4. Ginstinct II – Creating Wardington's Original
A series of happy accidents...
Creating a brand is no mean feat. We’ve all seen examples of brands that seem to appear from nowhere, strike a chord with us, make an emotional connection – and that’s it, we’re part of the tribe. Many people have tried to define how to create a brand; ultimately though it’s about being in the right time, the right place, working with the right people. I’m really convinced that you need to have an extra sense that is attuned to sending the zeitgeist … and if you’re really lucky, the zeitgeist that is starting to build energy but hasn’t arrived yet.
Ludlow Food Festival is a place where a zeitgeist can often be tangible, you can spot trends coming and going, identify those who are brave enough to ride the waves and instinctively know how to respond to energy. I remember vividly being at Ludlow Food Festival a few years ago and trying Chase Vodka, born out of Tyrrells, a brand we’d all locally come to love and be passionate about. The sight of the branded Landrover, trying this incredibly smooth vodka, making that purchase, being among the first; even the simple brown bag it came in … it’s these emotional experiences that shape us as consumers.
Another example of how I have responded as a consumer is the humble pair of jeans. I remember the jeans store in Bristol when I was in my teens – actually there were two, one was pretty lame at customer service, the other was attempting to meet customer needs in a more bespoke way. Essentially though we all wore mass-produced products which had no story behind them, you were either a Levi guy, or Diesel if you had the money. And then in the Noughties, along came Nudie – organic denim, jeans you wore, didn’t wash and sent back to be repaired; jeans for life, jeans with a back story. I remember a mate of mine persuading me to try them – reader, I’ve never looked back. I have several vintages in my drawers, I love them individually for the stories they tell. Incidentally, people have often asked me, ‘those jeans in your promo photos – where are they from?’ Quality can really shine through.
Creating an image for Ludlow Gin was a truly wonderful experience. One day I might reveal the first designs we worked through as we distilled our way to what would become our house style. There were endless catalogues of bottles – spirit bottles are crucial, reflecting the visceral way we experience a spirit as we pick up the bottle and pour our purchase into the glass. But it’s about so much more than the shape and weight; the label needs to draw the eye, most people’s first experience of your product will be the bar or shelf test, does it speak to them, draw them in? I’m very grateful to Mike Hedges, formally of Tyrrells and now CEO of Propercorn, a good friend; he took time to teach me that first test, does it say ‘drink me’ from three metres away?
Ludlow is surrounded by creative energy; there are many people in the town working in or around the food industry, and we were fortunate enough to meet Matt Mills, our designer, at an early stage in our process. Like us, Matt appreciates simplicity, letting the product speak for itself; he creates designs that are minimal, draw the eye and make use of the best materials and techniques, with good old-fashioned typesetting.
As Finn always says at work, plans never survive contact with the enemy. We’d worked up a design, quotes were in, bottles had been chosen. Then one day, we had two nights away, a bit of breathing space in the Cotswolds, not far away but a place we’ve often visited, home of the arts and craft movement, and a wonderful and inspirational array of crafters: silversmiths, cutlers and even a milliner. I said to Peter, let’s walk down the high street, perhaps that printers might be open, the one that’s usually closed when we visit. A short stroll, and lo and behold the door was open. I’d spotted this little emporium of delights on many previous visits, noticing lots of little pieces of beautiful stationery in the window, endless opportunities; but most exciting of all, letterpress, proper printing, beautiful, tactile, yes I’ll even suggest erotic, I love stationery! We popped our heads inside Cherry Press, stroking the pencils, pads and notebooks, suggesting so many ideas and lists waiting to be born. And with that came a perky greeting: ‘Alright there chaps, how’s your day?’, and David Lewis walked into our lives. An excited conversation ensued, a chance to meet his girls, the two Heidelberg presses: rolls of hot foil, bottles of ink, colours and textures galore. In short – heaven. ‘I could print your labels you know, keep it simple, classic.’ We also bumped into two other budding gin distillers, the founders of Jin Talog, who were also browsing the delights of the collected bounty of stationery; many good friends were made that day. The combination of David’s and Matt’s experience in their respective fields quickly bore fruit and our iconic labels and bottles were born: handcrafted using Italian paper, printed on a Heidelberg press with love. When something is made with love it speaks to people.
As for the name Wardington, it’s simple, so much of our story had been about my desire, my vision, it needed to be connected to me. My nickname for years amongst close friends had been Wardington Bear, two great mates, builders I’d work with over a number of years, even played for both of their weddings, it was David and Mark who always referred to me as ‘Ah Wardington Bear’. Gin oh so English, Paddington Bear, also so, a marriage made in heaven: Wardington’s Original was born.