Pretty Packaging

Rosalie Powel has seen her share of poorly wrapped packages—she wrapped most of them herself. The worst are “probably the ones I give to my children,” she confesses. “Sometimes I give gifts to them in the bags they came in because I don’t have time to wrap them.” She knows she should know better: “My mother used to say that if the presentation isn’t nice, then the gift can’t be much.”

Here’s one antidote to a bum wrap: Opening a series of brightly colored boxes nested one inside the other like Russian matryoshka dolls, each new box heightening the suspense. That’s what you get when you open a gift tucked inside a box from Parapluie, a company based in San Rafael, Calif. “Our main design criterion is to show off the contents through the shape of the box,” says Kiersten Muenchinger, a principal of the company. All of her boxes have multiple lids—anywhere from three to 10—that spill open at the touch.

Other types of packaging are less high tech but just as high touch:

  • Langdell Paper in East Topsham, Vt., offers wedding consultants white paper products that enhance gift images without distraction, according to company president Richard Langdell.

  • San Lorenzo International, Port Orange, N.J., imports traditional Florentine designs from Italy that incorporate undulating jewel-tone floral vines.

  • Pacific Northern, Carollton, Texas, produces porcelain boxes that not only hold gifts but also serve as trinket boxes after the gift is opened.

  • Moonrock Paper, Burlington, Mass., specializes in tree-free cotton packaging that CEO Sue Hickey calls keepsake quality—and as exquisite as the gift itself.

Parapluie finds inspiration for packaging concepts in flowers, buds on the verge of blooming, and origami. For San Lorenzo International, inspiration comes from an appreciation for prior eras and past generations as well as classic Florentine design. For Langdell Paper, ideas for packaging often come from nature and, many times, “from customers’ needs,” says Langdell.

Moonrock looks to the fashion and art worlds for inspiration. Its bags and boxes include embossed finishes, mock-crocodile finishes, and metallic forms. The company also lets its fabric-like paper speak for itself through designs that are stitched and sewn into it, says Hickey. “At some level, I guess we are treating it like a textile,” she adds.

“We fit the bag to the business,” is the motto of Bufkor in Clearwater, Fla. If you send the company a piece of carpet, it will find the color on the Pantone chart (a color-matching system) and create paper products to match it. For a jeweler from a mid-Atlantic state, Bufkor printed the store’s name in a repetitive pattern in tone-on-tone coloring inside bags. “Our packaging can be very sophisticated,” says Reg Martin, vice president.

Quality. If you want good packaging, check for signs of quality. In bags, look for glued-in bottom boards, reinforced tops, and matching seams. Boxes may be made of chipboard laminate, but some can be fashioned from thick stationery, providing a luxurious look and feel. For paper products, there’s weight to consider: 130 GSM (grams per square meter) is the industry standard, but Bufkor uses 150 to give its products a “nicer feel,” according to Martin.

There are differences between handmade and machine-made paper. The edges on handmade paper can look and feel softer because it’s frequently wet-cut—cut with water—to give edges a ripped, or deckled, appearance. “That’s the only way to cut handmade paper to give it an old kind of look,” says Dave Loiacono, manager, San Lorenzo International, about his company’s process for cutting its cotton and other natural writing papers. Adds Hickey: “[Making] handmade paper is a 2,000-year-old tradition.”

Loiacono says quality shows, whether you’re comparing paper bags or leather bags. “Compare leather bags made in Italy and elsewhere, and you know there’s a difference in the quality.”