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While a bit of liquid courage is often relied upon to add to any social gala, events or curations centred solely on the art and chemistry of crafted aqua vitae - intended to showcase the painstaking, perfection-seeking process in their brewing and blending - are often defined by their somewhat interestingly ritualistic nature. While design in all its sub-disciplines, from product to industrial to graphic to packaging to even culinary, is a central character in the perception of the spirit, the event itself comes to be defined by this ritual - not just in the way the spirit is consumed to make sure each one of its pungent-fruity-oaky-smokey notes hit, but also in the way the entire experience is curated around bespoke batches of the high-end spirit. That ritual further ends up influencing even the movement patterns of the guests and aficionados, and most alluringly, the space and its character itself. Fresh off the Prada Frames Symposium at the Milan Design Week 2022 and designing the Central Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale, Italian designer-duo Studio Formafantasma seek to inculcate the same ritualistic spirit in their design and curation of a holistic vodka tasting experience at the X MUSE Temple in Scotland - the studio’s first brand residence, and home to the X MUSE Helicon tasting workshop.
The notion of art infused into the proceedings and the eponymous spirit, pronounced Tenth Muse Vodka, comes rather naturally as part of its genesis at the Jupiter Artland, an award winning sculptural park located outside Edinburgh. The blended barley vodka, first of its kind, boasts the finesse of Scottish spirit-making “at the convergence of drinks innovation and art thinking”, and comes infused with the spring water residing at the parkland. A ticket to the Temple experience and location would also grant patrons access to the expansive Jupiter Artland, featuring Charles Jenck’s Cells of Life, a landscape sculpture that sits above the ancient aquifer where the water to make X MUSE is drawn from; Anya Gallacio’s The Light Pours Out of Me, a subterranean cave like formation of purple amethysts thought to charge the water’s ‘energy’; and a statue by Ian Hamilton that inspired the brand’s name, among many other artworks dotting the park.
The vodka, which took three years for its blend to be perfected, will be housed in curated batches for the X MUSE Helicon tasting workshop inside the ‘temple’ - a solar dome made of clear glass - part of the holistic experience designed by the Milan-based design studio. Everything within the dome, including furniture, tableware, and glassware, along with the presentation of the cocktails, graphic motifs, and multisensory stimuli, coalesce into more than a brand identity - a brand narrative rather. In line with the same, the tasting workshop inside the glass dome houses handcrafted objects sourced from the UK to reference the art that brings the vodka alive, along with its quintessential alchemy. As part of Studio Formafantasma’s curation, bronze vessels and glorifiers by Powderall Bronze, each hand-patinated and hand-engraved with the X MUSE brand illustrations, an elegant central tasting table made of blackened oak and solid Scottish granite, oak dining chairs furnished with Bouclé Ivory textile, designed by Andrea and Simone from Formafantasma itself, and glassware from Lobmeyr bringing alive a 200-year old Austrian legacy of fine crystal design, line the conventionally arranged yet impeccably decorated interior space of the dome.
The brand’s visual identity is presented as illustrations, etched onto the inside of the dome, with the tasting experience being lent a symbolic life, a window into X MUSE’s guiding ethos. Designed by A Practice for Everyday Life, an all-female studio for graphic design who were also appointed to provide the graphic identity for the 2022 Venice Biennale, the alchemical symbols are drawn in hermetic texts, lining the inside of the dome. The Monas Hieroglyphica, for instance, originally created by John Dee in the 16th century and employed to great effect in the esoteric temple, is directly linked to the liquor’s distillation process, quite poetically stated as the coming together of the sun (fire), the moon (water), the earth, and the air.
“We wanted to bring to life the unprecedented attention to detail that has gone into the making and ingredients of X MUSE. The materials used to create the X MUSE Temple, which is a space that ritualises the brand’s inspiration and philosophy, allows guests to best explore its smooth and complex flavour”, state X MUSE co-founders Robert Wilson and Vadim Grigoryan on the genesis and process of the vodka manifesting into the spatial experience of the temple. Furthermore, the designer duo at Formafantasma stated how their design process was aided by the brand’s ethos being about the “blending of cultural history with an edgy approach to alchemy and contemporary art”. According to an official release, the duo brought their rich experiential design intent alive “through a unique palette of materials, textures, and tones, yet in a minimalist way that is layered with meaning, similar to the X MUSE bottle and graphic identity”. This is also manifested through the local materials sourced from in and around Scotland, including wool, wood, granite, and glass, consciously reflecting the vodka’s strong Scottish heritage and roots.
In line with the exclusivity and prestige that the liquor professes, the Helicon experience too is a full-scale product presentation that would only allow 5-15 guests at a time, conducted by an expert X MUSE guide. The experience would include signature cocktails on arrival, private access to the X MUSE Temple, and a curated tasting of three different samples of X MUSE.
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