EnsaimadArt is one of those rare and heart-warming things - a small-scale charitable initiative that has ended up becoming a global phenomenon, attracting the participation of international stars of design, illustration, photography and cuisine such as Wim Crouwel, Vince Frost, Paul Sahre, Javier Mariscal, and three-star Michelin chef Carme Ruscalleda.
The project, first hit upon by Spanish designers Astrid Stavro and Pablo Martín in January of this year, has brought together a who's who of the visual arts to design a sticker to be placed on boxes containing ensaimadas - a Majorcan sweet pastry.
The ensaimada isn't just any old pastry mind you. It may appear to be little more than an oversized croissant, but the spiral-shaped delicacy is a national institution in Majorca, shared among local families every Sunday and eulogised by Picasso and Miró. 'Around six or seven million people visit the island every year and a huge number of them will take home ensaimadas,' explains Martín. 'To Majorcans they have the same cultural significance as the hamburger in the US.'
Stavro and Martín, who together run Majorcan-based publishing house Infolio, moved to the Balearic island three years ago and were impressed by the beautiful vernacular design of the pastry's traditional octagonal boxes. 'We hunted around all the bakeries on the island looking for good examples to put in a book,' says Stavro, 'but sadly the really good ones were all from the past. We started thinking, "This needs a revamp."'
At the beginning of this year the designers were working for Majorcan charity Amadip.esment when they suggested the EnsaimadArt concept as a means of celebrating the foundation's 50th birthday and raising funds: all profits from the sale of the limited edition boxes will contribute to programmes aimed at improving the quality of life of people with intellectual disabilities.
The call was sent out to a carefully selected roster of international names to create a design that would 'make people smile', accompanied by a pithy brief posing questions about the relevance of design in society. Something about the unabashed idealism of the project struck a chord - and the entries started flooding in.
'Not only did almost everyone come back with an emphatic "Yes",' says Stavro, 'but we couldn't believe the speed of the turnaround. Even a design legend like Wim Crouwel sent his back within a week.'
At this stage the project took on a viral element, with word spreading throughout the design community - to the point where leading exponents of the craft were submitting unsolicited entries simply because they loved the idea.
By the time the closing date rolled by, Stavro and Martín had collected 176 wildly eclectic designs from all over the globe. Many of the designers and illustrators on the list are names Wallpaper* has worked with in the past, such as Alex Trochut, A Practice For Everyday Life (APFEL), Hort, Henrik Kubel and Lucienne Roberts.
'The appeal of this project was its breadth coupled with its simplicity,' says Roberts of her decision to take part. 'The brief asked "can a sticker have a positive effect on society?" This chimed with me instantly. On the one hand graphic design is usually ephemeral, and therefore presumed to be inconsequential, and yet it is seen and used by almost everyone.'
Roberts drew inspiration from the spiral shape of the pastry and the octagonal box, which, she says, 'seemed to lend themselves to some kind of visually abstract but flamboyant solution in support of the celebratory message of opportunities for all'.
For Stavro, it's the 'solidarity' element of the project that has engaged people. 'It's fun,' she says, 'but it will also help to improve the lives of others. In the middle of a tough recession it's nice to do something that isn't simply about making money.'
Fittingly, given the number of ensaimadas bought as souvenirs by visitors to the island, the project (and its accompanying catalogue) will be launched at Palma de Majorca airport on 13 December, with luggage belts displaying the limited edition ensaimada boxes.
After the launch the boxes will be continue to be sold at Palma de Majorca airport but they, and the catalogue, can also be purchased, via the Amadip.esment's website.
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