Fri 19 Jul 2019 (0) comments

The fascinating history of 117 Farringdon Road

When you walk down the road to your office, or when you sit down at your desk do you ever wonder who else has worked where you work, sat where you sit or looked out the windows you look out of today?

When Purple moved into ‘The Piano Works’ on 117 Farringdon Road 15 years ago, we were told by the honest-looking estate agent, who handed over the keys, that it was named the Piano Works by the developers because ‘they used to make concert pianos here back in the 1800s’.

Now, being a curious bunch, we wondered how these purported purveyors of pianos got their stock in and out of the building? The stairs are steep, the internal walkways are both crooked and narrow and the Victorian lift shaft we now use as a server room is a tiny 3′ 6″ wide by 4′ 6″ deep.

A piano measures about 5′ x 2″ for an upright and 6′ x 8″ for a grand. Whichever way you spin it something about the story just didn’t fit.

Googling Victorian piano factories on Farringdon Road didn’t shed any light, so we booked an hour with Frances (the archivist) at the library in Holborn. Put on some white cotton gloves and pawed through heaps of original London maps and old planning documents – just to see if our estate agent knew his stuff.

It turned out the facts were much more interesting than the fiction to a bunch of type-nerds like us.

In 1864, an application was submitted by Arding & Bond Architects (nice surname Arding!) to build a new five story premises on Ray Street for their clients V&J Figgins.

Ray Street was the main thoroughfare back then and what’s now Farringdon Road was the side street. Once we knew that, all the pieces fell into place.

Vincent Figgins (the second) and his brother James ran one of London’s leading type foundries, offering a huge array of typefaces and letterpress services. They were moving to Ray Street for more space, as they were much in demand with the many print businesses popping up all over London.

We lucked out with a second-hand bookshop in Lincolnshire who had a copy of the gorgeous hardback specimen book the Figgins brothers printed to commemorate their grand opening in 1856. And not a piano in sight.

Take a look at how the building looked back then. In the header image you can see the view from what’s now the Betsey Trotwood. And what about these incredible typefaces!

Today you can still see the Vincent and James Figgins monograms in the wrought iron railings along Ray Street on the way to the Coach & Horses. And if you are as brave as our Shang and ever get on the roof of our building, the outlines of word FIGGINS can still be made out under the layers of 21st century paint.

Now the Figgins brothers were clearly smart, successful business men. But their company was built on the strength of the 100s of unique typefaces they inherited off their dad, the type designer Vincent Figgins (the first).

Vincent (the first) was one of the pioneers of modern typography, responsible for defining the style of British design and printing in the nineteenth Century.

He is credited with creating the first ever slab-serif typeface known as ‘Antique’ in 1816. Which was either a “typographical monstrosity” or “the most brilliant typographical innovation of the nineteenth century” – depending on which design critic you asked at the time.

History is pretty certain that Vincent (the first) was the man who first coined the term ‘Sans Serif’ to describe the fonts without serifs he was designing around 1830. He wasn’t the first to do this, but he was the man who made the style a reality, offering sans serif fonts in a variety of weights and specialising in the condensed designs that still look contemporary today.

Next time you’re in the studio we’d love to show you the old Figgins book and the brilliant typefaces. To find us on a map, our official address is still The Piano Works.

And like we all say at Purple, whatever project you’re involved in, it’s worth the time and energy digging deep because more often than not there’s something brilliant waiting to be discovered.

Andy (H)Arding

Figgins fan

Thanks To Holborn Library, St. Brides Foundation, British History online, Forest Books, Jeremy Tankard and the other type historians who have researched all this properly for us to pillage.


Wed 12 Jun 2019 (0) comments

drinks brand marketing

Let’s drink to tennis season

We all know about the meteoric rise of Fever-Tree. And it seems the brand is continuing to build upon its position as the UK’s favourite tonic. You could say, Fever-Tree has the art of marketing in the (sports) bag.

Not only has the brand launched ready to drink gin and tonics, but it’s the new name for Queen’s tennis championship, traditionally known as the warm up to Wimbledon.

Racquet sports enthusiasts can buy tickets to the Fever-Tree Championships at the Queen’s Club London – but will they get a free gin and tonic, that’s what we want to know. Yes, that’s right, the tennis event has been renamed and rebranded around the drinks brand. The site bears some lovely illustration, and in our opinion, the premium nature of the brand is a good fit with the event.

The Great British love of sport and drink

Yes, it’s hard to believe, but Wimbledon is practically upon us once more. We’re a sporty agency, and we admit, we’ll be the first to shout ‘let’s get a court!’ as local tennis courts around the country become chock-a-block full of fair-weather tennis enthusiasts at this time of year.

Like the British weather, for food and drink brands, it’s a guarantee that brings out the pound. Last year, the amazing weather and the FIFA World Cup led to an uplift in off-trade and on-trade sales. Feel good factor was coming out of our ears, until the semi-finals – but we all kept smiling, because it was just a perfect summer.

Sports, drinks and socialising. What could be better?

Fast-forward to 2019, and while we can’t control the weather, we can look at what’s on the menu this summer. So far, we haven’t seen a sip of Pimm’s mentioned anywhere, but Stella Artois is confirmed as a major sponsor of Wimbledon, along with Evian, Robinsons and Lanson.

Anyone for bottled water?

Given that we’ve been working on sourcing examples of sustainable packaging recently, we are interested to see where the bottled water industry’s future lies. Will glass bottles be allowed on court? Can spectators pour refills of Evian water without having to buy more plastic? If anyone reading this is lucky enough to have tickets, please let us know.

While we’re on the subject of brand sponsorship and good design, where does this leave the beer market? Do British tennis fans mix well with beer brands? Or is Stella Artois riding on the coat tails of the French Open sponsorship?

We expect the brand will have a moment of reinvention, as per Carlsberg’s repositioning – or at least, we hope so.  And yet, we can’t help feeling there’s a lot to do here. Will Stella Artois move off the base line or will it hit all the aces?

Non-alcoholic beers making their mark

Here at Purple, we’re working on a range of alcohol-free beer brands, designed to keep the party going without the hangover. Peroni Libera is just one of these brands. They’ve got big plans this summer and if Christmas was anything to go by, the alcohol-free category is on the rise. Now that feels like a good fit for a sports tournament, right?

While we’re blowing our own whistle, we’ve also designed the new look and feel for Asahi Super Dry, the premium Japanese beer brand. It’s an exciting time at the agency and we can’t wait to see what’s coming next. Meanwhile, there’s sure to be a few pulled tendons in the office from all this tennis fun. The only thing the rest of us will be hitting is the bar…

By Katie Quaite, Senior Copywriter

Fri 24 May 2019 (0) comments

Clerkenwell Design Week chic

We’ve been enjoying Clerkenwell Design Week this week. The streets around the agency are buzzing with all sorts of well-heeled design folk and there’s an eclectic, almost holiday-like spirit in the air. Continue…

Tue 21 May 2019 (0) comments

Blog post on a website

Brewdog’s ‘Advert on a bus’ has been praised as ‘a testament to the power of simplicity’. A bold statement, the best copywriting of the moment. Which begs the question, is creative copywriting dead?

Are we entering an era where all we need are monkey-AI-content bots tip tapping out the world, just how it is? Will we be bombarded with cans that say ‘buy this beer’, or rubber ducks advertised as ‘yellow’?

No. The reason is it’s artless. If you take Brewdog’s ad, you could insert any product or any service and it would have the same effect. There’s nothing that links it to the beer, other than the fact the creative team are taking a stand. A stand against engineered adverts and thought-out headlines. A stand against the millions splashed out on creativity. A stand against the production cos— oh wait, a stand that also buys a slot in the Game of Thrones ad break? How very punk.

Following in the footsteps of Phoebe Waller-Bridge, it’s an ad that breaks the fourth wall. But where Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag was a triumph of complexity, subtlety and humour, using moments between viewer and Fleabag as ones of intimate revelations, this ad smacks you right between the eyes. With no detailed backstory or intriguing narrative, breaking the fourth wall in a single headline feels nothing less than obnoxious. It’s a clumsy, cheap trick used to get attention.

I do have to admit that it’s worked, or I wouldn’t be talking about it in this blog. But it’s also a message that will only work once. Such a brash campaign can’t be repeated with the same effect, simply because the reason it got attention was because it hasn’t been seen before.

Maybe all publicity is good publicity. But all creativity is definitely not good creativity.


by Emily Kerr


Fri 9 Jun 2017 (0) comments

What’s the reward of awards?

Our latest blog post is from guest contributor Creative Awards. Based around the corner in Hatton Garden, Creative Awards have been making bespoke awards for some of the UK’s biggest brands and events for over 40 years. We worked with them on the rather fabulous Glenfiddich World’s Most Experimental Bartender competition, so we asked them their thoughts on the power of awards. Continue…

Fri 24 Jun 2016 (0) comments

A toast to Scotland: our Scottish drink predictions for 2016

The Grocer have recently written an in-depth article about Scotland and its exports and asked us to contribute. I wrote the following thoughts and predictions for them, from which they used a few quotes. I thought it might be enjoyed as a longer piece, so I recycled it as a Purple blog. Hope you enjoy it.


Fri 1 Apr 2016 (0) comments

Women’s History Month: Famous women of booze

For Women’s History Month (it’s March, people), Purple were asked by The Spirits Business to help them with a Top Women of Booze article.

These are the female pioneers of alcohol. The heroes of hops. The trailblazers of taste. The dude-esses of distillation.

We supplied them with four of our favourite women. Admittedly some of our choices are a little left field, but we hope you enjoy their stories nonetheless. Continue…

Tue 8 Sep 2015 (0) comments

Behind-the-scenes at a Purple shoot

We’ve recently completed one of the most experimental, and frankly insane, shoots for Glenfiddich. It was for the exquisite and pioneering Glenfiddich 21 Year Old whisky, which after being matured for 21 years is finished in Caribbean rum casks for a richer, warmer and more exotic taste.

After coming up with the headline, ‘Raised in Scotland. Roused by the Caribbean’, we had to bring the line to life in a single image. You may well have seen the final visual (spoiler alert, it’s at the end of this blog), but we thought it would be interesting to give you a behind-the-scenes peek into how the beauty image was created with the very talented photographer Benedict Morgan.

Warning: this blog contains paint. Lots of it. Continue…

Mon 7 Sep 2015 (0) comments

How to pick the perfect photographer

As every art director and designer knows, there’s an art to creating truly memorable beauty imagery. In this blog, we’ve managed to wheedle out some of the secrets Gary Westlake, our Glenfidich Creative Director, uses when choosing and getting the best out of photographers. Continue…

Tue 28 Jul 2015 (0) comments

Our top 10 luxury alcohol beauty images

We’ve just finished work on creating a raft of new beauty images for Glenfiddich, who we’ve worked with for nearly a decade. As part of the project, I’ve spent more time than might be considered normal researching what makes a luxury alcohol beauty image work.

First things first, what is a beauty image? My simplistic description is – an image of a product shown in its greatest light. Continue…