A product's packaging has a lot of power over buyers, and designer Peddy Mergui wants both consumers and those in his field to start recognizing that.
In an exhibition titled Wheat is Wheat is Wheat, Mergui wraps over a dozen basic food products — from eggs to coffee to salami — in high-end designers' patterns and big brands' famous packagings in order to elicit reactions based on brand recognition. Meet Apple's iMilk, Prada's flour, and Burberry's ramen. "High-end brands are not selling the products, they are selling the lifestyle," Mergui tells The Verge by phone. But now, those brands are beginning to branch out, "extending products to a lot of fields that did not use to be there."
For Mergui, the logical and absurd conclusion of that seemed to be these companies eventually branding ordinary staples because they know that they can make money off of it — even with something as basic as pickles, which were originally made out of necessity for preservation. Ridiculous as his fictional products may be, Mergui says that people who have seen his exhibit have had a strong response. "People really liked it," he said. "I felt a bit confused. You're just buying flour, or milk, or whatever — this is a basic thing."
Mergui said he once showed Chanel-branded instant baby formula to a major business executive, who immediately perked up at the idea and wanted to get some for her child. "[Design is] so under the radar that people think it's nice and that it's giving them self esteem," Mergui says. "Actually, be aware that you're being manipulated by the visual aspects of packaging."
As part of the field, Mergui says that designers have a responsibility here — that there are certain ethical boundaries that designers should recognize and set for themselves. "After seventeen years in this field, I really know how to change the perception of products," Mergui says. "For instance, I can take something and make it interesting, to make people feel related to it … but while you're doing that you have to be aware of why you're doing: what is the other side, what about the customer?"
Wheat is Wheat is Wheat is currently showing in San Francisco at the Museum of Craft and Design and will be there through June 15th. Above: Salami by Louis Vuitton. All images reprinted with permission of the artist.