Labels on booze and food have become a canvas... I'll drink to that!

The vogue for making use of that bit of papery real estate on a bottle began in 1945

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Some time in the mid-2000s, I remember going into a pub with my parents for dinner and standing at the bar goggle-eyed. There, arrayed before me on those dark-stained wood and brass pumps you get in country pubs, were a series of the most egregiously awful beer pump clips you could possibly imagine: there seemed to be a whole spectrum of moronically conceived, badly executed images, some of which had clearly been done on MS Paint – and this when we were all still in the grip of TV's Changing Rooms! But back then, booze and indeed most food was no great friend of design.

I thought of this last week when the fruits of the collaboration between Iris Van Herpen and Dom Pérignon were released. The Dutch fashion designer has taken the DP 2004 label and drawn a sprawling, crystalline graphic in green all over it, and indeed its box, so looking at it you feel like you have been drawn inside some emerald sparkling in a jeweller's window. It is bloody cool – but it is by no means the first high-art bottle on the shelves.

The vogue for making use of that bit of papery real estate on a bottle began in 1945 at what was, up until then, seen as an unimpeachable bastion of starchiness: the winery at Château Mouton Rothschild. Baron Philippe began the tradition, which predictably annoyed purists – but it came into its own under his daughter Phillipine who, for the price of 10 cases of Mouton, commissioned artists including Miró, Chagall, Picasso, Braque, Francis Bacon, Dalí, Jeff Koons, and the Prince of Wales. Only once did she have to change a label, when Balthus created an image of a nude young woman, which outraged strait-laced Americans. That particular image was pulled. Still though, those labels became the great calling card of a great winemaker.

The heirs to this gluggable artistic patrimony have been many and various. Dom Pérignon has been running its "Power of Creation" artist-winemaker mash-up for four years, having previously worked with Marc Newson, David Lynch and Jeff Koons.

But at the more accessible end of the spectrum, craft-beer makers have really made label design their own – though Beck's also deserves props for its art label – often using local graphic designers to create bottles of arresting beauty: Broken Dream Breakfast Stout with its almost hallucinogenic visuals and the Wild Beer Company's Ninkasi, which features a high-design stag's head, are as pleasant on the eyes as they are on the tongue.

You might say, "What affectation! What difference does it make to the taste?" And to you I say, go eat your steak tartar in McDonald's and then come and talk to me. Today, as never before, the label on your booze and food has become a canvas, a way to draw you to the product, and if along the way we get a little edification or just a little amusement, then who can complain about that?

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