Brand Spotlight: Bottega Louie
“The best part about this job is trying all the pastries,” jokes Erica Gibson with a grin. While the Art Director of Bottega Louie says this in jest, she does openly admit her delight in getting to sample the foods and pastries from time to time. This perk alone is enough to make any foodie envious, and as I sit in the restaurant consuming a heavenly stack of lemon ricotta pancakes at breakfast with Gibson and the rest of The Dieline team, I, too, can only imagine how wonderful it would be to work there. After exiting the restaurant portion of the space, I scan the gourmet market to find mouthwatering pastries that are too beautiful to be real: a princess cake in a dreamy lavender hue, cheesecake with perfectly placed raspberries, a dome-shaped torte with gold flakes on top, and countless other treats. It seems undeniable — working at Bottega Louie is certainly the sweet life.
The desserts here are edible pieces of art, flawlessly constructed to please the eyes and baked to satisfy the sweet tooth. But looking beyond the delicious food, Gibson’s job entails all facets of the brand and the products, from new pastry packaging to Bottega Louie’s overall image to new products like pasta and bottles of olive oil. “You’ve got to keep your eye on a lot of different things,” she states, showing us around her workspace, a small office situated across the street from the bustling restaurant and market. “The job entails much more than just packaging design. What may come as a surprise is that I am also responsible for our inventory management and purchasing of over 300 SKUs, all brand photography, social media, ecommerce, promotional materials, and I manage a team of three. We also have about 5-12 product or packaging developments in the works at all times. There are times when I wish I was designing more, but the variety of my job keeps things exciting.”
Gibson’s office bursts with creative, fun spaces, including a large inspiration board packed with images, a work table to fine-tune packaging details for upcoming projects, and backdrops and lighting for photo shoots. As we get the grand tour of her space, she leads us to a small nook with shelving on three sides that houses endless product inspiration and previous Bottega Louie packaging. Gibson grabs a cake box and assembles it, demonstrating not only the ease of use for the employee in the market but the event that is opening a Bottega Louie pastry — complete with ribbons, hidden magnets, and a delightful reveal. “It’s all the little surprises. We just want the experience to keep going and going until you get to the product.”
“I’m able to influence every part of the brand visually, which is really exciting,” she admits. When Bottega Louie expanded their brand to include appetizing foods like pasta and olive oils, Gibson and her team found the balance to allow for something new in the product line but also have these items fit perfectly with the brand. Looking at the shelves, everything from chocolate dipped pretzels to jams to marinara sauce, everything is definitively Bottega Louie but also entirely its own.
Although it may seem obvious, most restaurants don’t have their own in-house art director. Gibson shares with us what it’s like working in this unique position, what her design philosophy is, how to turn a vision into a tangible product — and her favorite Bottega Louie pastries, of course.
Tell us a little bit about what led up to your current position — what were your key interests, where did you study or go to school, what other work experience did you have?
Growing up I was drawing and painting all the time—it was what I known for. At some point in my teens I became absolutely obsessed with tattooing, which funny enough really trained me as a designer. I apprenticed from age 14-16 and then tattooed professionally until I changed paths and decided to go to college at 18. After a brief stint at CU Boulder, I transferred to Otis College of Art and Design where I graduated in 2009. Although I started out as an illustration major, I was becoming very drawn to graphic design through typography and book design courses. In my third year, my focus transitioned almost exclusively to graphic design. Kali Nikitas the Director of Communication Arts was very influential in my development as a designer as well as the staff at that time including Jessica Fleischmann and Davey Whitcraft to name a few.
How did you start working in art direction and package design? How did you start working at Bottega Louie?
Right out of school I had two amazing internships. The first was at OneOne in Amsterdam and the second at Still Room in Echo Park (now downtown). During this time I was able to explore the process of designing for nonprofits, artists, musicians and other clients under the guidance of tremendously talented designers. This was such a valuable time for me because each project allowed you to come up with an entirely unique story and visual identity. It is very different than working as a designer in the corporate world for one client. Because this was 2010 and in the midst of the recession, I had to find a paying job. I started my career out as a graphic designer working in the fashion industry for brands like Joe’s Jeans, BCBG and Clare Vivier. I was designing mostly web content, lookbook layouts and ads, but for Clare I was able to work on more printed materials including her CFDA application book, patterns, letterpressed cards and packaging pieces for her ecommerce business. I actually didn’t have a whole lot of typical packaging experience when I started at BL. I learned most of what I know about dielines and construction from studying our packaging archive and from my recent partner, Danny Bobbe
What intrigued you most about taking the position of Art Director at the restaurant? What excites you day-to-day about the job?
So many things! First off, I absolutely loved the packaging Bottega Louie was making. I remember going in there my first time and just feeling as though I died and went to design heaven…I was completely in love. Aesthetically, it was right up my alley and I found an instant connection from what they were doing to my own practice. Also, I am a total foodie who loves to cook so it seemed like the perfect place to work.
What excites me about my job is that I oversee and create all visual aspects of the brand and I have a lot of freedom to develop new products and designs. I love the work I’m making and I am proud of the brand we are building. I also get to collaborate with some of the most talented and dedicated people I know and they continually inspire me.
Tell us more about the Bottega Louie brand. How do you take that vision and turn it into something tangible, such as promotional photos or macaron boxes?
Bottega Louie is synonymous with luxury. Our number one priority is to offer the most memorable and exceptional guest experience possible. When it comes to packaging, materials are very important to us and we believe the tactile quality of a paper or ribbon should convey luxury. If you think about it, most high end fashion aside from beautiful shapes and colors is all about the quality of materials as well as craftsmanship—things you can feel, touch, smell. It is completely experiential. We want our packaging and basically everything our guest interacts with to evoke a feeling of exclusivity and grandeur. Every detail is considered and nothing is overlooked. All of our boxes are made with raw, uncoated paper (food grade coating for the interiors) and we even foil stamp our ribbon on the opposite side of the satin so that it doesn’t feel too slick.
Marketing materials of course have a specific purpose so our email blasts and social media presence has a different feel. It is a really tough balance to make social media posts feel luxurious while still resonating with our customers and fans on a personal level. That is the challenge but at the end of the day, everything we put out there must reflect a brand that cares immensely about their customer and really believes in the products they are making.
Bottega Louie is a must-see for visitors to LA and a favorite among locals. What might surprise people about your work with the restaurant and market?
People are definitely surprised when I tell them I am an Art Director for Bottega Louie. I don’t know of any other restaurant or market with one location that has an in-house creative team. Once people get to know how important design is to the brand and how many touchpoints are created, they begin to understand the necessity.
What is your design philosophy? Has it changed through the years and through your experience at Bottega Louie, or is it the same?
I think my design philosophy is pretty simple: make the most beautiful, interesting, weird stuff out there and make sure it is functional. I would say that is probably the one area that has really developed for me as a designer. Functionality is critical for packaging design, not only for the end user, but for the person packing the product. At Bottega Louie, the packaging I create is used by thousands of visitors so it is crucial for me to make sure our boxes don’t ruin pastries, bags hold up to the weight of the product and stickers stay stuck. Simultaneously I have to work with our operations team to determine which designs are going to be easy for our fulfillment team to assemble or which will create more work.
Do you have a favorite project or assignment you’ve done at Bottega Louie? Describe it, and tell us why you liked it so much.
I think my favorite projects were working on our savory line of pasta and olive oil. I was able to sink countless hours into the typography, logos, color, dielines and copy— there must have been 30 iterations of each. They are all very bold and stand out from the rest of our pastel packaging. I also sourced the pasta which comes directly from Italy out of the oldest pasta manufacturing families there. The olive oil is from Santa Ynez and is absolutely amazing, you have to try it. They were such a fun projects to work on and I really enjoy the R&D and sourcing aspect of this job.
What’s a typical day like for you? Do you have a set routine or is every day different?
Everyday is different but my week generally goes like this:
I start my day with some kind of workout, get ready, eat breakfast, answer emails and then head into the office at about 9am. I’m at the office 5 days a week and I have about 2-3 meetings a day with either Bottega Louie team members or outside vendors. When I’m at my computer I’m bouncing between emails regarding new developments or reorders and chipping away at larger projects like per piece chocolate packaging. I always have music playing—it is essential. Some days I don’t even open a creative suite program because I am too busy taking care of operational needs, organizing projects or shooting photos. When I do get a few spare hours, that is my time to design. And when I need to take a break from the computer, I’m lucky because I can head down to the commissary, market or restaurant for a change of scenery (and maybe grab a pastry :)).
What inspires you? Where do you turn for inspiration in your work?
I think like all designers it comes from a multitude of sources and one can find inspiration everywhere. When I am out in the world, my eyes are really wide open and I pay attention to signage, billboards, architecture and color. If it has text it will grab my eye. I love all the handpainted signs in my neighborhood of Echo Park and the variety of logos and typography in downtown. In the office and at home I find inspiration from blogs (Dieline obviously is an amazing resource), instagram, magazines, film, art, music and just scrubbing the web. At Bottega Louie we have built an expansive archive of packaging from all over the world and that provides an incredible amount of inspiration. I also dream a lot when I sleep and that probably ends up somewhere in my design.
What do you like most about working for Bottega Louie? What do they offer that you haven’t experienced elsewhere?
Where do I start? Bottega Louie is amazing to work for. I am given the opportunity to make designs that people give to loved ones and puts a smile on their face. It is very fulfilling. Design is highly valued at this Company and we are lucky enough to be able to invest in the sampling process as well as high quality materials and printing techniques so whatever we can dream can become a reality. In terms of culture, the people I work with are energizing, talented and fun to be around; although we work hard, we are always cracking jokes. Additionally, I love working in downtown and lots of new places are opening. I would be lying to say the food isn’t a huge plus too! Getting to sample and seeing the development process for our food and pastry is one of my favorite things.
Can you tell us about anything exciting that’s coming up at Bottega Louie?
We actually have four of our biggest launches coming up this fall. We have special occasion cakes and a new line of candies launching in September, per piece chocolate the first week of October and Thanksgiving to go in November.
I’d be remiss to not ask — what’s your favorite pastry or food at the store?
Food: Grilled Artichoke, Tartufo Pizza, Short Ribs, Bolognese, Cobb Salad.
Pastry: Macarons (I never get sick of them), St. Honore, Tropiezienne, Grand Macaron, Princess Cake and Le Dome.