Byline: Rebecca Kleinman

Any retailer knows the power of packaging. That couturiere Elsa Schiaparelli’s hatboxes in her signature shocking pink are still highly desirable is proof enough. An even better example is Tiffany’s blue box, so immortalized that it has evolved into a pop culture icon.
But just as the tides of fashion turn swiftly, these days retailers are swapping their tried-and-true standards for attention-getting new designs.
Ron Watson, president of Howard Decorative Packaging, a Lincolnwood, Ill.-based packaging and distribution company, predicts that the days of the signature bag are numbered. “Everyone who has had the same bag for 25 years is changing it now,” he said.
Since most retailers don’t have the time or funds to switch out their packaging as often as their floors, they take their design cues from fashion’s longer-lasting trends. Vibrant colors — especially apple green, canary yellow, turquoise and purple — metallics in matte, rather than foil finishes; animal prints; and the layering of prints and fabrics have all crossed over into packaging. An up-and-coming final touch is to combine ties of different colors, widths and textures — like raffia and satin cord.
Packages are being revamped from the inside out as well. “People don’t feel as limited these days in their creativity or in using every part of the bag. I’ve seen more printed interiors in the last year than ever before,” Watson said.
As an example, he described one of his latest projects: a bag with a yellow interior, a white exterior with the store’s logo inside a blue block and a blue-and-yellow checkered pattern on the bottom panel. Like the current state of fashion, more is apparently better when it comes to color and detailing.
Berlin’s, a boutique in Charleston, S.C., which changed its signature packaging in August, also looked to fashion trends for inspiration. The boutique went from pale yellow bags with white tissue paper and small labels, to dark purple bags with zebra-striped tissue paper and large iridescent labels that catch the light as shoppers move from store to store. “The gleam really draws people,” said Ellen Berlin, the store’s vice president.
Garment bags got a makeover, too — they’re emerald green with gold zippers. Gift-wrapped items now come in a metallic-print paper with a grape, teal or gold ribbon. “In the past, hiring a new ad agency was the catalyst in changing our packaging,” said Berlin. “This time, I just wanted to make it special [myself].”
Cindy Warner, owner of Studio 910 boutique in Lincoln Park, Ill., is going through the same process this fall. “A store has to keep changing. Plus, something that was good 10 years ago may not be the best thing for it now,” she said.
Her bag of nine years, featuring a collage of women from all ethnic backgrounds and time periods, was a big hit with customers, who saved them for picnics or work.
Warner, however, is ready for something different. She hasn’t decided on a new color or logo, but is definitely set on something “more out there” — perhaps a bold rose print paired with a leopard-spotted tissue paper.
She is also going with opaque plastic instead of brown paper bags this year, reflecting trends again, this time with regard to environmental awareness. “Years ago, people would comment nonstop if you gave them a plastic bag, because of environmental issues. Now, every store in my area has gone plastic, which is more reusable,” she noted.
Boxes alone don’t offer as many options. Thus, for gift wrapping, Warner spruces up a simple brown kraft number with fresh eucalyptus and gold wheat or dried flowers.
At holiday time, customers have their choice of a complimentary ornament. Selections differ each year and range from handblown glass to stuffed animals. “You should see people’s faces when they see all the choices. We’ve become known for [the ornaments],” said Warner.
The extra cost isn’t an issue. According to Warner, there are great deals on the Internet, where she surfs for items from as far away as Taiwan and Scandinavia. Though most of her ordering takes place online, she also scours trade shows and art fairs for that one diamond in the rough.
“Everything will be so trashy, but then there will be the most beautiful ribbon or an adorable, handcarved animal from China,” she explained.
Other retailers have found other avenues for cutting costs. Berlin’s saves by using labels instead of hot-stamping its logo on bags. And its designs are stored digitally, rather than on expensive plates. “Without plates, I can afford to redesign my packaging more often,” said Berlin.
But overall, there is no escaping the fact that fashion-forward packaging comes with a considerably higher price tag. Berlin estimated her budget for packaging has increased by 10 to 15 percent.
“It’s simply going to cost more to go to something more creative,” she said.
Watson agreed that the desire for more unique designs has increased outlay to an average of $10,000 annually. “Retail is booming now, so packaging is too,” the consultant said.
With that in mind, Bob Lamey, the owner and president of Bop, a specialty store in Madison, Wis., opted to create an in-house marketing department, which designs and oversees its packaging as well as the store’s Web site, window displays and advertisements. “It made sense because the cost to hire outside agencies to cover all of the individual needs started to add up anyway,” said Lamey.
Since the store’s 18-to-25-year-old market is very brand-conscious, advertising and marketing director Martha Graettinger created a bold, symmetrical logo, spelling “bop” in lowercase letters with the “b” and “p” mirroring one another. She chose orange for its fun, memorable yet unisex characteristics. The logo is printed on the store’s white paper shopping bags, whereas it’s stamped onto boxes. All styles come with matching orange tissue paper.
Though he estimates that his total packaging costs for the year ran around $7,000, Lamey insisted that he considers the whole redesign worthwhile.
“If it had just been up to me, we would have been stuck with 5,000 brown paper bags,” he said. “But now, I get to see these eye-catching bags go up and down the street.”

Bag It
The concept of billboarding a store’s image with a longlived “signature bag” is becoming as disposable as a tattered paper sack. Some retailers are convinced that store packaging rightly should be ruled by the same fast parade of trends that govern the apparel that’s tucked inside. Here, a list of important, “now” trends in store packages that reads like a designer’s to do list.