work       about       research 

Book, No. 5 Culture Chanel, 2013

The Amsterdam-based designer Irma Boom has made some innovative books, and a staggering 20 percent have found a home in a permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Arts.1 Such books are truly an experience — objects to be appreciated — even when they are technically vehicles for other artists. Indeed, Boom pushes the boundaries of bookmaking. In 2013, she completed a book commissioned by Chanel for its Chanel No. 5 perfume.

The 300-page book has no ink—each of its crisp white pages is embossed with a drawing or quotation that helps Gabrielle Chanel’s story unfold.2 It is clean, understated and ephemeral, and somehow it remains totally engrossing. In a way, they are already like the books displayed in the vitrines at the Graphic Design Now in Production exhibition, where books and magazines are ephemeral and celebrated for their design. When Boom begins working on a book, she totally immerses herself in the subject. In this case, she spent time in Chanel’s Paris apartment and studied her life.3 Boom witnessed the bottling process and even joined the Chanel team as they picked roses in Grasse, a village in the Provenance region of France.4 There Boom generated her idea for the book.5 What she smelled there was intense and exciting, yet invisible. She had used embossing as the only source of printing by operating an old letterpress machine with the ink removed.

Boom’s Chanel book is 5 cm thick, which is a nod to the perfume’s name, and she hand-drew each design. Irma Boom’s Chanel No. 5 Perfume book challenges the form of the book. I would argue that this book not only questions what text and image are by telling the story through embossed illustration, but also challenges the form of the book.

Irma Boom (b. 1960 in Lochem, Gelderland, Netherlands), is a Dutch graphic designer—who specializes in book making. Boom has been described as ‘The Queen of Books’, having created over 300 books and is well reputed for her artistic autonomy within her field. Her bold experimental approach to her projects often challenges the convention of traditional books in both physical design and printed content. She lives and works in Amsterdam. (Read more)

1 Elizabeth Stinson “A Genius of Book Design Creates a Tome with No Ink,” in Wired (2013), accessed March 3, 2019, 2 Ibid.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.