World Design Spotlight: Oranges and Design
07 Mar 2022 /

World Design Spotlight: Oranges and Design

The Valencia of paella, oranges, sun and sand. From all these typical and clichéd elements that make up the popular perception of this Mediterranean area, we are going to focus on oranges and their close relationship with design.

Orange labels and the sheets of tissue paper used in the boxes are the first advertising media prepared for a product, citrus fruit, that has been the strongest of the Valencian region. The local fruit par excellence that has been linked, throughout its history, to a certain imagery of development.

According to the historian Vicente Abad, (“Historia de la Naranja, 1781-1939”), advertising was absent from the Spanish citrus trade for the greater part of its history since, until the nineteenth century, the export of oranges to Europe was monopolized by Valencian trade.

It was at the end of the nineteen-twenties and throughout the thirties when competition in international markets increased and Valencian entrepreneurs were driven to differentiate their products by means of the designs of their orange labels. 

With the end of the monopoly a distinction was imposed to assure buyers of the “Valencian-ness” of these oranges and to set them apart from those originating in other latitudes.

These labels served to counterattack the competition and they guaranteed the product, the brand, the advertising of the exporter and the localization of the goods. A great endeavour of marketing.

In addition to all of this, these labels allow us, with the perspective of time, to observe the historic evolution of graphic design applied to something as basic as oranges, as it evolved over the decades with regard to printing techniques, colours and type sets.

At that time, Valencia already had a strong publishing ecosystem. The reasons for this are varied: from an important tradition of workshops and printing presses in the city to the prestige of the etchers of the Valencian school, educated at the San Carlos Academy of Fine Arts, who applied their mastery of graphic styles to the trends of the moment. 

The visual aesthetics that appear in the orange labels were directly inspired by American colourist culture that, in the grey Spain of the following period, the post-war years, would bring an air of modernity. 

Authors such as Segrelles, Genaro Lahuerta and Renau set the trends to be followed in the illustration of Spanish books, magazines and posters, providing the genre with a mix of cosmopolitanism, regionalism, tradition and avant-garde.  

The graphic techniques developed in Valencia in the times of the Spanish Republic, in the nineteen-thirties, sought communicative efficiency with brightly coloured images and the use of elements such as geometry. The Valencian authors who produced these great posters achieved high quality and produced for the whole country. 

The visual aesthetics that appear in the orange labels were directly inspired by American colourist culture that, in the grey Spain of the following period, the post-war years, would bring an air of modernity. 

This symbolic modernity was fed by the steamroller of Francoist propaganda, which celebrated the success of the orange as one of the star products exported at that time. 

The symbolic power of the orange is not limited, therefore, to its function as a visual metaphor of the south, rather it also represents a physical experience. One of the factors that spurred the flight towards the Mediterranean, identified as a space of liberation and happiness. What could be a more efficient way of metabolizing the Mediterranean than eating it?” explains the historian Alicia Fuentes Vega in the essay “Nārang. Genealogía de un souvenir”.

As she points out, “It is curious that in the representations assigned by the Franco institutions to the orange, whether as a means of propaganda associated with exports or as an exoticizing tourism icon, agricultural work is never visible. The figure of the farmworker appears frequently, and persistently, throughout the boom, in the iconographic repertoire, but always dressed in folkloric attire. The farthest those responsible for the promotion of tourism arrived in the representation of agricultural life was the artificial staging in which country folk were replaced by figures in regional dress.”

If we think about the conditions and the standards of living in rural Spain at that time, we can imagine why it was convenient to replace the real space of the countryside with a folkloric simulacre. By means of representations of this type, the Ministry of Tourism achieved a marketable version of the Francoist ideal of the countryside as a bastion of Spanish tradition,” she explains.

The symbolism of the orange updated the romantic image of the south. Orange labels are not only jewels of the history of graphic design, but also the testament of an era in which the national citrus fruit par excellence was linked to modernity and progress.

Thanks to the work of collectors such as Manuel Lahuerta, Alfredo Massip, Rafael Llop and Miguel Sánchez, guardians of real historic treasures of orange design, we have access to hundreds of labels, perfectly classified, that show the marvellous work of artists such as Juanino, Fenoll, A. Carot, Masía, A. Peris and J. Sanchis, among so many other authors of these works, many of whom are anonymous. 

To browse through these collections is to browse through the different artistic languages that were adopted over time, from modernism and art deco to the vanguards of the twentieth century.

The symbolism of the orange updated the romantic image of the south. Orange labels are not only jewels of the history of graphic design, but also the testament of an era in which the national citrus fruit par excellence was linked to modernity and progress.

The graphic design of the orange, which identified produce from places with such a high fruit pedigree as Carcaixent, Alzira, Burriana or Vila-Real, have a vintage beauty that is linked to the economy of a land where the driving force was, for decades, the export of those oranges. Burriana, for example, which in the nineteen-twenties had a population of 15,000 people, had over 250 exporters with open warehouses. Where there was an orange industry, there was design. 

Printing presses and lithographic workshops, with their designers and illustrators, developed the brands for each one of the many producers of oranges. This enables us to speak of a close link between that industry and a valuable design legacy that has been very little analysed and which, today, has been preserved thanks to the particular interest of a few enthusiasts of this aesthetic.

To begin to remedy this omission, the design studio El Vivero has proposed a project to research and recover this fruit-growing graphic design which is developed in the exhibition ’Fruits of design’, promoted by WDC2022 in collaboration with the museums Centre del Carme and CentroCentro. The exhibition displays more than 250 sheets of tissue paper, 120 boxes and 360 labels. 

The selection is intended as an open archive to bring together pieces collected over the years in neighbourhood greengrocers, together with examples from collectors, originating from visits to markets, printing presses, box factories and fruit sellers. 

Another step forward to ensure that this part of our most local and least studied historical heritage is not lost and can be preserved in the way it deserves. 

(Images from etiquetasdenaranjas.blogspot.com)