense of observation and understanding of l’air du temps. Above all else, we must be able to create a dialectical relation between where the brand has been in the past, where it currently is today and where it will be in 18 months when the product launches.

Davide Nicosia: One of the keys to success in today’s fragrance market is for all the elements of a launch to tie together to support the overall concept. This holistic message must be communicated clearly and simply. However, the industry is beginning to take the bottle design aspect too literally and is drawn to using design gimmicks.

A good fragrance bottle uses clear design inspiration without relying on gimmicks. Then, there is the element of desire that is usually difficult to explain.

Eric Lee: Design elements should be in a clean and simple shape that projects a modern look. Quality production is a must to appeal to the market.

When designing the packaging, do you think about the fragrance itself, the marketing that will support the product or the target consumer?
Denis Boudard: Honestly, designers are very rarely included in the fragrance creation and, therefore, cannot always be inspired by the juice itself. If I had the opportunity to discover the juice prior to designing, of course the scent would influence the design. I have had this opportunity a few times, and it truly does improve the design process and allow the designer to create a very brand- and fragrance-appropriate bottle. A close collaboration between the perfumer and the designer should happen more frequently as it is almost always guaranteed to be a success. As a designer, when I know where the perfumer is going, I know what the bottle design has to be in order to express and reveal the essence of the product (colors of the juice, textures and ergonomic factors are actually crucial). Unfortunately, this is not a common way to work today. As for the marketing factors supporting the product, the target consumer and the distribution strategy, of course these will all help influence the design; however, designers are not always privy to this information. If this information is available they will always be taken into consideration, as all play a role in creating a brand-appropriate design.

The design is able to define the level of sophistication as well as “dress up” the product without betraying the emotional connection that the perfumer created. At the end of the day, the juice will be the determining factor that will make the fragrance a success. For this reason the bottle design should be a reflection of the scent. In addition, packaging and marketing strategy help the product to appear at its best for its premiere in-store. Then, it’s all about a very confidential story between the end users and the fragrance.

Davide Nicosia: All of those elements must always be considered. In reality, the client comes to us with only part of the information. We usually get a briefing on the background of the brand and what demographic we are targeting. Concepts and fragrances are usually developed parallel to the bottle design. We often present names and advertising concepts that support our bottle design presentation. It allows our ideas to have a rationale and be relevant to the initiative. It allows us to avoid presenting ideas that are “pie in the sky.”

Eric Lee: When I design the fragrance bottle, I always pay attention to the fragrance. The bottle design should project the marketing concept and the scent of the fragrance.

How do designers keep up with changing consumer preferences?
Denis Boudard: I believe that it is not literally a question of consumer preferences, but merely about cultural and emotional preferences. Two very different people could be emotionally attracted to the same fragrance, yet come from completely different cultures, ethnicities or countries.

So, we all know there is not only one consumer category. We also know that we are not dealing with one marketing segment or simply one stereotypical potential target. More than any other product category, the fragrance segment is made from multiple layers of consumers organized by genders, socio-styles, ages, ethnicity and cultures. And to make it even more interesting, moods and times of year can have even more influence on purchasing trends. The winter holidays, spring and summer all illicit different emotions and desires; because of this, the same consumer will be attracted to different fragrances at different times of year, or even different times of day.

Moreover, your choice of fragrance is not something you show like a glamorous dress. It’s something that is invisible, it’s something that only people close to you will eventually identify, and it’s something that reveals a part of your intimacy. When it comes to fragrance, purchasing is definitely a very personal choice—whether it’s for yourself or someone else. There is actually a very small part of ostentation in the fragrance purchase. All decisions are driven by the emotional part of the consumers. ... It’s what I believe!
Also, each consumer has their own natural evolution. A consumer’s taste will never truly change on the basics; it will merely evolve over the course of time based on his or her own emotional journey. We can only detect the most general trends and try to eventually anticipate their evolutions. The intimate part of a decision will stay intimate forever.

Therefore we, as designers, must follow this evolution—which we can eventually predict—if we are to truly understand the brand’s audience. The real issue is segmentation within the mosaic of cultures—be it race, gender, demographic or education level that the brand is able to reach. These are the real issues a designer must take into consideration when starting the creative process to ensure that the design addresses all different aspects of a certain segment.

Davide Nicosia: We are fortunate to get a lot of consumer insights from various sources. We also attend consumer testing on a regular basis. So, we are up-to-date on the facts.

Ultimately, a fragrance is about dreams. It’s about love, lust, excitement, success or adventure. On a daily basis, we try to express those emotional elements in a bottle. We can’t give the consumers exactly what they expect. The result would be a boring bottle. We stay a step ahead of the consumer and give them something unexpected. That unexpected element creates the excitement and emotional connection we strive for.

Eric Lee: Designers should keep in touch with the market trends and know what is hot. Research is the key before I start any new design. It is important to know your consumer before you create a new product to fit their need.

When do you consider materials? How will the materials influence your design? Is having some constraints, materials in this case, actually beneficial?
Denis Boudard: Thinking that materials can influence or affect the design process is a misunderstanding of design work. Today, we are really able to explore different techniques and, in turn, different materials because of the technological advancements that we, as an industry, have made. But, the ideas have always been there, though the technical and material capabilities were not always available. Materials are at a designer’s disposition, not the other way around. They are there as a means to an end, not a constraint that is placed on a designer.

We are now able to push the boundaries to create a real polysensual experience with the materials we can use. By combining different materials, we are able to create entirely new tactile experiences that were never before possible. The choice of a precise material can be crucial for expressing the values of a brand—for example, using wood in place of polymer or metal clearly sends a message to the consumer.

Budgeting constraints can have a real impact on material selection, which of course a designer must take into consideration. We will always try to propose budget appropriate materials and techniques in order to accurately respond to the brief, and eventually facilitate product placement and distribution as specified by the client.

Davide Nicosia: We consider materials from the very start of the project. It always has a large impact on design. We strive to use materials authentically. Metal is cold to the touch and plastic tends to be warm. We avoid using one material to look like another. If this is a constraint, we minimize the use of that in the design. We keep in mind the qualitative character of the material, and, through its use, we ensure that the end result feels (like) as high a quality (product) as possible.

The challenge of constraints is what makes each project exciting. One of the most difficult things to design is something with absolutely no constraints. If there were no constraints, we would be sculptors. We need those parameters. It pushes us to think, to be efficient, consider the environmental impacts or cost and manufacturing. It helps us focus on the target audience.

What is the current direction in fragrance bottle design?
Denis Boudard: Of course most people would focus on the increasingly popular green trend. I do see this as being an important trend, as younger generations are more and more concerned about the environment and how our actions affect it.
Something I see as being not a trend but a movement is creating an emotional connection. Purchasing a fragrance is something that is very emotional. Using one is even more so. A true connection is made between a consumer and their fragrance. Using a fragrance is a very hedonistic experience and something that people truly cherish. By focusing on the emotions connected to perfume use, brands will be able to better communicate with their customers and, in turn, create an emotional bond with them, thus ensuring them as customers for life.

Davide Nicosia: The fashion industry is driven by trends and newness. Retail stores re-merchandise on a weekly basis. Consumers expect it. For many years, the fragrance industry was immune to that. The mission for a fragrance launch was to build the next classic. Until about seven years ago, there were only a handful of flankers launched every year. Today, there are hundreds. There are many factors that have created this market. But fundamentally, the consumer is now looking for newness at the fragrance counter.

Everyone still strives to create the next great classic. However, we notice that marketers do not expect their new fragrances to last more than two or three years. The result goes back to bottle design based on the latest trend, very low cost of goods, and fragrance bottles relying on design gimmicks. Despite the market, the challenge for designers is to continue creating things with much more substance and with sustainability in mind.

Eric Lee: The current direction in bottle design is modern, clean and simple. You can take a look at any newspaper ad for fragrances during Father’s Day or Mother’s Day. You can definitely spot a design trend. We are evolving into designing fragrance bottles with more appeal and less budget for the packaging.

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Denis Boudard has been involved with fragrance packaging design for scents from Coty, LVMH, Paco Rabanne, Lancôme and Guerlain, among others. P&G Prestige selected Boudard to design the recently launched Lacoste for Men fragrance Elegance. He also designed the 2007 FiFi Award trophy.

Davide Nicosia has designed for Calvin Klein, Avon and Yves St. Laurent, among others. In addition to packaging, his multi-disciplinary agency, NiCE Ltd., develops advertising campaigns and designs interior spaces.

Eric Lee designed the packaging for Derek Jeter Driven, winner of the 2007 FiFi award for best packaging in the men’s popular appeal category.

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