The best examples of art in packaging

The best examples of art in packaging

Sarah Cantavalle Published on 4/29/2024

Art in packaging: from containers to collector’s items

Ever since supermarkets and mass consumption first appeared on the scene, packaging has had a dual role: it must contain and protect the product, but also promote it and show off the brand’s values, with the aim of grabbing shoppers’ attention and convincing them to put it in their trolley.

Ever since the 1930s, when pioneering artists Fortunato Depero and Marcello Dudovich went into partnership with various global brands, creatives all over the world have played their part in turning simple containers into genuine icons that ensured brands’ fame and fixed them in consumers’ minds. In certain cases, as we’ll see, packaging also became an integral part of their work, creating an interesting dialogue between the worlds of art and advertising.

In recent years, ever-closer collaboration between brands and creative individuals has created some original and surprising artistic packaging. These small works of art – popular with collectors – contain visual storytelling that makes the product stand out and surpasses traditional marketing techniques in its ability to forge a deep connection with the public.

We’ll explore this fascinating world in this article, starting by reviewing some creations from the history of packaging before turning to some modern examples. We’ll discover how artists’ creativity is not only a way to increase sales, but also powerful tool to refresh a business’s image, relaunch or reposition a product or communicate precise messages and stances to the public.

Legendary examples of art in packaging

In the 1920s, the Italian futurist artist Fortunato Depero began designing various posters to advertise various brands, including Campari, Sanpellegrino and Strega Alberti. The graphical composition of Depero’s posters marked a definitive abandonment of the abundant decoration of art nouveau and a move to a more modern style, based on simple forms and the power of typefaces.

His innovative style revolutionised the language of advertising, and encouraged Davide Campari to commission him to design the bottle for the single-portion aperitif he was planning to launch, the Campari Soda. The resulting packaging is an icon that is still unchanged to this day: the glass recalls orange peel (one of the product’s flavours) and improves your grip on the bottle, the characteristic truncated cone shape recalls an upside-down glass of the spirit, and the branding is imprinted directly on the glass, with no label, to highlight the drink’s intense colour.

The Campari Soda bottle, designed by Fortunato Depero. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

In the 1960s, one man in particular made packaging design and art inseparable: Andy Warhol. The New York-based artist painted the packaging of numerous products, from Kellogg’s cereal to Coca-Cola bottles, as a commentary on the impact packaging was having on Western culture. In 1962 he created a series of 32 screen prints depicting the full range of Campbell’s soups. Then in 1964 he went even further, organising the production of a series of wooden boxes identical to packs of Brillo detergent but with his own personalised graphics, and used them to make 3D art installations.

The series of screen prints dedicated to Campbell’s soup created by Andy Warhol.

Andy Warhol’s use of commercial products as artistic subjects helped to turn certain consumer goods into symbols of both mass consumerism and Pop Art itself, strengthening the connection between the worlds of packaging design and art. In 2012, Campbell’s decided to pay tribute to the artist’s contribution by producing a series of limited-edition cans inspired by his works.

The limited edition Campbell’s soup cans dedicated to Andy Warhol.

In recent years, many businesses have decided to produce limited-edition artistic packaging to stand out from their competitors, refresh their brand image and reach a larger audience. Let’s take a look at some examples.

Art and packaging in the modern era

Absolut Vodka is famous for its original and irreverent communication style and its creative an unconventional advertising campaigns, and the design of its limited-edition bottle has always had a central role to play. Over the last 20 years, the company has asked countless famous artists to design its bottles, including Andy Warhol, Romero Britto, Damien Hirst and Keith Haring.

The bottle created in 2003 by Brazilian painter Romero Britto.
The limited-edition bottle designed by surrealist artist Ron English.

The brand embarked on this long series of partnerships to cement its place on the market, based on a product with a unique flavour and design and a whimsical and charismatic personality.

The limited-edition bottle created by cartoonist Jamie Hewlett, the man behind the cartoon band Gorillaz.

The pasta brand Barilla has also produced various limited-edition boxes created by famous artists: in the example below, five Italian illustrators drew the principles of the Durable Wheat Manifesto, a document that describes the business’s commitment to producing high-quality pasta and creating a supply chain that protects the local region and the communities that live there.

Limited-edition boxes of Barilla Pastor designed by various famous illustrators.

For the 2018 Pasta World Championship, Barilla hired the illustrator Olimpia Zagnoli to customise several limited-edition spaghetti boxes. The designs depict a range of couples sharing a plate of pasta, in support of gender equality and fluidity. Barilla exemplifies how pairing creativity and packaging design can provide a visual way for a brand to express the ideas and values it believes in.

Pasta boxes illustrated by Olimpia Zagnoli.

Illycaffè has made creating special versions of its packaging one of its top marketing ploys. The coffee brand, which is recognised globally for the superior quality of its blends, has become famous for its cylindrical tin, which keeps the product fresh even after it has been opened. The packaging has been restyled various times over the years, becoming a ‘canvas’ for many artists to show off their creativity, and this has helped to cement the product’s status as a symbol of Italian quality and beauty.

Tins designed for Illycaffè by Gillo Dorfles, Liu Wei and Sebastiao Salgado.

This strategy ensured the brand stood out from its competitors while also providing visibility for a range of local artists in the countries where the product is sold, in accordance with its support for cultural initiatives set out in its code of ethics.

Finally, let’s leave the world of food and drink and take a look at a truly original example of artistic packaging, created in 2017 by Paris-based designer Olympia Le-Tan for a limited-edition range of Lancôme cosmetics. The design harks back to 1950s packaging and is clearly influenced by the fashion designer’s retro style. The make-up packaging has a playful, feminine touch, with lipstick in the shape of lips, bows imprinted on eyeshadow pods and surreal and poetic graphics, a typical stylistic feature of the French beauty brand.

The Olympia’s Wonderland collection by Paris-based designer Olympia Le-Tan.

Collaboration between businesses and artists all over the world has given rise to some incredible creations, turning packaging into true collector’s items that capture people’s imagination and  provide a unique and original way to tell brands’ stories.