Above Brand Celebrates Finer Things Like Imported Beers & Multicultural Societies
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
WNW Member Francesca Martorelli has just launched a new company called Above Brand which blends a celebration of imported European beers with a celebration of a multicultural society. Francesca finds this an especially important message right now and we happen to agree. In light of the weight of divisiveness that defined 2017 both in the US and the UK, what better way to kick off 2018 than by rallying around the taste of fine liquid hops. "The idea is to select the best organic European beers for The UK and create special edition packages dedicated to world cultures. Every six months, Above Brand will release a new beer dedicated to a specific country... With every beer also comes a small streetwear collection."
In our interview below, we talk to the London-based entrepreneur to find out how she employed her design and illustration background with her latest endeavor, and learn about the first installment: "The first beer released is an organic Turf n’ Surf, an experimental Tripel from Holland whose bottle is dedicated to Japan. Turf n’ Surf is brewed by an already well-known brewer in Holland called vandeStreek."
Tell us a bit about your creative background. Who is Francesca and how did she get here?
I have been working for almost ten years for the advertising and design industry in the Netherlands, Italy and The UK. I mainly worked for big brands and the more I was learning about them, the more I wished to create my own. I felt the need to do something in which I could really use my skills, get more challenges and work with my soul. When I started to deeply wish for it, everything naturally started to unfold without having to force things.
How would you describe your creative style? Do you recognize a signature style that links all your projects, or do you try to approach each project as its own entity?
I guess my style represents who I am. The problem is that I change all the time! At the moment I like to take photographs that feel authentic and I don’t like to retouch them. I like to make illustrations and graphics that are playful but tidy; each graphical element to have its own space while connecting with one other. And probably this is how I am in life too. I appreciate when people are real, like my photography, and I need my own space but people are very important to me, like my graphics and illustrations. I believe each project should have its own personality, not to make everything look the same. I think it is important to have a story expressed through these visuals.
What were some of the challenges in launching your creative career?
I find it very difficult to create my own brand while freelancing as it slows down the creation of Above Brand, and keeps me working many evenings and weekends. This doesn’t mean I dislike it. In fact, it allows me to be up to date, meet new designers and work with people I like.
What was the impetus behind starting your own brand, Above Brand, and what’s it all about?
As I mentioned, I felt the need to create something which could allow me to be fulfilled and have a ‘higher purpose’. With Above Brand I want to communicate the importance of a multicultural society, which I think is a message worth spreading at the moment. I want to show the beauty of differences which for me are not reasons for division but opportunities for collaborations. The idea is to select the best organic European beers for The UK and create special edition packages dedicated to world cultures. Every six months, Above Brand will release a new beer dedicated to a specific country. I thought that the best way to describe the beauty of visual cultures was through a graphical pattern. This pattern changes for each country and appears everywhere: on bottles, stationery, and merchandise. With every beer also comes a small streetwear collection. You can see some pieces worn by Kiki Hitomi in the Above Brand campaign. Kiki Hitomi is a great Japanese musician and she is the testimonial of our first release: a Dutch beer in a Japanese bottle. Each beer will have its own creative testimonial, as the aim is to present a special inspiring experience. Above Brand is also organic and eco-friendly, as it’s all about quality. In fact, I created a screen printing beer packaging that is totally recyclable if not reusable and asked the selected brewers to use only organic ingredients. After my business partner John and I tried the organic version we were impressed by the improvement as flavours and aromas were revitalised.
How did you employ your design and illustration background to this endeavor?
I have always tried to push myself in everything I do. My motto is “If I have to do something, I do it the best I can.” And I think this attitude helps me to improve and enjoy what I do. I am also a hard-working person and constantly looking for inspirations.
Can you talk a bit about the first bottle’s design, and how it captures Above Brand’s multicultural mission?
The first beer released is an organic Turf n’ Surf, an experimental Tripel from Holland whose bottle is dedicated to Japan. Turf n’ Surf is brewed by an already well-known brewer in Holland called vandeStreek. They are two brothers and what they create is experimental, creative and very tasty! They are talented but also original and down to earth. John and I fell in love with their beers and really liked their genuine qualities. Also, Dutch beer culture is growing a lot as of late so we liked the idea to select an excellent Dutch beer dedicated to Japan to be sold in The UK.
What have been some unexpected challenges and surprises of launching your own company?
Since starting on Above Brand, I spent a lot of time on my own working like crazy and I found it challenging because I was used to working full-time for big companies where the environment was chaotic and deadlines were tight. So I had to learn to be silently on my own and to take my time to work on things which required many hours of thinking and researching. I also found it challenging not to have much time and money to do other things. When I had to freelance, it was not easy to stop working on Above Brand. But I was also lucky because my business partner John decided to join the company after being my mentor for a year and since then things are funnier and easier. A crazy thing we had to overcome was UK alcohol regulations… we felt like Asterix and Obelix in The Place That Sends You Mad!
Any tips for our members looking to start their own companies?
Believe in yourself even if people turn you down; you are the only one who can convince others you can do it if you really believe in it. Meditation and yoga practice help you to connect with your real self which is not contaminated by ‘society pollution.' You are not alone, you are part of something bigger and beautiful. Every time I lost faith in myself I listen to ‘I Get Out’ and ‘Water’ by Lauryn Hill, or I give a call to John. So it’s also important to have inspiring people around.
How would you define the London creative scene?
London is culturally vibrant and creativity is everywhere. From amazing design festivals to theatre, cinema and art exhibitions. But creativity is also found in London streets, where the mass is not afraid to express their unicity hanging around in all sorts of outfits. London accepts everybody, no matter what. Creatives are also often very talented and inspiring as London gets pretty competitive.
How do you see the creative landscape shifting in the UK/Europe?
If you mean Brexit, I see it as a normal reaction as something revolutionary is happening inside us. We have always been fighting with our neighbours near and beyond because we felt they were different and therefore dangerous. But now thanks to big cities we are finally understanding that we can peacefully co-exist in all our differences and this could mean the end of wars. This is why I believe that when such big changes happen there are always a bunch of people afraid, that tend to go back to the past, but I don’t believe this is possible anymore.
Who are your biggest creative influences?
As I mentioned before Lauryn Hill is a great example of talent and character. She went against everybody to protect her soul and keep on doing what she loved. I like Patricia Urquiola and her Re-trouvé chairs. Paula Scher and her work for MOMA. Dutch design, Studio Dumbar and Studio Laucke Siebein; the way they use typography is marvelous. Studio Ghibli. UK: We are Build and their Virgin America project! From the US: Sagmeister & Walsh, Pins Won't Save The World and Aizone 14-16 for example. Neville Brody, Natalia Iguiniz Boggio, Yuko Araki, Bob van Dijk, Bonifacio Pontonio, Michele Spera, Irma Boom and so on… It’s nice That and Visuelle.co.uk are pretty good portals to find inspirations. Fashion photographers like Mario Testino and David Lachapelle as they added creativity to the boring fashion world. But I also find Quantum physics and movies like Kimatica by Ben Stewart inspiring.
What do you do when Not Working?
Work and private life are a bit mixed up; my business partner is also a great friend of mine for example. I like to enjoy cultural events which I find are always inspiring for my work. Walking with my boyfriend all over London taking photographs and spending time with him. Contact with nature, Yoga and my yoga team. Dinners with friends. Travelling but I should do more of it.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard or received that all creatives should hear?
‘Ask for Help’ by Steve Jobs. ‘You create a good future by creating a good present’ by Eckhart Tolle. ‘Focus on the best qualities of every person’ by John Elsden. ‘Keep it simple’ by Chris Moody. ‘I tell you what freedom is to me: no fear’ by Nina Simone.
What’s next for Above Brand?
We are now contacting managers from venues in London which we feel are right for Above Brand, letting them taste Turf n’ Surf. We have selected our second and third beer which are Dutch beers dedicated to China and South Korea. We are planning to ask for investments too, so exciting moments to come!
Who are some WNW members whose work you admire and why?
Thea Glad, Kate Moross, Graham Anderson, Jean Jullien, Leta Sobierajski, Nicole Pivirotto, Jessica Walsh, Sara Mazzetti, Paul Pajot, Simona Bunardzhieva, Craig Black, Meeta Panesar, Anthony Zukofsky, Tom Wysocki, Ricardo Gonzalez, and many more I am forgetting to mention!
Anything else you’d like to add?
I would like to thank everybody who helped all the way through the creation of the brand. Lucia Rusinakova who helped to shoot Kiki Hitomi and much more, Matteo Reggi who helped to create a pin collection for Above Brand and much more (coming soon), Justin Lim who helped with the campaign copyright, Nemo/Nimesh Dahya who helped making animations for the campaign, Kiki Hitomi who invited me to Leipzig to take photos of her and accepted to be the first beer testimonial, John Elsden who believed in the project first of all, Stefano Caravana who helped with the website. Last but not least Marija Jovanovic who is a graphic designer and beer lover who helped us get together with a team of beer connoisseurs to choose our beers. And everybody who helped with the website and gave us advice and support.