30 July 2014 12:23

The Art of the Wine Label - by Roman Payne

PARIS - Today's wine labels marketed in the U.S. are very different from the labels marketed here in France. The people of France who comment on world culture often say — and for very good reason — that France is ten years behind America in cultural trends (musical and commercial trends especially). I often overhear a French man or woman say that something that becomes popular in America will become extremely popular here in France in ten years time. I have seen this phenomenon to be the case myself, and it may prove true for wine design as well. While the wine labels in France only seldom venture into the casualness of American design trends, we are nevertheless aware of the new trend in America. The trend pays homage to casualness in a way that ranges from the very clever, to the very obscene. In an effort to first speak of the positive values of people, I will first talk about the cleverness of American design.

There is great ingenuity, and even occasional genius, to be found in today's wine design in America. The genius, however, is only found in the techniques and the level of mastery; for current design trends in America are certainly not beginning any new or revolutionary art movements. Rather, there is an oldness, a nostalgia for the past, displayed in contemporary design. What is popular now is everything in that is 'retro.' Current designers love to visit the past through designs featuring everything from wrinkled schoolbook notepaper, to images revisiting the look of old fashioned Polaroid pictures reminiscent of the 1970s. Although Polaroid stopped making their famous cameras a few years ago, these historical objects are experiencing an enormous resurgence in popularity; and those who cannot find a second-hand Polaroid or lookalike camera today can still simulate the style of their photos using Photoshop or Instagram.

I have observed five other noticeable trends in today's American wine design. Like retro photography techniques and wrinkled paper, none of them offer anything new or revolutionary in style. The modern trends are:

  1. Other Retro Styles: Along with wrinkled paper and faded photographs, other elements of the past are entering into wine design. Among them are 1970s Scandinavian design and American style artefacts from the 1920s-40s.
  2. Simplicity of Typography: This is the most common of current trends in American wine design. Not only is the typography simplified, but so are the logos and any messages included on the bottles. This technique is sometimes made more complex (and more costly) through the embossing or etching of the logo. Although the goal of this technique is 'simplicity,' it is one of the most difficult styles for label artists to master. It follows the old design maxim: "You need to first know how to follow the rules in order to break them."
  3. Complexity of packaging: This is not retro, thus it is a new technique. But it is not revolutionary. The style should be credited to the modern design technique of luxury perfumes. These wine package designs cost more than a simple printing of a label, thus for this reason, there is the suggestion that this technique is 'gimmicky'—although as a marketing technique, it is quite effective as long as the cost of the wine doesn't hint that the packaging is making it over-priced. The complexity of packaging can range from very costly, to very retro (thus very inexpensive to produce—usually) encasements for the bottles. Sometimes the packaging is more ingenious, using novelties, such as nets of golden threads, to envelope the wine bottle.
  4. Use of Found Objects: Also a 'retro' technique (thus, introducing nothing new), the style uses scraps of what many would consider garbage: everything from old, faded train or subway tickets, altered in their message to advertise the wine, to medical documents that give a doctor's prescription for the wine suggesting that it is vital to the health of the consumer to purchase the bottle.
  5. Use of Humour — often tasteless humour, or on the edge of being so. This, according to many, including myself, is the most annoying of current trends. I myself believe it shows a disrespect for the ancient art of wine making. Sometimes this 'humour' involves the use of swear words, other times it displays a message that brags about the wine's potency, and ability to render people light-headed or euphoric, other times it involves labels that are either self-deprecating, stating that the wine is of very poor quality (when it's probably just mediocre). Other times it involves labels that are simply silly... for example, disguising the wine with the suggestion that it's actually a bottle filled with potato chips!


My guess is it won't take ten years for these trends to reach Paris, although I know they won't influence the rest of France, which remains very traditional where wine is concerned. Yet although Paris still remains 'classical' in style for a large percentage of the population, the trend of the casual lifestyle, as well as a less serious perspective towards life, is gradually but effectively taking its hold on the French capital.

In summary of the wine label trends internationally: I feel that the major pity from an artist's point of view is that 'there is nothing new under the sun.' This period in our history will, unfortunately, not be remembered for having witnessed a new artistic movement. Unless, that is, a label designer of some unusual genius comes to emerge from the masses.

NOTE: If you would like the author of this article to help you with the creation of a wine label, please visit: www.customlabeldesigner.com.

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