Super luxury launches have long focused on slick, designer vessels, made from the finest materials, while the premium space has also been dominated by the refined and glossy. So, as a new wave of launches celebrate the messy, the imperfect and the inconsistent, can consumers be convinced that imperfect is luxury? In our brave new world of 3D printers, AI, digital activations and NFTs, are we actually yearning for the human touch?
We could have a furious debate about what luxury means. Does it mean expensive? Does it mean scarce? High-quality? In the drinks world, luxury was arguably redefined by the quite frankly bonkers Sotheby’s ‘The Distillers One of One’ sale in early October.
Were these bottles, or were these works of art? The line between the two is becoming increasingly blurred as brands team-up with globally renowned artists and designers to create bespoke, one-of-a-kind packaging that is as much of a centrepiece as the liquid itself.
Design front and centre
We saw ultra-rare whiskies including Brora Iris 50 Year Old 1972, housed in a striking 1.5 litre decanter suspended within a stone sculpture, created by artist Michelle De Bruin. It was intended to represent the eye of a Scottish Wildcat. Then there was Glen Grant’s 70 Year Old offering, which like a work of art, came with a name; Devotion. The bottle itself was the centrepiece of a giant halo, inspired by the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Seven decanters have been created, but this is the only one with engraved gold detailing. The sculpture, by artist John Galvin, hewn from a fallen tree on the distillery grounds, was itself simply inspired by nature apparently.
And then, there was Bowmore. At 55 years old, STAC 55 is the oldest whisky Bowmore has ever released. But that’s not why it was interesting. Looking like an, admittedly very beautiful, but very burned piece of timber, its hand-blown glass vessel is black, hewn, irregular and aside from the gleaming clear glass topper, unpolished.
It’s a departure from the wave of super premium pack designs we’ve been seeing for years now, with blinged out decanters, partnerships with other mega-brands from Lalique to Aston Martin, precious metal adornments and neat cases and cabinets to house them in. Just look at how far Bowmore has come from its 2022 release, the ARC 52, which used carbon fibre, inspired by Aston Martin’s engineering. It’s a striking difference.
Aspiring to imperfection
Bowmore’s one-of-one launch was another sign that when it comes to luxury packaging, we’re leaving precise and perfect behind, and are instead embracing – nay, aspiring to – imperfection. Ever more brands are ditching showy, flashy, refined pack design for their top-end products, and are instead looking to something a little rougher. Rough edges and natural materials are in. Slick, over-engineered, overly precious materials are out.
In this age of automation, of 3D printing, AI, of digital artwork you can’t even touch, of Instagram filters and false perfection, it’s the human touch that’s becoming super premium. Brands are looking to imperfect, tactile materials that demonstrate craftsmanship, rather than monetary value. And they’re favouring designs and production methods that offer natural variations, or else, signs that an actual person made it.
Look at Komos. The high-end tequila brand presents its liquids in distinctive handmade ceramic bottles. They serve a practical purpose, protecting the liquid from harmful sunlight, but the brand has deliberately selected a less polished finish. The reactive glaze used mean that every single bottle turns out unique. Not a throwaway item, the brand wants consumers to covet, keep and repurpose them.
Though this quest for handmade and imperfect is not driven primarily by eco-concerns, it’s undeniable that the two movements are symbiotic. Cognac house A de Fussigny’s launch of a linen, plant-based and organic resin bottle was a disruptive visual departure from the aesthetic adopted by most brands in the category. It was also intended to be as carbon neutral as possible; flax is lightweight, not water-intensive to farm, and soluble too.
“For us, this bottle is one of tomorrow’s premium packaging solutions for wine and spirits,” said Thomas Gonon, president of Maison A de Fussigny. “On the consumer side, it is a material to be discovered by its texture, shaking up traditional codes of the bottle and adding a new dimension to the Cognac experience.”
Jason Mamoa’s new brand, Meili Vodka is also looking for the human touch to convey both luxury and greener cues. The bottle is deliberately textured, contains bubbles and flaws, and is tactile; it claims to be the first 100% recycled glass bottle on the market.
There are signs the human-touch is now being taken up more broadly. With its individually wax-dipped bottles, Maker’s Mark has always emphasised its ‘handmade Kentucky straight bourbon’ tagline. But it’s interesting that it has leaned into the handmade qualities even more on its new premium launch.
Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged Bourbon claims to be “aged to taste, not time” and is its first release over ten years, combining 11- and 12-year-old liquids. As well as the wax dip, it features rippled, dimpled glass, a hand-embossed label and the whisky maker’s signature.
Made, not manufactured
In our technology-driven world, consumers are looking increasingly for luxury goods that are made, not manufactured. Where once industrialised processes gave us goods that we valued for their consistency, preciseness and uniformity, in a world where craftsmanship is dying and perhaps time is the greatest commodity, the imperfections and inconsistencies of handmade products are becoming ever more covetable.
In a sort of arts and crafts movement renaissance, brands and consumers in the luxury space are increasingly rejecting machines and yearning for the flaws only a pair of human hands can render. And is it any surprise? It’s a turning tide against, for example, the vast sums paid out for a plethora of NFTs in recent years – artworks that don’t actually exist, and that purchasers don’t actually own in any physical way. In an age where AI robots are doing both the designing and the manufacturing, is it a surprise that flaws, and signs products were made by hand, are growing in appeal?
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