Water has long served as a source of inspiration for artists, architects and designers, from the fluid constructions of Zaha Hadid and the dreamy, California blue of David Hockney’s paintings to the liquid couture of Hussein Chalayan’s catwalk creations. Water – specifically the swell and surf of the ocean – also provided inspiration for Paolo Dini when the Italian luxury woollen mill owner founded Paul & Shark in 1976. The company is named after the sail insignia of an 18th-century clipper that caught his eye on a visit to Maine in the US; the words, Dini decided, evoked speed, adventure, and the courage required during a stormy Atlantic crossing. The brand quickly found success with its 1978 ‘C0P918’ pullover. Instantly recognisable from its packaging – based on the metal canisters used on ships as multipurpose containers (see right) – the sailing sweater was the first example of Paul & Shark’s now world-renowned water-repellent knitwear.

Four decades on, the watery inspiration remains but the Paul & Shark brand has now evolved into the very essence of the modern apparel manufacturer, sourcing the best Italian yarns to create luxury collections and accessories for men, women and children. To help celebrate Paul & Shark’s landmark 40th birthday, Wallpaper* devised Project 40, commissioning three design studios to reinterpret the brand’s famous metal tube-and-case packaging. Our project encouraged contributors to experiment with graphic design, to apply new materials and innovations and, of course, to be inspired by water. Central Saint Martins-educated, Shanghai-based Zhoujie Zhang used the silvery ocean as a reference to create a suitcase, applying his fantastical, sci-fi metallurgical signature to the project. ‘Stainless steel is usually difficult to fold but I wanted to use it to mimic the ocean waves,’ he explains. ’I experimented with different ways of bending it until I ended up with an organic pattern.’ Spanish designer Tomás Alonso delivered an environmental message, highlighting the increasing problem of plastic pollution in our seas. ‘The Project 40 boxes will be produced mainly from plastic sheet formed from bottle caps, yogurt containers and cosmetics bottles,’ he says. ‘As a brand historically linked with water, Paul & Shark is in a position to communicate this strong message.’ As for Dylan Davis and Jean Lee of Ladies & Gentlemen Studio, they focused on the iconic cylindrical packaging. ‘We’ve used cylinder forms extensively in our work and wanted to revisit the design so it reflects nature and weather, using weathered brass, bleached wood and concrete sections,’ says Davis. The pair’s clever designs can be turned into lanterns.

The Wallpaper* + Paul & Shark Project 40 will be launched in Milan in 2016. Limited editions of each packaging design will be available in selected Paul & Shark stores.