In a world dominated by the 'must haves', alcoholic drinks now inhabit today's trend-setters lifestyle, with style being the operative word... and style usually wears a glass coat. Coley Porter Bell's creative director Martin Grimer sips his way through this key market

There was a time when consumers knew where they stood with premium drinks brands. They’ve been around for years and were the one’s that cost the most. Their luxury status was simply and directly linked to the price tag. Packaging was important but only because it served to make the brand recognisable – visual shorthand for the inflated price point.

Things have changed since those days. The concept of luxury has been stretched so far as to become almost meaningless. A hint of metallic sparkle and a swirly font seem to be the only ingredients required to create a luxury brand today.

But while this phenomenon is widespread, it is by no means uniform. From the midst of the manipulated luxury façade has emerged a breed of premium drinks brand that plays by different rules.

These brands define luxury in terms of the consumer’s level of desire for them, not in terms of value – and people want them badly. Of course they taste good. That goes without saying but their appeal extends far beyond the taste bud.

They have transcended the alcoholic drinks category to inhabit the realm of lifestyle, with style being the operative word.

Magazines like Wallpaper and Living, bibles for the style-conscious that celebrate life’s ‘must-haves’, have embraced these brands with open arms. They love them not simply for the way they taste but for the fact that they look great in the new Smeg fridge, next to the latest Aga.

So why are they in these magazines and how did they get there?

Bombay Sapphire was perhaps the first drinks brand to come to the attention of the style-hungry Wallpaper demographic. The famous blue glass bottle is now ingrained in the public consciousness. At the time, the use of blue glass was revolutionary, running contrary to the established rules of the white spirit category.

The bottle was quickly recognised as a stunning piece of design and beautiful design meant great shelf impact and increased sales. This was one of the first instances of a brand whose packaging was as important as the product it contains – the perfect balance of style and substance.

Having recognised the blue glass bottle as the brand’s winning equity, extending the association with the world of design was a natural progression. An advertising campaign in which world famous designers designed Martini glasses, was followed by the establishment of the Bombay Sapphire Foundation and The Blue Room exhibition to celebrate the world’s best contemporary glass design.

Just as Bombay Sapphire’s use of glass sealed its marriage with the design world, Absolut vodka’s iconic bottle aligns it perfectly with contemporary art. Andy Warhol’s painting of the bottle became the first Absolut Art advert, and his lead has been followed by a string of artists from Damian Hirst to Keith Haring.

The key to Absolut’s packaging success is, conversely, its economy of packaging. An ultra minimalist approach, with all typography and imagery printed directly onto the glass has seen the bottle itself become the star of the show.

The bottle has become the brand’s own canvas on which artists from all disciplines can project their personality, reflected in turn to the ‘opinion-forming’ consumer. Regardless of the artist’s treatment, the iconic bottle shape, like the blue glass of Bombay Sapphire, remains constant.

Packaging design for white spirits has always enjoyed the creativity offered by a young, fashionable target market. Premium whisky brands are a rather different matter. Luxury within this category is indelibly linked with heritage and tradition and the resulting pack design has done little to embrace the 20 something trendsetter.

This was exactly the brief set by Chivas Revolve Coley Porter Bell – to dispel the ‘old boy’ image and challenge the perceptions of the whisky experience. The extraordinary Revolve bottle is hand-blown with a rounded base so that it spins on its axis.

Using the movement of the bottle as a basis, the bottle was stripped right down to simple interweaving concentric lines in silver and copper on the shoulder of the bottle. As the bottle spins the lines accentuate the unique structural design and mimic the swirling of whisky inside and in the drinker’s glass.

The bottle becomes the mesmerising star of its own show – the lead role in a piece of intriguing brand theatre. The subtle addition of the lines effectively transforms the bottle from interesting packaging to something akin to domestic sculpture, worthy of any coffee table or mantlepiece.

Coley Porter Bell’s work on the bottle was a subtle and innovative touch, but the redesign of the Chivas box was totally radical. All traditional whisky language was rejected in favour of stylish and contemporary design that is minimal without being stark.

The creative team took inspiration from the colours and visual language of perfume packaging to produce a design that oozes super-premium desirability. Graphic lines on the box suggest the silhouette of the bottle, highlighting the iconic shape in the same manner as Absolut advertising.

Chivas Revolve broke the mould of whisky packaging. A million miles from the ‘weather and heather’ of whisky packaging, the bottle and box embody the notion of the ‘must-have’ alcoholic drinks brand.