You either love it or hate it. The durian is a fruit that divides. It gives off an odour that some compare to rotting garbage, but get past that, and one may be charmed by its creamy, bittersweet flesh that tastes like brandy.
Such controversy surrounding the fruit inspired BLACK to brand a manufacturer of premium durian products, “Forbidden”. Jackson Tan, who heads the creative agency, notes that the durian is forbidden on various public transport systems because of its foul smell. He was also reminded of the “forbidden fruit” in the biblical narrative in which God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat. They did anyway and became aware of their “nakedness”, which is similar to the sensual experience of eating a durian, says the self-professed durian lover.
“I thought about what is it about a durian that makes us love it so much. You use your hands to pry it open, and have to eat the ‘flesh’ with your hands. It’s got a bit of sexual thing in there,” says Jackson.
Thus, he briefed his team to make the client’s durian products “sexy” by design. Consider the suggestive details in Forbidden’s wordmark. The stencilled lettering has pointed terminals like the thorny fruit and subtly hides its ‘E’ to hint at the “illicit” experience of eating a durian. The wordmark also ends with a spiky durian-like symbol, which is actually a 14-point star found on the flag of Malaysia, where Forbidden’s durians originate from.
Jackson reveals that BLACK originally tried pursuing a “nationalistic” design for the brand started by SunnyHills. It is the first “World Project” created by the Taiwanese company renowned for its pineapple products. Forbidden follows SunnyHills’ “farm-to-bakery” concept by bringing together a durian plantation in Malaysia and local pastry chef Danny Ho, who is known as the “Durian Prince” for his innovative creations.
However, the initial proposals based on names inspired by Malaysia did not sit well with Jackson and the head of Forbidden, Damian Lee.
I always felt that durian being such an expensive fruit deserves a more fitting design.Damian Lee, CEO of Forbidden
“As SunnyHills was more a Taiwanese brand, we originally thought it would be better for a brand rooted in Malaysia too,” explains Damian. “We had three very good names, but they didn’t reflect the essence of the fruit. They were not edgy enough.”
It was during a four-hour drive from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur to present the original proposed names to SunnyHills that Jackson came up with the idea for “Forbidden”. Damian instantly liked the idea, but there was no time to draw up any new designs. Jackson presented the three proposals as planned, but at the end of the meeting, he announced to the visibly bored audience that there was one more “crazy concept”.
“Everybody lit up. Everyone liked it because there is some room for imagination,” recalls Jackson.
The management’s response also reminded Damian of what happens when one brings up the subject of durians in a conversation. “Everybody became animated. Some people were very excited, some people made jokes about it. One or two were really afraid of it [Forbidden] being controversial,” he says.
With the board’s approval, BLACK returned to the drawing board. Playing off SunnyHills’ “innocent” brand personality, best expressed by its logo that resembles a child’s drawing, the team designed Forbidden to be more mature with a luxurious touch. A contemporary look would also distinguish it from other durian brands that are typically tacky and provincial.
“The aim was for a brand that can one day show up in Paris and would not look backward or ulu. It has to be chic,” explains Damian. “I always felt that durian being such an expensive fruit deserves a more fitting design.”
Since Forbidden’s official launch in 2019, Damian has received many compliments about its “smart” name. The branding has even changed the perception of the fruit for those less familiar with it.
Forbidden’s velvet-green-and-gold colour scheme is a swanky take on the green husk and yellow flesh of Southeast Asia’s King of Fruits. It is complemented by a drawings of the durian and other tropical flora and fauna by London-based illustrator Katie Scott. Her signature botanical illustration style hark back to when agriculture became a major industry in Malaysia under British rule.
Since Forbidden’s official launch in 2019, Damian has received many compliments about its “smart” name. The branding has even changed the perception of the fruit for those less familiar with it. Damian’s friend based in France complimented the design and suggested he opened a store there.
“He was so impressed that he said you have to open a store in France. The French don’t really like durian, but your packaging can convince them.”