To close our month filled with retrospectives, flashbacks and trips down memory lane, Lauren Burfield takes her own journey through time to show how design identity and aesthetics are being used to recreate eras.
She also asks if in this digital era, nostalgia itself may be relegated to the past...
MEMORY THROUGH MATERIALS
Nostalgia is an organic sentiment that plays on past familiarities and contentment. It’s a mechanic that exposes our most pleasant remembrances and how we connect materialism with memory. And it’s a trend that is playing out in 2023 in a big way.
Put simply, there’s intent to exploit that warm, fuzzy feeling we get when a particular time, place, or emotion is rekindled or relived. It’s natural that brands want to play on the emotional and visceral connections we build with sentimental items.
We place our individuality in ‘stuff’. Often it's done in a conscious effort maintain (or even mourn) memories through paraphernalia. It’s not just hoarders. What these treasure objects trigger, memories, are small moments of pure, intimate nostalgia and they have the power to makes us all happy.
It even follows through to what we drink and what made us click ‘add to basket’ in the first place.
And that’s what’s sparked my recent curiosity in the subject matter. There’s always been a cyclical nature to the drinks industry, but there’s also always been overt targeting of nostalgic sentiment. Be it brands reviving classic products through campaigns, reimagining themed events, and targeting specific eras to trigger that special feeling that happens when we collectively reminisce.
In this article, I’ll detail how the ages have been recreated today, starting off with the idea of a ‘sense of place’ and a dive deep into how drinks brands have positioned nostalgia through wanderlust, travel and setting as their core purpose.
CHASING PLACE | THE FRENCH RIVIERA, 1950-60s
What is defined as ‘nostalgic’ today, must evolve from an existing memory. Something you can recall in retrospect and that is personal to you. There should be a familiar distance between the past and present to differentiate between what is classed as historic (and thus vintage), and that sought-after nostalgic feeling.
If there was any place that defined the hedonistic indulgence of the 1950s and 60s, you would find yourself encapsulated by the romance of The French Riviera. It’s never been allowed to fade as a time as it’s been continuously re-invented. So much so that it feels true to everyone’s past, despite very few now around to remember the real epoch.
Today, brands not only revive but they continue to refine that ‘Provence playground’ sentiment. If ever contemporary nostalgia was a thing – you’d be able to see it in the way L’Esprit du Sud is projected.
Take a look at 06 Rosé Vodka. But closer still, the lexicon that is used to reimagine those raw and idyllic memories. It’s all about lifestyle. They encourage nostalgic details to bleed into every aspect of the brand. Taking you from imagery of “cobalt mountains, seductive coastlines and honey-stone hilltop villages” and reeling those affections back into the spirit by giving you an exact time, place, and moment to enjoy your drink and reflect.
“6 o’clock in Provence is the beautiful time when 06 Vodka brings friends together to enjoy a moment that only the Southeasternmost corner of France can offer. An occasion to share”. It’s romantic, it’s iconic and its novelty synonymous with Golden Hour drinking. Now see how easy that warm, fuzzy feeling is to soak up!
Gin 44°N takes a similar route, with the intent to have the Côte d’Azur on the tip of your tongue in every sip. 44°N was built on the idea to capture the ‘windswept aromas of the Mediterranean with local botanicals set to the full spectrum dreamscape of the South of France”.
But you don’t need to hop onto the website to figure this out. It’s everywhere. From their hostesses’ contrasting colour block shift dresses, synonymous with 60s fashion, to the vivid colours and texture that adorns the bottle, right the way through to the grain filled imagery of their social media.
It’s all about capturing the Riviera’s moment and how you can too.
The 50s & 60s was all about escapism. Idealism and wanderlust were at the forefront of many thoughts, namely due to the context of the period. Be it the FOMO of lived life experiences or being drawn to the romantic moments found on holiday – tapping into St Tropez and ‘Le Cap’ remain powerful ways to evoke the nostalgia in anyone.
CULTURAL APPRECIATION | CUBA, 1960-70s
Escapism isn’t the only tactic used to evoke nostalgia. Culture, art and contemporary tributes can also provoke a fondness to a certain time.
So often 1960s Cuba is used to bring a general sense of nostalgia. To represent bygone times. Take Eminente Ron de Cuba as a brand, and look at the way they have treasured Cuba’s Art Deco & Nouveau aesthetic and colonial architecture.
Not only does the liquid itself draw inspiration from 19th-centry Cuban Rum, but there’s a renewed complexity in the aged and blended aguardientes. It’s the whole package. One sip is an experience, which is purposeful and evocative.
It's nostalgic, with specificity to Cuba in flavour but bridged to the idea of an era (colonial travel) that echoes more globally in its visual language.
Maestro Ronero, César Martí, wanted to ‘convey culture, tradition and magnify the art of Cuban rum through Eminente. A tribute to wild Cuba.’ And it’s hard to miss too. Everything is adorned in Cuban sentiments to be purposefully reminiscent. They pretty much sum it up perfectly – “it’s sensorial”. From the textured bottle to the ‘Isla del Cocodrilo’ logo.
Scroll through their Instagram feed and it's pretty obvious how time-transportive the branded content is. It almost feels like a time-capsule of everything Cuba. Soft. Golden. Vintage.
Meanwhile Casa Eminente (Eminente’s Bar & Restaurant in Paris) is a perfect example of how well brands harness nostalgia in drinking settings too.
You get that sense of authenticity that ‘embodies the ingenious creativity of giving a second life to what already exists’.
Casa Eminente feels nostalgic without being a novelty because they take authentically vintage items and ideas from multiple eras and countries and unify them with coherent colour palettes. It takes all the little nods of ‘the past’, the ones that are true to all of us, but cleverly guides them towards Cuba.
In that way, the collective understanding of bygone eras is up-cycled with the earthy colours, the wooden shutters, the raw marble, and the tropical flora that directs those pleasant remembrances towards the brand and towards 60's Cuba.
Before you know it, you’re travelling there with each sip.
REVIVING RETRO | MIAMI, 1970-80s
Gimmicks and novelties can sometimes be an appropriate way to extract that nostalgic feeling. Some eras and places have been trained into us through film and photography and through using the same visual language, it’s possible to conjure a sense of it. Enter Miami Beach.
Think, neon signs, pastel blazers, Ferrari Testarossas, and Sex on the Beach (the cocktail guys, come on now…). Although this is a very idealised image of how we remember Miami Beach, it’s also what ignites that nostalgic energy surrounding retro cocktails and the synthwave of the 80s.
When we talk about spirited nostalgia and Miami, there’s two ways of looking at it. On one side you have drinks brands that capitalise on the visuals, the colour palettes, and the materialistic pop-culture of that time. And on the flip side you have the drinks and cocktails themselves that bring their own nostalgic twist.
Need some examples? Look towards Absolut’s Miami Limited Edition, Passionfruit and Orange Blossom Vodka. From their mouths, ‘…it’s an adventure from dusk till dawn, the sunny beaches, vibrant nightlife, and the never-ending parties defining the hot spot that is The Sunshine State and the city of energy. Now there’s even a bottle to prove that.’
Or look to Belvedere’s limited-edition Miami Bottle released in the U.S last month, that is reminiscent of beach-party nostalgia and ‘sunny disposition’. This was all about reclaiming the night and awakening that sense of hedonistic party culture of your early twenties.
80s nostalgia is rarely reimagined with much subtlety when it comes to drinks - especially when combined with Miami vibes. It’s all about the visuals and the allusive tactility of the product itself. It’s not about the liquid, because let’s face it – it’s mostly Vodka brands that go there. But as these two recent examples show, on novelty and first encounters alone, it’s hard not to say, ‘Yep. That’s Retro Miami’.
(Quickly followed by a wincing flashback of acid-washed jeans and a perm-tangled Walkman).
Different to 1950s & 60s nostalgic sentiments, where brands tend to use idealistic and romantic language to ‘take you back’, 80s nostalgia is all about the overt product or drink. It’s showy.
Talking of which, look at what’s on the menu of the synthwave – The Miami Vice, Sex on the Beach, Rum Runner… It targets the nostalgic holiday-goer to put forth the idea of tropical bliss with no subtlety. As a brand, if you want to tackle 80s schmaltz – GO. FOR. IT! But make sure you’re fully decked out in neon beach gear if you do as that's mostly what's expected.
DIGITALISING NOSTALGIA | 90’s to 010101
The 90’s may be the last era of tangible nostalgia as it’s also when the digital age emerges in full. More on that in a second. It's also different in that it evolves on the 80's object and geographical setting messaging, to just the party part…
The way 90’s nostalgia is brought back to life seems to be less about ‘a sense of place’ and more so about a ‘movement’ for radical change and individuality.
If you are a millennial, think back to when you were at your most extreme self. Grunge, console wars, Full House fashion, cult cinema, F.R.I.E.N.D.S, Britney Spears… it was all about who you are and what you’re into.
Despite the 90s now being 3 decades behind us (yep, that’s right…), there’s still a youthful energy and excitement about the cultural explosion of the period. While the decade may have been about self-expression though displays of behaviour and shared interests in all its forms, it wasn’t without a distinct look. We were (and still are) obsessed with owning an aesthetic, which makes the spirited brands that home in on this period exciting to look at.
Two aesthetics come to mind. The most explicit is the 90s Graphic Grunge trademark – seamlessly adopted by the East London Liquor Company in their rebrand a few years back. Could they BE any more 90s?
ELLC are all about ‘flipping the V to convention and sticking their necks out for change’, and their unapologetic, candid rebrand with Ragged Edge beautifully abuses 90s nostalgia. ELLC’s Founder, Alex Wolpert “wanted more than an identity, one that goes against the botanical bathtub bulls*** of idiosyncratic craft spirits” through crafty marketing, disruptive typefaces, bold graphic colour, and a young digital presence. Their ‘fluro-yellow and smiler icon’ logo alone is a refined and reimagined aesthetic of the 90s arcade carpet. It draws you in to taste a new concept, whilst staying familiar.
Look to Mezcal Verde, Taylor & Smith, Black Lines for more examples of how well contemporary art and bold graphic 90s minimalism can make a brand stand out and draw you in when met with a whole shelf of spirits.
The other aesthetic that shouts 90’s is rebellious brutalist design.
Monochromatic minimalism and abstract branding that strips back the layers of funky compositions to bare functionality. It was a thing for a while in the late 90’s early noughties and now it’s back.
It’s about the product, sure. But it’s also about the raw industrial aesthetic where it’s cool to be cold, concrete, urban and let’s face it…simple. The graphic design of the period is linear with a monochrome Bauhaus impression, that makes the products POP. It’s bold and unapologetic.
‘Brutally Finnish’, Kyrö Distillery puts forward its case for nostalgic rebellion in a modern setting. The focus is on the product, the place, the people and it doesn’t work too hard at making this clear.
It’s these contemporary minimalist brands that merge the functionality and fashion of 90s culture with the ever-evolving digital landscape. They show that less is more. Sometimes to stand out, you need to reel it in, strip it back and stand by the raw architecture of your brand.
So, what’s next in the chapter of nostalgia and re-inventing retro?
The digital era has meant that generational shared experiences are rarer than ever. It’s so fractured now. This may shatter the ability to sum up recent decades in similar ways.
Everyone has a personal style, a niche, an identity, and their own box of what they consider to be nostalgic; And although we are now surrounded with what seems to be an infinity pool of micro-trends, we are still so obsessed with the past and making it our own. So much of the past is all around us today.
In time, each bubble will have their history to recall and while that’s always been true, the bubbles have never been smaller.
So small in fact that the trends passing one aren’t even noticed by others. This doesn’t even consider the pace at which things move now compared to yesteryear, nor the way Social Graph algorithms maintain users with their chosen social confines rather than exposing them to broader trends…
We’ve gone from a sense of place and time to a digital landscape of diverse influence. It’s becoming easier and more accessible to connect. But with that, it’s also rare for something to become a universal experience and that’s what you need to conjure for nostalgia-based aesthetics or ideas to be effective.
Maybe we’ll all become nostalgic for the nostalgia itself.
It’s a fitting tribute to the notion itself and the sense of melancholy it evokes. Maybe it’s even in keeping with the one universal truth we all feel in the 2020’s so far - the sense of traveling through a divided world irreversibly losing its planet’s most valuable resources. How to put that on a label of booze will be for some other designer though…