Outside the Box: Q&A with Vincent Villeger

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Welcome to the first in a brand new series of interviews from Nirvana CPH, designed to showcase the creative minds that help bring brands to life.

Here, you’ll find notes on creativity and inspiration, reflections on personal and professional successes, and insights into what it takes to build a truly successful brand.

First up, it’s our long-time friend and some-time collaborator, Vincent Villeger.

Vincent is a multi-award-winning packaging creative, with a background in product design, who has designed for the likes of Givenchy, Yves Saint Laurent and Issey Miyake. Prior to founding his own studio, he worked as Director of Packaging Design at Burberry.

Nirvana CPH:
How did you end up choosing a career in the design industry, and where did you start?

Vincent Villeger:
I am lucky, in that I knew what I wanted to do from a young age. As a child I was forever drawing and, by the time I was 16 years old, in the mid-nineties, I knew I wanted to be a designer. It was the age of Philippe Starck and Alessi.

Designers were emerging into the mainstream, having an impact on our everyday lives and challenging our notions of what things should, or could, look like.

My parents were very supportive, which I am also grateful for. I first studied art and design at foundation level in Orléans, and then a degree in Paris at ENSAAMA (École Nationale des Arts Appliqués et Métiers d’Art).

For my Master’s Degree, I opted to come to England. I looked at how form impacts the way in which we use a product, and then in turn the resulting interaction. Think how making a camera into the shape of a smartphone gave birth to the selfie, keeping in mind that back when I did my degree, we barely had mobile phones (let alone smartphones) or digital cameras.

The Birmingham years were about experiencing British life as much as learning about design. My degree was awarded to me by Alberto Alessi himself, which was a nice meaningful touch.

My third stroke of luck was the exposure I had to the beauty industry when I shared a Paris flat with my brother, who was a product director for Issey Miyake Perfumes at the time. He came unstuck on a project one Friday night, having spent his entire budget and timing on a design that was turned down. I came up with a design there and then, made a mock-up at the weekend and, by the following Tuesday, my proposal had been signed-off to become my first commercial release. This one project has informed the rest of my career, designing products and packs for the luxury and beauty industries.

I had a successful and enjoyable few years working with my (now) wife, designing for mega-brands such as YSL, Givenchy and Boucheron before joining Burberry.

Looking back on it, my career has been about leveraging every opportunity that presented itself to me. It may start with a bit of luck, but then it’s down to you to make things happen.

Burberry Retail Packaging
Burberry Body
Tunnocks Tea Cake
Molton Brown Sketches

Nirvana CPH:
You worked at Burberry for a number of years under Christopher Bailey – how did you set about translating Christopher’s vision for the brand into your designs?

Vincent Villeger:
Burberry hired me to build and drive the packaging design function. Our mandate was pretty simple: “make Burberry the number one British luxury brand.” This informed every decision we made. Much of my work there was about raising standards and bringing cohesiveness to the brand across all its channels – retail, watches, fragrance, eyewear, beauty…

My concern when I joined was that the work might become monotonous, but there was such a variety and the brand went through many incarnations over the course of my eight years there.

My key achievements there include the design of many fragrance franchises, including My Burberry and Burberry Bespoke. I also redesigned the brand packaging several times over, including a few bespoke papers which took me around the world, working with the best paper mills in the UK, Germany and the United States.

For the last retail packaging I designed, the emphasis was on sustainability as well as on brand expression. We developed a paper to match the iconic Gabardine fabric used on the trench coats. That was over 5 years ago. Sustainability wasn’t the PR currency it has become, but I was proud to introduce packaging that was FSC-certified, using paper made from 40% Post-Consumer Waste and which contained no plastic or lamination whatsoever.

It was incredible to be a part of the brand at such a momentous time, under the leadership of both Christopher and Angela [Ahrendts]. The entire creative team was so talented; there was a real sense that you were operating amongst the best creatives in the country, so you had to keep your standards up all the time.

Nirvana CPH:
What has been your proudest moment as a designer?

Vincent Villeger:
Seeing my designs out in the “real world” is always a proud moment, even after over 20 years. I am fortunate that my career has provided me with many proud moments.

Recently I was awarded a D&AD pencil, a Dieline Award and British GQ’s Editor Award for my design of the Molton Brown Fine Fragrance Collection. These were a nice touch, but my first objective is always to help the brand, not to win awards.

Designing the Limited Edition Vinyls set for Elton John [and Burberry] was so much fun; I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the design. I only produced one concept and the prototype was signed off straight away both by Christopher Bailey and by Elton John – proof that, sometimes, it pays to follow your creative instinct.

Posted 05 January, 2020 by Katie Kubrak