"a bottle of assumptions"
We set out to produce an oil based on assumptions about the Matsutake mushroom and the experiences of other people, not on reality. We communicated this through investing a lot of time into producing the best researched inspiration product possible and packaging it in intentionally diverse ways to bring into question the assumptions that packaging produces, influencing responses towards it.
By creating a Matsutake oil (which cannot be made due to the properties of the mushroom) based off descriptions of it online, we created something that people would expect it tasted like rather than trying the actual product which might not have lived up to expectations.
We branded this oil based on different types of users. Those who have never tried the Matsutake and wanted to know more about it, the value and the culture behind it which we targeted the high and souvenir for. Those who purchase it for the novelty and its name which we designed the cult packaging for, and lastly the home remedy which explores the “street value” of this object without the intrusion of branding/marketing and focused on the value of what was in the bottle.
Designed by Francine Chan and Meredith Gee
We are obsessed with a mushroom that we didn’t know existed three weeks ago.
Our entanglement work is an oil infusion inspired by matsutake mushrooms, and its presentation to the world. The essence of Matsutake. The matsutake mushroom is the most valuable mushroom in the world and unobtainable for most people alive. It has to be shipped to be consumed hours after being pulled from the earth.
Treasured in Japan, found only in pine forests in Japan and the pacific northwest, this mushroom cannot be cultivated. It has been prized for centuries for its unique rich flavor and aroma, medicinal benefits, and association with elite society. It is deeply rooted in the Japanese culture.
Could we as consumers in a western culture reproduce and really understand the value of a mushroom we’ve never tasted or experienced?
Reproduce authentically? No. But understand the value and love for the mushroom through its story and our inability to obtain it? Yes.
We made the decision not to taste the mushroom, we kept the mushroom a mystery as we produced an inspired product. We stayed in the shoes of the consumers of our product. For us a bottle of assumptions has much more value a cheap imitation trying to be authentic.
We interviewed those who have eaten matsutake and researched its flavor. We collected a wide variety of ingredients that represented the described flavors and iterated through combinations in crafting our own oil infusion. The interesting this is, that an oil cannot actually be made from the matsutake. The ingredients we used.
We packaged the oil in three distinct ways representing three parts of its identity.
1 the high-end souvenir -
This approach looks at the idea of appropriation and gives people who have not been exposed to the real mushroom a sense of the culture and value surrounding it. This design is based on high-end Japanese packaging, drawing inspiration from whiskey bottles and buying exclusivity, but also retails at a more accessible price point of £19 per 100ml bottle.
2 the cult brand -
In this approach, we are selling the name matsutake. Disregarding the culture and tradition, this brand provides little information or context creating contemporary mystery around it. It confronts the idea of a cult name and culture head-on. This product retails for £15 for 50ml.
3 - the home remedy -
The home remedy investigates the idea of “common knowledge” without scientific facts or evidence. In many places, this “word of mouth” approach towards medicine is still prevalent today, taken out of context and presented in an unlabeled bottle, is it more valuable unbranded?
WE KNEW that the Matsutake could not be cultivated, WE LEARNED that the experience of it and its real essence cannot be captured. How do you bottle the “aroma of joy”? the hunt in the forests of Kyoto, the uncertainty of finding the prized mushrooms beneath the red pines is the real essence. This rich experience and tradition is the treasure of the Matsutake.”