Experimental Book Designer Celebrates Chanel with Inkless Project

By: Antony Hampel

You have probably never heard of experimental book designer Irma Boom. Yet, she has been making waves on the art and design scene for many years. Now, she has teamed up with the most prolific fashion house on the planet for a project which is as extraordinary as it is beautiful.

Her latest work,referred to as simply ‘the Chanel Book,’ is a tome without ink. It is a small (exactly 5cm thick), perfectly formed, and remarkably delicate piece, which is designed to characterise the brand and evoke its particular blend of elegance and sophistication.

As there is no ink, the text and images which it contains bear a close resemblance to what we know as braille, though the words are still written out fully in English. It would be more accurate to call them ‘embossed,’ but what makes the book so special is that every single component follows this style. So, even the sketch drawings are rendered entirely without ink or colour.

Ironically, the look and feel of the Chanel book can be difficult to encapsulate on paper. The notion of a stark white book without ink can seem a little cold and Chanel No. 5 (the perfume which it is supposed to represent) has certainly never been short of personality. In reality, however, the project manages to exude a quiet confidence and joie de vivre.

This is, perhaps, in part due to the decision not to add smell to the pages of the book. According to Boom, scented words or designs would have been far ‘too literal’ and it is easy to agree with her. If the pages of the book had been soaked in Chanel No. 5, it would have been all but impossible for the artist to approach the project from a fresh perspective.

Yet, the power of smell still runs through every aspect of this book. Whilst researching for the project, Boom spent time watching the Chanel team pick roses in Provence. It was here that she found her inspiration, because the scent of so many flowers overwhelmed her senses; but crucially, the power and influence of the sensation was entirely invisible to the naked eye.

Now, we start to understand why Boom decided to remove the role of ink from her latest design experiment. It was no easy process either, as embossed lettering has to be protected from the weight of binding and pressing, or it turns out flat. So, without the right kind of binding technique, the book would simply have been empty – the words would have vanished.

In many ways, this is an appropriate metaphor for what Boom has tried to encapsulate here. The power of smell can be incredible, but ultimately, it is fleeting. Not only that, but it is subjective too – when one person smells roses, another might smell fruit.And with this book, the pages are similarly subjective; there to be filled with whatever colours your mind chooses.

By: Antony Hampel