John Mathers On Grossmith

This article appeared in Creativ Verpacken, winter 2009

In early 2009, we were approached with a rather unusual brief: to simultaneously design a brand new product and redesign an old one.

The client was Grossmith – a perfume brand that had been founded in 1835 and enjoyed almost two centuries of success, but that had closed down in the mid 1980s. Grossmith had very recently been brought back into family ownership by Simon Brooke, great-great grandson of founder John Grossmith, who discovered his links to the company when researching his family tree.

To begin with, we knew that we had three fragrances to launch. These were called Hasu-no-Hana, Phul-Nana and Shem-el-Nessim. The materials we had for inspiration were an original bottle mould for a Baccarat crystal bottle, used in the Grossmith range around 1919 and something that we really wanted to try to use; as well as old photographs, advertising  and bottles from the Grossmith archive.

We knew that the look of these items had to run through all our designs, but that we also had to create something entirely new. We knew we wanted to create a historic brand, but also one that was clean and modern, inspired by some of today’s greatest perfume success stories – Chanel, Jo Malone, Diptyque – where attention to detail is key.

The decision was taken to create two ranges: the three launch fragrances available in Baccarat crystal bottles, and the same scents in a range of beautiful, and less expensive, glass bottles.

The original look of the Baccarat bottles was where the project began – they were where the design process started, and the item upon which we based the brand identity for both ranges.

Grossmith was traditionally a very fragrant and opulent brand, with the bright colours on its historic packaging referencing both the fragrances’ names and the Far and Middle East, where many of the ingredients used in the scents came from.

One of the first decisions made was to make those elements much more subtle, as this would enable Grossmith to establish a brand look and feel with this first launch, and to more easily develop other products in a similar style in the future.

We established a colour palette early on, using predominantly gold, regal blue and white – more subtle than the bright multicoloured labels of the Victorian and Edwardian originals.

These colours were chosen because they give a classic feel, yet were more muted than those used historically, allowing them to reflect the opulence of the scents while giving flexibility for future product launches.

The Baccarat range that resulted made slight modifications to the original moulds, and replaced the labels that had once covered the front with a fine gold printed pattern. This pattern was replicated on the presentation box lining too - a reusable piece of identifiable brand design that could be taken into future products.

Logos and type were inspired by writing found on old fragrance cards and helped us to keep the ‘art deco’ feel of the old bottles.

The glass bottles were designed to look luxurious and to reference the crystal bottles, but not to look too similar, as the price points for each range would be very different.

The resulting bottle was ‘reeded’, creating a vintage, handcrafted look, while its oval footprint follows the shape of the original Grossmith ‘standard’ bottle.

Other aspects of the design are inspired by the Baccarat crystal bottles: each bottle has a square label with chamfered corners (technically an octagon), based on the footprint of the Baccarat bottles. The finger cap on the bottle lid also references this shape, as do the display cartons and even the blotters onto which the perfume is sprayed for customers to try in store.

The resulting designs have been incredibly successful, gaining listings in Harrods, Fortnum & Mason, Les Senteurs and many other perfumeries throughout Great Britain, with distribution now extending across Europe and into the Middle East.