Cles des Ducs (luxury alcohol industry) of Remy Martin. To make a centuries old product global with the introduction of XO category. Repositioned in 1994.
Cles des Ducs (translated from French as “Key of the Duke”) is an old armagnac brand in the stable of historic Remy Martin founded in 1724. It specializes in cognac fine champagne. Armagnac is a distinctive kind of agricultural liqueur produced in the Armagnac region in Gascony, south west France. It started from the Middle Ages when monks used to give this drink to poor people to boost their morale. Armagnac is an older product than cognac; it is locally produced by small farmers which is why it is rare and had less salience outside France.
Remy Martin’s target market was Japan because the Japanese are regular consumers of French liqueurs. The Japanese knew about armagnac but not Cles des Ducs brand. They used to think armagnac was a by-product of cognac, which was a wrong perception. Remy Martin wanted to introduce their Cles des Ducs brand in Japan first as a test market before spreading it in the world.
Remy Martin appointed us in 1990 to see if the Cles des Ducs brand could become international by distinguishing the difference between cognac and armagnac.
We spent ample time in Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima among other small cities in Japan to understand their French liqueur drinking ritual and how that connects to their social life. It came out clearly that sake is considered as run-of-the-mill, but French liqueurs had a huge connotation of French nobility. In blind tests the Japanese responded to armagnac as having the characteristic of a very agricultural natural feeling whereas they found cognac to be more refined alcohol. Their understanding of armagnac was exactly correct as that is what the product happens to be.
At this time during the 1990s, armagnac bottles were dark green so you could not see the product in the bottle. The Japanese were suspicious of things not visible, so bottle transparency has to be brought. They were attracted to the alcohol being XO (extra old) and sophisticated, and if that made the product more costly, it did not bother them. At this time, Remy Martin did not have XO category. But the name Cles des Ducs (“Key of the Duke”) connotes closure for the Japanese, which was troublesome for them as closure was not an invitation to drink. They would prefer an outburst of excitement when enjoying a drink. So armagnac had many pluses – ancient nobility, transparency, agriculture based, bright colour, but an open feeling was missing because of the key in the name.
We started by creating the structural glass bottle design. We made the glass transparent, put a hammered effect on it like in a Middle Ages temple to evoke the culture of traditional old nobility of France. We designed a heavy glass bottle cap to denote a king’s crown. The branding of Cles des Ducs name was redesigned with a Middle Ages type of typography. The background imagery in the brand had the cellar door kept ajar to invite people to visit the cellars in Gascony. That solved the purpose of making positive the word key in the brand’s name. The outer packaging of the liqueur bottle is a painting of Shombit Sengupta which was a part of his series called Lumière de temps (Light of the times). At the bottom of the glass bottle there is an engraved signature of Shombit Sengupta, the designer.