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When it came to designing the packaging for his debut fragrance, Christian Louboutin admits that Thomas Heatherwick was not at the top of his list. ‘I have to be very honest, the first person I thought of was Oscar Niemeyer,’ confesses Louboutin. ‘I had always admired his work but at that point he was 102 years old. So the second person was Thomas. His work fascinates me.’
The brief was simple: to create a striking and unique set of architectural vessels for the three fragrances that they encase ('Tornade Blonde', a fresh red rose fragrance with notes of violet and cassis by Olivier Cresp; 'Bikini Questa Sera', a warm tuberose and jasmine scent, and 'Trouble in Heaven', a heady mix of iris, patchouli and tonka absolute, both by Pierre Negrin) are the latest additions of Louboutin’s forays into the beauty market, which began in 2014 with a line of nail polishes.
‘I could never understand why beauty packaging was so ugly,’ laments Louboutin. ‘For me, every corner of the object has to be taken in to consideration.’ While his polishes are packaged in angular bottles with towering stiletto-inspired bottle tops, his lipsticks are encased in gold bullet-shaped vials – both of which were designed in-house. For Louboutin, the collaboration with Heatherwick is his first with an outside designer, and for Heatherwick, better known for his ambitious architectural creations, it marks his first ever beauty packaging design.
‘Christian described the architectural way that he’d been thinking about nail varnish and the lipstick packaging and how he thought of all of these bottles like a city,’ recalls Heatherwick of the pair’s first meeting. ’During our first discussions we were like children; it was like a game of table tennis in the way we were throwing ideas around. Christian was very open and generous to me and allowed me to play with the idea of fragrance and how it could be translated into an object.’
The discussions marked the start of a two-year-long design process (a year longer than originally anticipated) that saw the duo explore a myriad of different design possibilities. ‘Normally we would hide all of our reject ideas from the client, but with Christian it felt like we were on a team together.’
‘It’s been very important to me to work with someone who not only designs in a great way but who is able to make things with their own hands,’ says Louboutin of Heatherwick, who famously made all of his studio’s early projects himself including a pavilion held together with velcro for his degree project at Manchester Polytechnic. ‘Sometimes with buildings you can lose that tactility,’ adds Heatherwick, ‘and that was the lovely thing about a project of this scale.’
After what Heatherwick describes as a ‘natural selection’ process, they eventually arrived at a rectangular ombre glass bottle design with a split in its centre. Blown into a mould, the glass appears to turn itself inside out to create a sensuous form that fits snugly into the hand.
‘It [the form] was actually inspired by a type of pastry (a Yum Yum) that I used to have as a child – a simple idea that was actually very technically demanding,’ says Heatherwick, who worked with the ‘best bottle manufacturer in the world’ to achieve the perfect result. ’Glass is an extraordinary material that we’ve worked with extensively. This project was about trying to distill everything we’ve learnt about it into one small but exquisite object.’