Gin brand Bombay Sapphire is something of a paradox. On the one hand, the translucent blue bottle highlights its contemporary design, but on the other, the labelling features Queen Victoria and harks back to an age of imperialism and natural elegance.
Brand owner Bacardi Brown-Forman believes this contradiction mirrors the complexities of the art world, which is why the drinks manufacturer has long associated itself with emerging artists, art and design.
Last month, Bombay Sapphire strengthened its ties with the art world by installing The Bombay Sapphire Lounge at the 16th London Art Fair, which took place at the Business Design Centre (BDC) from 14-18 January.
The 64sqm feature was housed in the Start area, a subsidised section of the show that was created in 1998 to allow galleries less than three years' old to showcase emerging talent to buyers.
Bombay Sapphire assistant brand manager Paul di Vito says the decision to sponsor the BDC Events-run fair was taken as part of the organiser's wider plans for a £250,000 re-brand of the show.
"We've worked with BDC Events for three years on graduate design event New Designers and we knew that they wanted to make art more accessible at this year's fair," says di Vito.
"They saw a larger version of the Bombay Sapphire Lounge at the 2004 Big Chill music festival in Ledbury, Hertfordshire and we agreed that it would add value not only to the show but to our affiliation with art and design."
London Art Fair sponsorship manager Andrew Morrow was responsible for the re-brand that added a string of new features. An Art House created by an interior designer showed how art can work in the home, an Art Help service matched consumers with personal shoppers who could also advise on caring for works of art, and an Art Shop enabled less affluent visitors to buy prints.
"The lounge worked well as it created a relaxed environment, which resulted in people spending longer at the show," says Morrow. "In past years, the fair has been a buyers' forum and research suggested that first-time art buyers feel intimidated going into galleries. We wanted to reposition ourselves so more people who were considering buying art could speak to the galleries in an informal environment."
Morrow adds: "There is now a younger audience of art buyers who may have had Athena posters on their walls but who have now matured into home owners and wish to buy the real deal."
Visitors to the Bombay Sapphire Lounge during the five-day show were treated to a range of gin-based cocktails, mixed by professional bartenders from high-profile London venues such as Jamie Oliver's Fifteen and Roadhouse in Covent Garden.
The drinks menu featured Ultimate Sapphire with tonic, Sapphire and cranberry, Tom Collins with lemon juice and a Bombay Bramble made with Creme de Mure and a blackberry garnish.
The bar itself featured an exhibit by Japanese artist Chiho Hitomi, the winner of the 2002 Bombay Sapphire Foundation Glass in Art prize. The display of suspended glass rings portrayed the gin brand's contemporary values while the bar's old yet elegant decor represented the Bombay Sapphire recipe that dates back to 1761.
"The Bombay Sapphire Foundation was created to encourage and reward the best use of modern design and the short list nominations for the £15,000 prize are brought together to form an annual touring exhibition called the Bombay Sapphire Blue Room," explains di Vito.
The spirit brand supported its activity at the Islington show with an on-trade promotion for bars on nearby Upper Street. When people bought a Bombay Sapphire and mixer at any of the participating bars on the trendy thoroughfare they received a two-for-one ticket offer for any of the other show days.
"We hope that all our activity and affiliation to art will have helped to change people's perception of Bombay Sapphire and encouraged them to try it with a mixer," says di Vito. With the lounge selling 4,000 drinks on the opening night of the fair and an estimated 15,000 drinks during the course of the exhibition, many art lovers may now have found a new passion for gin.
Bombay Sapphire Lounge
Event: London Art Fair
Venue: Business Design Centre
Date: 14-18 January 2004
Show organiser: BDC Events
Visitor figures: 30,000 (unaudited)
Creative agency: Capitalize