“Design codes should define a brand, not a product”

Alissa Demorest

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“Design codes should define a brand, not a product”

Alnoor Mitha de Bharat, better known in the industry as Alnoor, has been a creative force in France’s packaging design community for close to 20 years with his agency Objets de Convoitises. Luxe Packaging Insight caught up with Alnoor at his studio, in Paris’ 20th arrondissement, where he shared his vision and his analysis of today's changing fragrance market.

You started out with the aim of becoming an automobile engineer and you now run a design agency specialized in fragrance and cosmetics packaging, retail and interior decoration. What was behind this shift?  

Car design has long been a passion of mine, but things took a different turn when I finished my studies. I began modeling for couture houses, including Jean-Paul Gaultier, which opened me up to the world of fashion and accessories and I also met Christian Louboutin, who had just launched his own shoe brand. So rather than going to work for Peugeot, I began as an assistant at Louboutin and worked on shoes and accessories. At the time I also collaborated with Gaultier, Dior and Hermès, where I was given the opportunity to design a flacon for the brand’s Hermessences fragrance collection. That marked my entry into the world of perfume and the springboard for my career. In 2003 I decided to found my own design agency.

I also launched a second activity under my own name, designing items including tableware for brands like Havilland, tapestries and furniture, notably as one of Roche Bobois’ stable of designers. My activity is divided into two separate businesses: Alnoor Design and Objets de Convoitises, an agency devoted to packaging design.

What sets Objets de Convoitises apart from other agencies?

I’d say technical expertise is one of our strong suits. Given that I’ve managed a lot of production during my career, I know how to produce everything that I design. Another differentiating factor is the fact that I've worked extensively with fashion houses through the years, so collaborating with fashion brands on their fragrance projects is almost second nature, especially when it comes to respecting and communicating the fashion designer’s trademark style.

So brand heritage is primordial in your work?

Brand heritage is something I’m passionate about, so there will always be at least a hint of that story in my work. Every object that I design, including fragrance bottles, has its roots in a story and the brand's codes that are in the collective unconscious. I don’t believe in aesthetics for aesthetics’ sake; brand history should be inherent in every design. Companies often want to take a new creative direction, and embark on new territory design-wise, but they can forget themselves, especially when it comes to fragrance. A fragrance isn’t an accessory or a piece of clothing, but it needs to evoke that world. Jimmy Choo’s makeup line (Interparfums), for example is centered on its shoemaker heritage, so I based the line around the shape of a heel. On Caron’s new fragrance bottle - a collaboration with Olivia de Rothschild - we focused on the circle (inspired by the O in Caron) and Art Deco codes, including a very specific shade of burgundy and champagne for the retail design that was historic to the maison. Boucheron’s triple gadroon design is another example. Design codes shouldn’t define a product, but a brand!

Brands are increasingly delving into their histories for storytelling purposes.

Yes, and this also means that brands ask me for concepts with a 360° approach: from the name of the product to its texture, color, materials to the merchandising, the pack and even the retail environment. That’s how I worked with Caron and with The Harmonist.

What are you currently working on?

In terms of packaging design, we've designed a new men's fragrance for Boucheron and we’re also working extensively with Cartier on window dressings. The revamp of historic brand Marina de Bourbon, including brand identity, products, naming, research on materials, has been an ongoing project for the last few years. Although it is a French brand, it is still little known here, while it has significantly more visibility in other markets.

How do you see the state of today’s fragrance market, especially in light of the health crisis?

As a result of the pandemic, the market has become extremely complicated. Fragrance is a product that the consumer needs to be 'close' to not just because of the scent, but also through touch, which is where packaging comes in. The experience of buying a perfume is intimately linked to the retail environment; if you take that away, you are removing some of the imaginary portion of the experience. Sending a sample by mail can’t replace that, so I don’t believe that fragrance is truly adapted to e-commerce. That said, brands’ marketing teams are exploring a number of digital solutions to widen the potential of olfactory discovery, but these won’t replace the emotional choice that dictates how the consumer chooses a fragrance.

On the other side of the spectrum, in the physical realm, we’re seeing a return to a kind of “old-fashioned” perfumery, when the consumer visited a boutique for a bespoke fragrance, at Guerlain’s boutique during the era of Napoleon III, for example. There is a distinction in the marketplace: on one hand the millennials with their spontaneity, their focus on the present and close link to fashion trends, and on the other hand brands who take a perennial approach and offer formulas with rare or highly sought-after ingredients and that are far removed from today's trends.

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