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The Message of the Bottle

By William L. Hamilton Published: August 22, 2004 LIQUOR has had all the help in the world to make the kind of fashion breakthrough that most products only dream of. From the cosmopolitan cocktails running story line in Sex and the City to the ubiquity of brand-label bottle placements in music videos, liquor is coming of age as an issue of style. But you still dont buy it the way you would drop into Scoop for a skinny little T or drop some cash on a few ounces of the Marc Jacobs fragrance. You dont walk the purchase around all day in an oversize shopping bag. You go to a liquor store, which looks more like the Department of Motor Vehicles than a boutique, and you choose a bottle. There are rows of them, and they look like refill supplies for a stylish product you bought someplace else. They all look like liquor bottles, said Fabien Baron, a designer. Mr. Baron, who has designed fragrance bottles for Calvin Klein (CK One; Contradiction; Truth), Issey Miyake (LEau dIssey) and Jil Sander (Pure) has now designed a liquor bottle, his first. With its flat rectangular profile, palomino brown and silver labeling and a shoelace choker around its neck (think of Vincent Gallo, meeting Brigitte Bardot in Viva Mara), Corzo, a premium tequila, could be 750 milliliters of eau de parfum. Bacardi USA, which is introducing Corzo in September, asked Mr. Baron to create the bottle and box packaging what the industry likes to call a brands communication. Though liquor companies work closely with industrial designers on signature bottle designs, including the occasional celebrity like Frank Gehry, the architect, who designed a bottle for Wyborowa, a vodka introduced in April by Pernod-Ricard, Bacardi wanted a direct identification with fashion. Mr. Baron, initially a graphic designer, is best known for redesigning Harpers Bazaar in the 1990s. He also designed Madonnas Sex book. His tequila bottle is produced in France by SaintGobain Desjonqures, which makes fragrance and pharmaceutical bottles. The liquor industry is just starting to get into using the kind of package design that the fragrance and cosmetics industry has known about for years, said Irma Zandl, a New Yorkbased marketing trend analyst and consultant to Bacardi, who suggested Mr. Baron to the company. As far as its being an `image category, people will buy based on what the package

looks like. When youre buying Gucci or CK, the look makes you feel its a good product. Mr. Baron himself is not short on communication. Cocktail drinkers want things that reflect what theyre about, he said last week, speaking by telephone from Bridgehampton, N.Y. Theyre people who are buying their personalities. And liquor bottles dont reflect whats going on in other fields, like music or fragrance or fashion. (Mr. Baron, who described himself as drab, and too busy to attend to the fashionability of his purchases, was wearing a Lacoste shirt and Nikes, he said. He drives a Range Rover and a Mercedes-Benz. He has bought his dress shirts at Charvet in Paris for the last 15 years.) A fragrances packaging can be the most important element of an introduction; some would say as important, if not more so, than the smell. Mr. Baron, no stranger to these affairs, said that the whole process of bringing a new fragrance to market has a base price of at least $30 million, if you do it right, he added. Gonzalo De La Pezuela, the vice president and group marketing director at Bacardi USA, and Corzos godfather, said that the quality of the liquor in the bottle was the brands most important element, as is traditional in the industry. The packaging will only get you the first purchase, he said. A Corzo Silver will retail for $45, and a Reposado, which is

The packaging will only get you the first purchase, he said. A Corzo Silver will retail for $45, and a Reposado, which is aged, for $49, prices comparable to those of existing tequilas but higher than those of premium vodkas like Grey Goose, typically less than $30, which the label-conscious now drink. Mr. De La Pezuela acknowledged that there was a stiff amount of marketing in the brands mix. Corzo cost more than $1 million to develop, half of which was billings from Baron & Baron, Mr. Barons design agency. Mr. Barons fee was five times greater than that of designers Bacardi has worked with in the past, Mr. De La Pezuela explained. No tequila was taking advantage of modern Mexican positioning, he said. Most brands are talking about heritage, or someones grandfather passing the recipe down. Mr. Baron showed Bacardi photographs of haciendas designed by Luis Barragn, the Mexican modernist architect, as well as geometric Mayan motifs. With vodka and rum, tequila is one of the top three fastest-growing sales categories in the premium liquor business. Seven and a half million 12-bottle cases were consumed last year in the United States. Mr. De La Pezuela, having worked with Mr. Baron on the fragrancelike Corzo, appears now to be concentrating on a next level of market penetration for the liquor industry: a lifestyle brand, like Apples iPod, that would succeed almost purely on the strength of its image. What would make you buy an MP3 thats black and gray, when theres that sleek white design, he said with admiration. Maybe hip flasks are on their way too.