After years of success with their best-selling Black Line of smoky, woody scents, this November the creative team at Odin took a sharp left turn with their White Line, a trio of citrusy, floral fragrances with a whole new olfactive palette. Nothing signals change to a consumer more quickly than new packaging, so Odin co-founder Eddy Chai reached out to paper engineer Matthew Shlian. The results took the collection to an even higher level. Here, the story behind the design.
Before we get to the White Line, Matthew, how did you get into the world of paper engineering?
Matthew Shlian: I guess you could say pop-up books were the gateway drug. I went to school and graduated with a dual major in both printmaking and ceramics, but I wasn’t doing any traditional print or ceramic work at all. I was taking apart pop-up books, and trying to learn that language of paper.
I knew it had ties beyond books and packaging, but I ended up working in the industry for about three years just doing greeting cards, magazine inserts, a lot of soft drink and pharmaceutical company commissions, just stuff that’s eye-catching and interactive. That became repetitive after a while, and I knew I could do more with paper. Now I’m collaborating with all kinds of really interesting people.
Including some very technical work with scientists, right?
MS: That’s right—I work at University of Michigan, but haven’t taught as much lately. Instead, the team I work with now does things like collapsible forms on the micro scale: solar cell design, filtration systems, things like that. When you build at that scale you have to work with flat materials, a lot like working with paper. These scientists are the smartest people I’ve ever met, but they don’t have some of those problem-solving skills that you learn in art school. They’ll be trying to reinvent things, and I’m like “Well, if you guys look at the history of textiles, or look at paper engineering, or origami, or kirigami, you might find some interesting solutions that you hadn’t even thought about.” And the work we’ve been doing always informs my other art; it’s manifested in the studio in really interesting and unexpected ways.
Now let’s move from solar cells to niche perfumes. Eddy, what prompted you to reach out to Matthew?
Eddy Chai: A while back Odin did a pop-up store with the record label, Ghostly, and we did an installation with some of the artists that they represent on their site. Matt was one of them, and his work really resonated with me. I loved his portfolio, and I have a warmth for that kind of work, especially in the medium of paper. When we finally came up with this new White Line, I thought there could be an opportunity to add some depth and dimension to the packaging. I contacted Matthew, he was interested, so we started off by sending him the scents for inspiration.
MS: I was just so excited. When I said I used to do a lot of pop-up books and greeting cards and packaging, the packaging was sooo boring. I mean, it’s the same stuff you’d see over and over. But this is the kind of stuff I always wanted to do. I used to show things to people and they’d be like “That’s not doable,” or “That’s just gonna be a nightmare.”
EC: I can confirm that it was a nightmare.
MS: But you have to partner with someone that’s willing to take that chance and say, “we believe in this art.”
Eddy, what kind of nightmare are we talking about?
EC: We had to take some hits on our end, but nothing that affected Matt’s design. It was just the practicality of how it lives in the box. We couldn’t do as many layers as he might have wanted, so that was one guide that he had to work with. The only other obstacles were on the production end. Making these is not an inexpensive process, so we actually took a hit on the margin and cost of goods because we believed in the packaging so much. We were willing to make sacrifices. Some companies might scrap it or deteriorate the end result so much that it’s not even what the designer intended, and we didn’t want to do that.
More sculptural work by Shlian
How is the box actually made?
EC: We laser-cut it in layers and push all the panels from behind the box. So the outside box is one of the layers, and you’ve got paper that’s going on top of this box, and in the laser process it actually burns the paper. We sort of like the burns because it shows the process, but we had to find a paper that minimized that. Then each box is hand-cleaned.
We wanted to stay true to Matt’s design, and the end result has been great. One of our biggest responses has been that it’s not the kind of box that you just throw away. You want to keep it. It’s not packaging, it’s art.
MS: One of the groups that I work with is Apple, and when I tell people that they say “Oh! I have that box!” People don’t need it, but they save it because opening it is like a gift. A lot of times we think of packaging as an afterthought, and it’s a frustrating experience to engage in, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be an entry point to an experience.
Are you a cologne guy yourself Matthew?
MS: You know it’s funny, Eddy sent me a bunch of samples and they’ve been in my studio at my desk. I’m not a cologne guy on the whole, but occasionally I put some on. When my wife Thea comes in the studio, she’ll be like “What are you up to? What did you do today?” It’s crazy, they do smell amazing.