• Transform magazine
  • April 14, 2021


Postcard from Sydney

Postcard From

Rowena Curlewis, CEO of drinks branding specialists Denomination, speaks to Transform magazine about what makes branding in Syndey distinctive, how design in Australia, particularly in the drinks industry, differs from design in Europe and the U.S., and why Australia seems to be a magnet for creative expats, with many designers abandoning Shoreditch for Surry Hills.

What makes branding in Sydney distinctive?

Sydney is a confident city, some might say brash, but I’ll stick to confident! This confidence is seen in the branding that we create. Take the sustainably produced Australian wine brand Tread Softly as an example. As a ‘next generation wine for the next generation of drinker’, it is responding to the increasing appetite for light wines that taste good, whilst having minimal environmental impact. The semiotics of the labels needed to support the name, so the graphics are delicate and considered. It’s a daring, yet restrained approach. The branding is discreet and understated, encouraging the consumer to lean in to view. Once they are close, they notice the naturally speckled recycled stock, and the intricate detailing of the illustration on the capsule. And then when they turn the bottle around, they find dramatic, sensual images of flora and fauna signifying the wines’ sophisticated flavour profiles.

How much of the city’s lifestyle and culture plays into the projects Denomination works on?

Sydney is a multicultural city, and the food scene benefits greatly from this diversity. Eating, drinking and socialising are a big part of our lifestyle, and this crosses most consumer segments. As a result, the wine scene is sophisticated with consumers having more confidence and a more adventurous spirit when it comes to wine selection – and that naturally extends to the labels that appeal to them.

How does design in Australia, particularly in the drinks industry, differ from design in Europe and the U.S.?

Both Australia and the US, being “new world” countries when it comes to wine, are not constrained by the weight of history, and the assumption of conformity. Instead, we can be braver, able to break assumed rules, able to inject uniqueness and personality into our brands. Where Australia and the US differ is that there’s a modern aesthetic to Australian wine labels that is not as prevalent in the US. The key difference between the new world and the old world – Europe – is the freedom to create a brand approach which has semiotics and distinctive assets which build memory structure rather than rely on a consumer’s knowledge of the wine category. It’s hard for low-involved wine consumers to remember one chateau brand from the next, whereas they’ll remember La Noblesse – a design with humorous cropping of noblemen’s portraits.

There has recently been a trend for the Australian arm of global brand design agencies to buy themselves out from the parent company, for e.g., Futurebrand, Elmwood etc. Denomination saw its global expansion go the other way, starting from Australia. Has that made a difference?

We are a big believer in the benefits of a global footprint, and the high creative standards that we provide our clients as a result. Denomination operates differently in that rather than having many “standalone” businesses as say Elmwood, all of our creatives are part of a single creative team globally. We select the best designers to work on each individual project based on expertise, experience, and aptitude, rather than on location. By encouraging close connections between each other, and having cross-regional teams on projects, our designers are constantly inspired and informed by trends and movements around the world. It can be a logistical nightmare, but the benefits to both our clients and our team are immense.

Australia seems to be a magnet for creative expats. Is it only the lifestyle or is there something more in Australia that has led designers to abandon Shoreditch for Surry Hills?

What, apart from the weather??!! I think Covid has brought home to the world that you can work anywhere on anything. So if you want to have the lifestyle that Sydney offers (sunshine, beaches, less traffic, (relative) safety and great food/wine) but still be connected to the vibrant creative industry outside of this city, you can. Zoom, Instagram and blogs make it easy to connect with creatives in other parts of the world, and I know the design team at Denomination appreciates the close connection they have with each other, regardless of which office they work from.