Walk into virtually any city centre newsagent and you will be confronted by stacks of independent, small-run magazines all making the most of their physical nature. Thick, uncoated paper, foiling, varnishes – these are luxury objects. The titles concerned could reach a far wider audience online, but that’s not the point.
Print, for so long the utilitarian workhorse of mass communication, is becoming a luxury process. As luxury brands & marketing director for paper company Arjowiggins, Christophe Balaresque has seen this shift in the nature of print first-hand. As it moves away from being a mere commodity, print, he says, is becoming something where “the value goes beyond that of putting ink on paper”.
Luxury brands in particular are paying a great deal of attention to their physical forms of brand communication in order to differentiate themselves. “Today, many brands are trying to appear as a luxury brand because we have in mind that luxury businesses are the only ones to give you value for the money you spend,” he says, citing Zara as an example of a brand that has successfully borrowed some of the language of luxury. “I wouldn’t say that Zara is a luxury company but the way it communicates to its customers is pretty close to luxury communication,” he says.
In the face of other, cheaper competitors stealing their clothes, “luxury businesses are saying that they have to pay attention to every little detail where most of their customers are extremely sensitive. Their physical communications have to be extremely targeted and precise.” Luxury bands, he says, use paper and print to communicate on a number of levels. “The first level is paper because everybody can feel if a paper is ‘nice’ – it’s the best way to give you immediately an emotion. Maybe you like something which is glossy, or rough, or dark or whatever. Then, the second level is the design, which is absolutely key because every piece of print is an object first. We appreciate the size, the weight, the number of pages – it is a real object.”
“Then you have binding and finishing and this is really for those who are extremely sensitive to details. Take the example of a very small brochure with a binding of two staples. If the staples are just silver, OK, it’s just two staples. But, imagine if they are the same colour as the dominant colour of the book. Immediately, those with a sensitive eye will say ‘Eh! That’s great!'”
For Balaresque, luxury “is attention to detail, originality, exclusivity and above all quality, a quality of life and living. ‘Attention to detail’ because if everything is not 100% under control, it doesn’t work. Imagine if you bought a luxury watch and the strap had a loose thread. It would drive you crazy. ‘Originality’ because it has to be clever or innovative. ‘Exclusivity’ because you want something that is unique for you or for people like you. And ‘quality’ because it pushes everybody toward higher and higher standards.”
Balaresque says that when he works with luxury brands, they always strive for something that is exceptional. “A luxury company will want their colour. We made paper for Louis Vuitton recently and they wanted a colour that was a kind of creamy white. We have more than 50 different shades of white at the mill already but they say ‘Oh no! We cannot choose one of yours. You need to make ours.’ Bon, OK!”
So what kind of papers signify luxury to those brands currently? “The communications code for a luxury business is universal, it’s worldwide,” he says. “If we are talking about paper, definitely what all of them like are natural things, we have to feel the origin of the paper, the touch, nice colours.”
For Arjowiggins that means its Curious Matter range of fine papers. “We launched it two years ago and it was chosen by the big brands immediately – Dior, Louis Vuitton, Kenzo, Baccarat, Chanel.” Why? “It is the touch, when you have this paper in your hand you feel something different – the roughness of the paper is very surprising,” he says.
You might think that such qualities only matter to those in the business – people like the readers of Creative Review. But Balaresque recounts a story that suggests the qualities of great print and paper are beginning to be appreciated by a wider audience. “In the Air France magazine, they are selling in a nice scarf,” he says, “and the way they describe that is ‘presented in a navy blue box with silver hot-stamping, available in three colours that will brighten up any winter outfit’. So the first sentence to explain this scarf is about the packaging and that it’s made with silver hot-stamping! Now if anyone asks me if I think that nice packaging with nice paper will bring value to their product I will show them this text from Air France!”
Elements photoshoot, created using Arjowiggins’ papers: Photographer: Owen Silverwood (owensilverwood.com); Art Director: Gemma Fletcher (gemfletcher.com); Set Design: Owen Gildersleeve (owengildersleeve.com)