Packager of the Year: Passage through Davies Gate
her husband and Davies Gate cofounder Jack, create thematic personal-care collections. Packaging tells their stories.
Ellen and Jack Davies, the wife-husband team behind personal-care company Davies Gate, are writing the book on personalized design.By Lori Bryan, Editor
Davies is the family name; Gate is the opening onto wellness. Enter the story of personalcare company Davies Gate, CPC Packaging's 2001 Packager of the Year.
Product formulator and package designer Ellen Davies founded Davies Gate (Irwindale, CA) almost a decade ago. What started in one bedroom of a two-bedroom apartment with a nature-inspired bar of soap has grown into a flourishing business, which is expected to do about $11 million at retail in 2001. The company's seven thematic product collections are an artful blend of skin-care, baby-care, fragrance, and bath and body items.
The products are the identifiable characters in the Davies Gate story, which is being well received by shoppers at Sephora, Saks Fifth Avenue, and other specialty stores and gift retailers. From lotions and body balms to perfume oils and body powders, the products play out the personal experiences of Davies Gate creators Ellen and husband Jack. Jack, who has been involved in the company from the beginning, left his Los Angeles–based corporate law career five years ago to help further the family business full time.
And a family affair it is. "Our company is a personal one," says Ellen. "I hope our work is appreciated by our customers on the same personal level."
Things are working out that way. Because each product, each character in the Davies Gate story is crafted with the company's creators' passions and hobbies in mind, consumers can relate to the products. What makes this consumer-product connection possible? Arguably, it is the work of the protagonist in the Davies Gate lineup of characters: the packaging.
Perhaps what is most compelling about the packaging is the high level of artistry it achieves with stock components. "We operate in the world of all stock components," says Jack. "We don't get into custom molds." This, the Davies say, is an opportunity for creativity, not a limitation. For example, "We look to other industries, [such as food and beverage], to see what packages they are using and how we might translate those items into a design for our own products," says Jack.
Stock bottles, tubes, bags, and bows are among the packages that set the tone for the various product collections and infuse each product with individuality. Metal tags, for example, convey a love of gardening. Pumps for one-handed operation say to moms, we understand you have your hands full. Asian-influenced designs communicate a sense of wellness. Colors and patterns reminiscent of the 1950s are a celebration of modern art.
Passion for art, not surprisingly, is how this packaging success story began. Years before Ellen studied painting at the Rhode Island School of Design and began her career at a New York fashion house, she was a girl becoming a craftswoman. As a child, she spent summers in her family's garden, preparing eucalyptus baths and natural remedies with olive oil. "My mother was an artist, a jewelry designer," says Ellen. "We did ink pressings of sunfish at our lakeside summer cabin in Minnesota." The two also made Christmas cards by carving woodcuts and pressing their own designs, a technique Ellen would later use for the packaging of several Davies Gate products.
The personalized design that results from woodcutting is what makes Ellen fond of the laborious process. "A woodcut-like appearance can be achieved with lasers," Ellen says, "but lasers can create a design that's too perfect." Woodcuts reveal tiny errors that the hand makes during cutting, she says. "These mistakes make a design unique and show that special care went into the finished product."
It was this finely tuned, individualized approach to design that brought Ellen the adult artist closer to fulfilling her personal dream. Having discovered that jewelry design was not her passion, she and Jack moved from New York to Southern California in 1990. Here, Ellen took her mother's advice and meshed her love for art and design with her childhood fascination with product formulations. The result was GardenMade Vegetable Soap, the first Davies Gate personal-care product. The rest, one might say, is history.
What is not in the past is the Davies Gate product portfolio and its packaging. In fact, it is expanding into the future. Two collections launched simultaneously this year, and new ones are expected in the winter and the summer of 2002.
Behind these product introductions is the Davies Gate family—Ellen and Jack, of course, and their 12 employees. The company's process is threefold: building the formulations, designing the packaging, and developing the fragrances for the formulations. "Our formulas are complex," says Jack. "Ellen and I work together to develop a product profile, specifying texture, viscosity, pH, ingredients, and packaging requirements, and we then work extensively with an R&D group to achieve the desired result."
The company is dedicated to offering quality products and clean, sophisticated designs, says Ellen. "This [objective] is the common thread that ties our products and the various collections together," she says. The packaging is not high-tech looking, but rather homemade and highly polished.
"We strive to merge this polished, finished appearance with that of an authentic style—something derived from craft or artistic process," adds Jack.
This approach ultimately fulfills the promise of Davies Gate. Each collection has a story, and thoughtfully crafted packaging is the capable narrator.
A closer look at the design of seven thematic collections follows, in seven chapters. Pass through Davies Gate.
Ellen and Jack were avid gardeners before the birth of their twin boys on June 19, 2000. Ian and Jens, now 18 months, keep mom and dad busy, and there is less time for cultivating herbs, vegetables, flowers, and fruits. Still, gardening remains a love interest for the working parents, who, in 1993, started Davies Gate with a bar of plant-oil-based soap.
Ellen created GardenMade Vegetable Soap and its original packaging to communicate her love of the outdoors and the hobby she shared with her husband to the early 1990s consumer. "It was a time of getting back to basics after the indulgent 1980s," says Ellen. The soap's message was one of simplicity and wholesomeness—a personal-care antidote to the materialization of a society.
"The original look for the GardenMade soap was rough, handcrafted," says Ellen. The dense sage-green-colored bar was an extruded square block packaged in a kraft band. "I designed the packaging so customers could experience the soap right in the store," she says. "A kraft wrapper was laid down on raffia grasses, which stuck out on the sides of the soap, and a label was placed over them." The minimalist, unisex, utilitarian-style packaging, with its accents of earthy beige, was done by hand. Thus began Davies Gate's personalized approach to product development and package design.
In 2001, the packaging for GardenMade soap is the redesigned version, which has a more sophisticated look but still conveys the core principles of the original product—simplicity, utility, and natural, from-the-earth beauty. Packaging Spectrum (Los Angeles) now supplies protective cartons for the soaps, and colors used in the packaging have also changed. "Beige accents have been phased out in favor of pewter tones," says Ellen.
Integrating the new color into the packaging was a positive change for the soap and the GardenMade collection that has grown up around it, because metal and its blue-gray look are part of the gardening story. The redesigned labels resemble the printing-type-metal tags that gardeners tie to plants for identification purposes.
Helping Davies Gate achieve the look is Ampersand Label (Garden Grove, CA), supplier of roughly 70% of the labels for the Davies Gate range of personal-care products, according to Ampersand's president Paulette Carnes. "The label on the front panels of the Gentle Shampoo and Daily Conditioner [flask-style] bottles is made from a dull-finished, printed, laminated foil with a polypropylene overlaminate," says Carnes.
A Boston Round supplied by TricorBraun (Phoenix) for the Hand & Body Lotion also bears a label from Ampersand. The pressure-sensitive label is made of clear polyolefin with a clear polyolefin overlaminate, and it is printed with a silver-metallic ink custom made to Davies Gate's specifications. In addition, the lotion package includes the VP8 pump with matte-silver-finish collar from Valois of America (Greenwich, CT).
Also contributing components is JSN Packaging Products (Irvine, CA), with its 6-oz low-density polyethylene tubes for the GardenMade Cleansing Mud. The tubes' green color was customized according to Davies Gate's specifications, says JSN sales manager John Ulibarri. Graphics on the tubes are screen-printed.
The GardenMade collection not only makes use of a wide range of components, from low-profile jars to narrow talc drums, but also incorporates various decorating techniques. Ties with findings are among the finishing touches. For example, the neck of the Hand & Body Lotion is wrapped with a thin brown tie that dangles a silver charm shaped like a leaf. The ornament conveys, "A little more thought went into this product," says Jack. "We enjoy putting embellishments on the products we foresee sitting on a countertop or on the edge of a bathtub." Such personal touches help the company make a more intimate connection with customers, he says.
Ellen also designed a woodblock print to create the signature stems-and-flowers icon. It appears on every GardenMade product, unifying the collection and punctuating the brand with the distinctly personal Davies Gate touch.
The gardening story continues with Perennials, but with a more feminine look and feel. Launched in 1996, the collection is based on four perennial herbs and flowers: sage, lavender, white clover, and rose. The packaging is designed for softness in appearance and texture. Clear, smooth plastic bottles and jars reveal formulations tinted with color, and white caps and some silver ones unify the collection. Pastels—colors often associated with springtime—create packaging that suggests refreshment and relaxation.
The products, which include Body Mist, Foaming Bath, Body Lotion, and Bath Salts, come in the four perennials fragrances. To communicate this offering to customers, Ellen designed icons of sage, lavender, white clover, and rose for the front panels of each of the products. The icons are made from original cuttings taken from Ellen's garden.
"I pressed the cuttings in a book until they were very flat," says Ellen. "Using heavy ink, I brushed them and made pressings on paper." From these ink prints, the icons were created. "The result is a unique design that does not look computer generated or mass-produced," she says.
Primary and secondary packages feature the icons. Coated solid-bleached sulfate (SBS) cartons for the body-mist fragrances are lithographically printed and manufactured by Packaging Spectrum. The supplier also provides Davies Gate with structural design services and materials selection support.
"The Davies are creative people," says Robert Antonacci, president of Packaging Spectrum. "We enjoy participating in their product development process." When it comes to creating a finished package design, he says, Ellen is meticulous.
TricorBraun and Valois of America are also among the suppliers of packaging components. TricorBraun's 6-oz glass jar and accompanying closure make up the package for Perennial's Soothing Hand Cream. The VP8 locking pump in white plastic from Valois is the dispenser for the Body Lotion.
The Davies' affinity to modern art is no secret. The AquaChrome collection, which launched in 1999, tells that story.
AquaChrome is, as the Davies Gate product catalogue describes, a "declaration of cosmopolitan style." It is "six irresistible fragrances—LimeLuster, SeaSilk, MossMist, DewDrop, CloudCake, and BlissBloom—translated through color, pattern, and design." Perhaps it is best described as the Davies' most public homage to modern art. The more private celebration of "hyper-hip, 1950s sleekness" is their home, say the Davies, which is "filled with [the work] of modern masters, like Eames and Aalto."
However modern, AquaChrome is inspired by what is essentially history. "Much of my inspiration comes from looking to the past," says Ellen. "As a designer, I spend a lot of time in antique shops." Inspiration for package design can be furniture or glassware, textiles, or a painting—almost anything. "For AquaChrome, I applied a modern sensibility in terms of colors and product names," she says. "And I took shapes and patterns popular in the 1950s and applied them in a new way."
Products in the collection range from EDT sprays in frosted glass bottles, with brushed aluminum sleeve caps supplied by Cameo Metal (Brooklyn, NY), and scented Shower Gel in plastic bottles, with brushed aluminum screw-on closures also from Cameo. The metal caps supplier has worked with Davies Gate since the beginning, says Cameo Metal vice president Robert Geddis.
"The Davies approached us when they were just starting the company," says Geddis. "It felt good to play a part in what was the beginning of [Davies Gate]," now a successful personal-care company, he says.
Also contributing to the company's success and the AquaChrome collection is Pfeiffer of America (Princeton, NJ) with 15-ml crimp-on fragrance pumps in matte silver for the EDT sprays; Cameo Metal provides the 15-ml overcap. Ampersand Label supplies 2.5-mil white polyolefin labels with eye-catching colors and geometric patterns for the 8.5-oz Body Lotion.
Ellen's desire to be healthy during her pregnancy provided inspiration for Davies Gate's wellness line. Ellen and Jack describe the SunTree collection, which hit stores in the summer of 2000, as "ancient remedies blended with modern science." Perfume oils and other spa-inspired products in mandarin, lime, and quince scents are like "ripe fruit silhouetted by the setting sun." Packages, with their Asian-inspired appeal, are the artful, architectural silhouette.
"The SunTree packages inspire a tranquil sensibility," says Ellen. Designed for spa or home use, the products are meant to relax, refresh, and revitalize the user. They are the therapeutic characters in the Davies Gate wellness story. "I wanted [the line] to be subtle and convey a Zen-like feel," she says. As such, the packaging needed to have a calm, collected look overall. To achieve this, Ellen designed cohesive secondary packaging.
"We wanted secondary packages for each of the products to unify the look of the entire line," says Ellen, "but we didn't want any plain square boxes."
Consequently, the Davies selected cartons with rounded corners folded in a style reminiscent of origami. Made of SBS board and coated with a matte finish, the cartons are supplied by Packaging Spectrum. The tone-on-tone cartons in three different colors—lime green, warm yellow, and "baby-aspirin" orange (as Ellen calls it)—communicate the benefits of fruit-inspired botanical oils to consumers. Specially reinforced bottoms on the cartons are designed to withstand the weight of such products as Hydrating Body Balm, which comes in a frosted 8-oz-glass bottle from TricorBraun.
The cartons' standout feature is their woodcut design, which is also replicated on the primary packaging. Ellen made the woodcut ink presses—one of the lime fruit, one of the mandarin fruit, and one of the quince fruit—to make key ingredients readily identifiable for consumers. "The art was scanned, laid out, and repeated—a process much like building wallpaper," says Ellen. This graphics template was given to Packaging Spectrum for printing.
The SBS board was printed using an eight-color lithographic press, according to Packaging Spectrum's Antonacci. "We printed on the uncoated side of the board instead of on the coated one, because we wanted the ink to absorb for an extremely soft look," he says. A matte finish was then applied to the uncoated side.
Other packaging suppliers contributing to the SunTree collection include ABA Packaging (Holtsville, NY) for a 1-oz globe-shaped bottle with sprinkler opening for the perfume oils, and Cameo Metal for an 18-415–sized screw closure in brushed aluminum, also for the perfume oils. The bottle-and-cap combination forms a sleek package for a holistic beauty-care product that aims to soften the user's skin and concomitantly stimulate a feeling of wellness. Valois of America provides its VP8 locking lotion pump in white (in a slightly shorter profile than that supplied for the Perennials body lotion) for the Hydrating Body Balm.
The Pumice Body Polish is housed in 7-oz low-density polyethylene tubes from JSN Packaging Products. The tubes have a custom matte-coated finish that resembles a frosted finish, and offset-printed graphics in one color.
Chapter 5—Davies Babies
Launched in the winter of 2001, the Davies Babies collection is the tale of a busy mother who needed more hands. Caring for two newborn sons, "I was using parts of my body—my mouth, my toes—to do things," says Ellen. "There was always so much to do, and I never seemed to have a hand free when I needed one." Safe, effective infant-care products in highly functional packages were in order.
"Before Ellen was pregnant we'd discussed creating a baby collection, and we had plenty of ideas," adds Jack. But the Davies Gate cofounders had no intention of designing the packaging until they had experienced parenthood for themselves, he says.
Their wait for firsthand experience has resulted in products that are thoughtfully packaged to make baby care easier and more enjoyable. Ease of handling and dispensing are key benefits for users, and packages are 100% plastic for safety. Screw-type closures, which can require two hands for opening and closing, are absent.
"Davies Babies is the first baby-care line for one-handed use," says Ellen. For example, the bottle-pump combination for All-Over Baby Wash eliminates the need for mom to lather up with both hands. Single handedly she can remove the user-friendly overcap and press down on the dispenser to release the product. The 210-ml clear PET bottle and foaming pump dispenser supplied by Airspray International (Pompano Beach, FL) serve as an instant mechanical finger-pump foamer. When activated, the foamer creates a precise mixture of liquid and air, delivering a portion of foam that is ready to be applied to babies' skin.
The 8.5-oz white bottle and matching pump for the Diaper Rash Cream lacks a cap, and for good reason, she adds. "A cap for a product [so frequently used] can be easily lost," she says. Instead, the design is built to dispense product without the hassle of superfluous parts.
Also cap free is the package for the Baby Massage Gel, a thick gel that becomes oil when it comes in contact with babies' skin. The orange formulation is visible through a clear bottle, which is topped with the VP8 white plastic locking pump with 24-410-neck finish from Valois of America.
Ampersand Label supplies butter-yellow, gender-neutral labels for the collection. The pressure-sensitive labels feature playful graphics designed by an illustrator; printing is done flexographically in five colors.
"Caring for a baby is hard work, so we [created] these labels to inspire moms—even though they're doing a chore like changing a diaper—to have fun and interact with their babies," she says. "A polyolefin overlaminate coating not only protects the labels against humidity and wetness, but also provides a smooth, pleasurably soft feeling, like a newborn's skin."
But the fun aspect of the functional packages doesn't end there. Directions for use on the labels are written from the baby's perspective. For instance, the label for Baby Balm reads, "Mom says she can feel the wonderful, rich vitamin E and avocado oils as they naturally soothe and moisturize. And she loves the fragrance—it smells just like me."
All of the products are sold without secondary packaging. A tag line on each reinforces the story of the brand, "Designed by a mother for mothers with their hands full."
Davies Gate Timeline
|* Company launches its first product, GardenMade vegetable bar soap. Its original look--handcrafted and earthy--has since been updated for a more sophisticated appearance that still conveys the product's clean, simple benefits. * An all-herb potpourri in a biodegradable pot is introduced.* Smith & Hawken discovers the Davies Gate collection and orders for all its stores.||
* GardenMade Walnut Scrub and GardenMade
Lotion are introduced, become mainstays of the collection. * The Davies Gate business hires its first employees.
|* The Perennials collection launches. It builds on the success of the gardening theme of GardenMade, but focuses on perennial herbs and flowers.||* AquaChrome bath and body products in six fragrances are packaged to tap into growing consumer interest in modernism and modern design.|
|* The company launches its first wellness line, the Asian-influenced SunTree collection. Woodcut design gives labels and cartons a personalized look.||* Davies Babies, Seeds & Grains, and Fleurs de Pearl collections launch.* Davies Gate moves into its state-of-the-art facility in Irwindale, CA.|
Chapter 6—Seeds & Grains
The Seeds & Grains skin- and body-care collection is all about the beneficial properties of basic plant ingredients. Wholesome, from-the-earth formulations compose this Davies Gate story—one that has found its way into some top beauty magazines. Since making their marketplace debut this summer, Seeds & Grains products have been among the top picks of editors at Allure, Jane, and O magazines. Natural, healthful ingredients are the draw. Packaging helps bring about the attraction.
"Packaging has to attract consumers, but it shouldn't distract them from the key benefits of formulations," says Ellen. Applying this philosophy, she designed packages that are essentially windows through which products, such as Rye Water Toner, Oat Paste Face Cleanser, Barley Body Wash, and Whole Wheat Lotion, can shine. The packaging is consumers' gate or point of entrance for easy access to the products, she says.
The overall look is utilitarian, unisex, and earthy. Because the emphasis is on simplicity, secondary packaging is not used. Clean-looking, transparent labels are rotary silk-screened. The Davies Gate logo is placed consistently on the top portion of the labels' front panels—a branding technique used on most of the company's products, for a clean look that is quickly recognized by consumers. Primary packages include glass and plastic bottles, plastic jars, a soap carton, and a talc drum. Pumps, caps, and dispensers in white unify the line.
Also bringing the collection together is a distinctive symbol. On every Seeds & Grains package appears "a set of earth-toned parallel bars, which represent the lines of a newly plowed field," says Ellen. This minimalist decoration communicates the overall message of the collection—that the products contain good things from the earth, "heartland ingredients," as she calls them.
The idea to use such ingredients came about as the answer to a question Ellen had posed: What had U.S. pioneer women used to cleanse and nourish their skin? Looking through a dated druggist's formulary, she discovered that they made personal-care products out of commonly found plant ingredients, which were understood to treat the skin or the body in positive ways. The formulary explained the healthful benefits of each ingredient. Ellen felt her packaging should do the same.
Thus, each Seeds & Grains product has copy on its front panel that explains what its key ingredients do. For example, the label for Barley Body Wash provides a definition of the primary ingredient, barley, and goes on to read, "Barley oil is soothing and leaves skin supple and soft." The bottle for Whole Wheat Lotion states, in part, "Wheat germ oil is a natural emollient rich in vitamin E; wheat proteins soothe and repair." The salad-dressing-style bottle for Sesame Seed Bath Foam calls attention to the product's sesame seed oil, which "acts like a natural emollient, protecting skin and leaving it hydrated and supple."
A number of packaging suppliers helped Davies Gate realize its vision for the collection. Pfeiffer of America provided a standard locking lotion pump built to dispense viscous product for the Whole Wheat Lotion. Parkway Plastics (Piscataway, NJ) supplied thick-walled, low profile jars with a glass-like appearance and white screw closures for the Quince Seed Face Cream, Oat Paste Face Cleanser, and Fennel Face Exfoliator.
Chapter 7—Fleurs de Pearl
A translation of the Fleurs de Pearl fragrances into prose reads like this: "Moonlit waters glisten beneath a starry sky, the elegant fragrance of pearl-white petals fills the night air." While the description (taken from the Davies Gate product catalog) certainly communicates the collection's magical, luxurious qualities to consumers, the words really aren't necessary. The packaging has been doing this with style since the launch in summer 2001.
"Fleurs de Pearl is a fragrance story," says Jack. "By itself or blended into lotions and bath gels, fragrance can have such a powerful effect on the way we feel." A fragrance can create a new mood, or enhance an existing one, he says. Therefore, the packages for the Fleurs de Pearl collection had to be as evocative as the floral fragrances they were to contain.
To accomplish this, Ellen designed packaging with a pearl motif for the freesia, gardenia, and tuberose fragrances and the bath and body products containing them. "The pearl is popularly associated with luxury," Ellen says. Used as a gem, the pearl often adorns necks and wrists and ear lobes, accentuating a sense of femininity, refinement, and romance. Employed as a device in the design of Fleurs de Pearl, the pearl creates just such a sensibility.
The formulations are pigmented for a pearly luster and marketed in pearlized primary packages. A squat, rectangular glass bottle for the EDTs features a fine-mist sprayer supplied by Cospack America Corp. (Edison, NJ). The sprayer comprises a metal pump with a 20-415-neck finish and a metal overcap, which has a plastic sleeve insert for smooth connection to the pump. Cospack America also provides anodized matte-silver screw closures in neck sizes of 20-415, 22-415, and 89-400 for various products in the collection. Pfeiffer of America supplies a standard locking pump in white for the lotion.
Secondary packaging also contributes to the collection's polished appeal. "The 8-oz lotion and the EDTs come in cartons made of pearlescent board," says Ellen. Vendor-partner Packaging Spectrum supplies the specialty substrate and handles printing and manufacturing.
"We apply a glossy, pearlescent gravure coating to SBS board," says Packaging Spectrum's Antonacci. Graphics in two and three colors are printed lithographically on the coated SBS, he says.
Completing the pearl-themed design is a personal touch that is distinctly Davies Gate. "There is a real pearl inside each bottle"—like a pearl inside its shell, Ellen says. When a consumer handles an EDT spray, a real pearl acts as a shaker bead, stirring the pearlescent material suspended in the fragrance. The delicate sound of the pearl inside the bottle is part of the consumer's experience of the packaging. Thus, it is both the sight and the sound of the overall design that make Fleurs de Pearl a collection to remember.
The Next Installment
In the beginning years of Davies Gate, Ellen and Jack have successfully developed and marketed seven
personal-care collections, utilizing stock components and a thematic design approach. The accomplishment raises the question, what could be left for the Davies to create? Plenty, they say. All it takes is a story and the packaging to tell it.
"Right now I'm working on a new skin-care collection, to be launched in summer 2002," Ellen says. "I'm developing products based on my age and what my skin needs now." When the line launches, a meaningful, well-calculated, meticulously crafted package design will undoubtedly tell the story—one the intended consumer will see herself in, relate to, and connect with on a deeper level.
Such is the personalized design approach of a personal company. May packaging be the captivating storyteller for many Davies Gate personal-care collections to come