London celebrates design & ideology with new biennale

London is in the midst of quite a creative moment. The Design Museum is soon to open in the £83m conversion of the former Commonwealth Institute in Kensington, and the V&A has announced plans for a second museum of visual culture in east London’s Olympicopolis at the south end of the Olympic Park where there will also be a Sadler’s Wells and Washington DC’s Smithsonian outposts.

But before all this kicks off, the city will experience its first Design Biennale which will join forces with the annual London Design Festival. Alongside the festival, the biennale will aim to unite a global community of designers, artists, architects, as well as design historians and theorists for a celebration of visual culture.

John Sorrell, co-founder of the festival and biennale says, ‘If you believe in design you know it can make the world a better place, and I say the more international design dialogue the better.’

But do we really need two design festivals at the same time? The two, we are told, will function on very different levels and complement one another. Whereas the festival is about showcasing new works of design and site-specific installation work, the biennale will be more about creative thinking, speculative design, theory, ideology.

‘The unique combination of these two events will offer a world wide window on design,’ says Sorrel.

Working under the title Utopia by Design – a nod to the 500th anniversary of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia, and looking at London both as platform and subject – the biennale will focus on talks, education and conversations thus giving substance to the work on display. The biennale will work on pushing ideas rather than objects. This is an intriguing proposition that could be a template for other global festivals as such.

Should be exciting to see.

Read our highlights from LDF 2015 here

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Arik Levy and Baccarat design the Hennessy 8 bottle

This striking design is by Arik Levy for the Hennessy 8. The Paris-based multi-disciplinary artist collaborated with crystal specialist Baccarat for this limited-edition bottle and case. The design evokes the spirit of the cognac maker, its rich history and is a nod to the future.

Together with the Fillioux clans, Hennessy has, for more than 200 years, created some of the finest cognacs in the world. The former founded the maison in 1765, whilst the latter has been its master blenders since the early 1800s. Yann Fillioux is the seventh generation master blender who after 50 years in the business has handed the keys to the cellar to his nephew Renaud. Hennessy 8 is a commemorative blend to mark this momentous occasion.

‘Creation is an uncontrolled muscle,’ says Levy. ‘The world is about people, not objects,’ advocates the artist, technician, photographer, designer, video artist. For Hennessey 8 Levy’s brief was to envisage the marque some 200 years from now.

The result is a striking examples of bottle design, superbly executed and an expression of the brand going forward. All the materials used are in some way connected with the making of the spirit inside. It features eight crystal rings that loop around the bottle, which are then wrapped in a wooden case made with the oak of Hennessy cooperage, where barrels are carved by hand, replete with a copper inlay referencing the metal tools used in the distilling process.

The artist, cognac expert and crystal specialist worked closely together to design and develop the 60kg carafe, 250 bottles of which will be made only, each priced at €35,000.

Nargess Banks

Read about the latest book I collaborated on – The Life Negroni celebrates the craft distiller and the wonderful world of spirits.

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Martini, endorsing the avant-garde

A new world has opened up to us through a project we’ve been involved with. The Life Negroni is a book about a classic Italian cocktail. It is also the story of so many other elements, including history, people, art, design and branding – the components that have created this drink. And it has been a fascinating journey. But more on the full project later.

In terms of design history, two of the most intriguing companies we have come across on our journey have been Campari and Martini & Rossi. Campari is a Milanese institution – the liquid hijacks the fashionista city’s evening aperitivo ritual, its hot red hue decorating almost every bar in town. Martini’s story is lovingly linked to Piedmont, to the vermouth di Torino, and the more sober industrial Northern Italian city.

Both companies share an incredible passion for championing the avant-garde through some very sophisticated notions of branding. The two worked with very daring artists, including the Italian Futurists, exploring novel ways of promoting their concepts, experimenting with new typeface, and ultimately creating companies that have been able to surpass so many competitors through history.

We have already published the story of Campari. The Martini & Rossi story began roughly around 1863 when three friends took over a vermouth distillery in the small village of Pessione outside of Turin. Salesman Alessandro Martini, accountant Teofilo Sola and vintner Luigi Rossi called their new company Martini, Sola e C.ia, renamed Martini & Rossi following the death of Sola in 1879.

The partners were attracted to Pessione for its great location nestled amongst the Monferrato hills and its wine producers, and the Turin-Asti-Genoa railway for easy access to the port of Genoa and the world’s exotic herbs and spices. So they purchased the farmhouses, vast surrounding fields and vineyards, and an elegant mansion house with spacious cellars that would become the home of Rossi and his family. Thus begun a journey to take the regional product of Vermouth di Torino to a world market.

Their first step was to perfect their product and create a smoother, more sophisticated and consistent vermouth, one that was far superior to their regional competitors.

Success came quickly for this dynamic partnership and the company took the pioneering steps of shipping crates of vermouth across the Atlantic to New York.

With its large Italian migrant population, and growing cocktail scene, sales of vermouth flourished there. Within a year Martini & Rossi became the sole exporters of three quarters of all vermouth sold in the country, and by the end of the century, the company was selling to over seventy countries.

Visiting the house of Martini which is still based in Pessiona, it is clear that the company was a highly controlled operation from the start. Administrative documents, business stationery, packaging, everything was beautifully designed, with a cohesive design language. Innovative advertising by some of the leading avant-garde artists, designers and writers, ensured the Martini myth was carried to the masses.

By the 1930s, such was the strength of the brand that their logo alone communicated a quintessential Italian lifestyle – full of gioia di vivienne. And by the 1960’s Martini had become the epitome of sophisticated Italy. Andy Warhol’s Pop posters alongside glamorous television ads reinforced this position.

There was the Milan Terrazza Martini, frequented by leading luminaries of the day, firmly implanting the brand in consciousness of contemporary society the world over. This year the company has teamed up with design consultant Pininfarina, a company we often write about in its connection with the motoring world, for a pop up Terrazza at Milan Design Week.

Today Martini remains the world’s number one vermouth producer continuing the tradition of working with leading creatives and with famous names from the word of art, design, fashion and film including in recent times Dolce & Gabbana and George Clooney.

Nargess Banks

The book The Life Negroni is published in the autumn 2015. To pre-order a copy email us at

Read The Story of Campari, of branding, advertising and patronage of the arts here.

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100 Ways to Create a Great Ad…

… and a 100 Ideas That Changed the Web

Two new books landed on our doorstep the other day: 100 Ways to Create a Great Ad and 100 Ideas that Changed the Web. As their names suggest, they act as introductions as well as excellent reference books for creatives involved in these areas.

As we all know, a great ad – well in print format anyway – is basically the marriage of clever copywriting with strong visuals. Here author, Tim Collins, himself a copywriter with a career in advertising, identifies a hundred approaches as a way of exploring the creative process. We learn about concepts such as ‘reveal’ or ‘mash-up’ – with each of the 100 spreads dedicated to one of these approaches.

100 Ways celebrates advertising as an art form. Collins breaks down the process of creating an ad into three steps: planning, concept creation and crafting so that the book provides a straightforward guide to concept creation.

In 100 Ideas that Changed the Web, author Jim Boulton, looks at the history of the web from its early roots in the research projects of the US government, to the interactive online world of today.

We learn of the web’s key technologies, such as hypertext and mark-up language, of the social ideas that underlie its networks, such as open source and creative commons, and key moments in its development, mainly broadband and the dotcom crash. The author also touches on social networking and the latest developments such as the cloud and the semantic web.

Boulton is the curator of Digital Archaeology, an event that celebrates the golden age of the website. What he’s created here is an interesting piece of design history that maps out the relatively short, yet profound history of something that has entirely transformed our lives.

100 Ways to Create a Great Ad and 100 Ideas that Changed the Web are published by Laurence King.

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Campari, the art of advertising

Campari is closely linked to Milan. Come aperitivo time, when the bustling city settles to enjoy a drink or two in celebration of the start of the evening, the distinctive bright, red hue decorates almost every bar table in town. Milan is a true aficionada of its local product.

The love affair owes more to just the unique taste of this bitter spirit. It has to do with Davide Campari, the son of Gaspare the liquid’s inventor, and the man who made the company a global brand when he took over at the start of twentieth century. Davide had strong brand vision. He understood the power of design, of advertising, of collaborating with interesting, and at times radical and controversial artists, designers and filmmakers.

We are at the Campari headquarters researching for the book The Life Negroni – Campari being one of the three spirits (and the only one that rarely gets exchanged for a rival bitter) that makes up this archetypal Italian aperitif.

Situated at the very edge of Milan, the brick red façade of the original site is visible from the road. It is a little imposing in this quite suburban setting, certainly striking and a reminder of the architecture of the time it was built in early last century. This is all that remains of the old production site. This and the big, bold graphics spelt out in cast iron that read ‘D. CAMPARI’.

The new headquarters is the work of Swiss architect Mario Botta and the vast concrete construction that greets visitors continues the sense of modernist grandeur. One of the highlights here is Galleria Campari, created four years ago to celebrate the 150 anniversary of the company. It is a visual treat and a wonderful lesson in not only Campari history, but also the development of advertising and branding in the last century.

Gallery director Paolo Cavallo fills us with colourful tales of Davide’s ventures. We watch clips of promotional films made by the likes of Federico Fellini, see actors David Niven and Humphrey Bogart perform memorable campaigns – the latter a parody of Casablanca. The sheer volume of work is exhaustive.

Cavallo explains that ‘Davide was focused on what was happening in the world.’ He had an astute eye for the avant-garde working with Italian artist and chief designer for Olivetti Marcello Nizzoli, poster designer Leonetto Cappiello, illustrator Ugo Mochi, American graphic designer Milton Glaser, best known for the I ? NY logo… to name a few.

Up until the 30s, it was customary for artists to author their own type. Davide, realising growing competition from other spirit companies, stuck with a single logo for immediate brand recognition. In the 60’s Campari took on a new graphic approach, created by Leonardo Stroppa, Guido Crepax and Franz Marangolo. And in 1964 Bruno Munari produced the manifesto Declinazione grafica del nome Campari (Graphic Declination of the name Campari) for the opening of the first subway line of Milan. It caused a sensation.

Davide’s most notable association, though, was with the Italian Futurists, in particular Fortunato Depero, who created some of the most evocative work here. Amongst other strong beliefs, the movement challenged artistic hierarchy by dissolving barriers between fine and commercial art – and so working in advertising was encouraged.

Painter, sculptor, graphic designer and writer, Depero was arguably one of the brighter members of the Italian Futurists. His approach to the movement is documented in Depero Futurista, written in 1927 and sponsored by Davide. The book features a mechanical binding system with two bolts holding the pages together as a reflection of the Machine Age that characterises Futurism in the early 20s. There is a wealth of typographic inventions inside too– the text forms into various shapes, and different papers and colours are utilised throughout.

Depero’s ads for Campari were also experimental. By the 30s adverts had to be digested on the move, from buses, trains and automobiles. People no longer had the time to linger and ponder. Graphic design therefore had to be bold, be clean and the message at once understood. Depero not only opted for striking colours, he employed dynamic block letters, sometimes arranged diagonally. His black-and-white work celebrated the modern world and Manhattan skyscrapers.

Depero designed the mini bottle for Campari soda in early 30s, which remains in production almost to the exact shape, as well as lamps, trays and puppets – all of which are on permanent display here.

Today Campari continues this legacy, championing international designers, the likes of Matteo Thun, Tobias Rehberger and Markus Benesch, to name a few, as well as sponsoring new talent in the Art Label project.

Nargess Banks

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK 

Design Talks is published by Spinach Design

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