Notting Hill is famous for a few things: an incredible carnival; Portobello Road; a very British film… But amongst these bustling aspects lies a very peaceful space, where the only things that feel crammed are the display cases. That is why The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising is the perfect place to explore, and seek solace, on a busy Saturday morning.
Starting with the Victorian era, the museum charts the history of consumerism to the present day, with complex displays of packages, adverts and brands. Gazing into the first cabinet felt like the perfect way to end 2012. This busy case was filled with hundreds of packets; each designed over a hundred years ago to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. From cups and plates, to mustard tins and posters, there was a definite sense that the visual culture surrounding this long passed Jubilee was very similar to the one surrounding the more recent.
And this is one of the things that is so astounding about the museum – the fact that the packaging and advertising that we are so accustomed to seeing today have a story that spans over one hundred years. This is a fact that is reinforced as one travels through the space, and consequently through eras. Whether it is the birth of the Kit Kat in the 1930s, with its eye-catching red and white branding, or the never-changing design of Brasso, this space successfully pieces together a vast range of objects in order to explain an incredible social history.
Equally as fascinating is the story of Robert Opie; the man who spent years collecting all of these packages. Apparently beginning at the age of sixteen with a single packet of Munchies, his collection soon grew to such an extent that it needed its own museum space (much like Jan and Graham Upton of How We Lived Then). Initially being housed in a museum in Gloucester, the collection moved to London in 2005 to reach a wider audience.
Opie is an expert on how packaging relates to the desires and needs of consumers. In a fascinating interview he discusses the near downfall of Black Magic, when it was changed by a new team of ‘young whiz kids’, who were unaware of the history behind the brand. Perhaps they should have visited The Museum of Brands, Packaging and Advertising to discover the Art Deco history behind the design!
I think that Opie’s own words sum up the space perfectly: ‘When the thousands of pieces of our social history are assembled into some giant jigsaw, the picture becomes clearer as to the remarkable journey we have all come through’.