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Creative Endeavours: Compass Box

Features

18.01.2021

From original whisky names to avant-garde designs, we consider Compass Box's creative role in reinventing the blended whisky category..

Compass Box Circus Label Creative Design

From original whisky names to avant-garde designs, we consider Compass Box's creative role in reinventing the blended whisky category..

From original whisky names to avant-garde designs, we consider Compass Box's creative role in reinventing the blended whisky category..

When does a whisky label become art? 

As Compass Box set out on their mission in 2000 to reinvent the blended scotch category, they inspired a wave of collectors - new and old – that held not only an appetite for the blending process but also an appreciation for aesthetics and creativity.  

One of the first things you might observe about Compass Box isn’t the story of an American making great Scotch or the novelty of liquid transparency, but its visual identity. The bottle structure, label illustration, colour palette and even the names of their whiskies showcase the company’s tireless and innovative efforts to challenge traditional notions in the industry.  

Whisky packaging has traditionally made the spirit cohesively recognisable with conventional bottle shapes and designs. However, at Compass Box each bottle and every design creates a story. In an interview with Port magazine, John Glaser explains that inspiration for his whiskies names and designs come from anywhere, “Things outside our industry i.e. songs, beers. As with any creative business we’re always looking around and making notes, remembering things that appeal to us.” 

Never one to hide in a crowd, some of Compass Box’s designs defy not only traditional Scotch territories but stretch the boundaries of their creatives with elaborate and intricate illustrations. At first sight, these decorations can capture the imagination of many, but just a few will unravel the intricate details to unleash its compelling narrative. 

Compass Box work with London and New-York based agency, Stranger & Stranger, the unequivocal leaders in spirits packaging design. Their motto, ‘Don’t Fit In. Stand Out.’ meshes nicely with the visionary 'whiskymakers' and has resulted in a beautiful partnership. In the same interview, John Glaser adds “Sometimes we go to {Stranger & Stranger} with a very specific idea, or other times we just give them a name and a story. We’re working on something right now called ‘The Circus’. The name idea was originally inspired by the old Charlie Chaplin film and we thought the theme of the film worked nicely with the idea of the whisky.” 

This label for ‘The Circus’, a limited release from 2016 of just 2,490, is an ideal example of the creative minds at play in Compass Box’s creations. The carnival of colours, typography,  performers and ornate details all collide to create a label that truly captures the enchanting world of the circus. This design has garnered multiple award wins for Stranger & Stranger from a number of the most credible national competitions, including Gold in the Graphis Design Annual and a Master from The Spirits Business. 

So, when does a beautiful label cross the boundary to become art? We can’t be certain. But we can be certain of the fact that Compass Box’s creative endeavours unreservedly position them as producers that define the art of whisky. 

Eilidh Jack

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