Since 1971, the siren has been a symbol of Starbucks – mysterious and alluring.
The original inspiration for the twin-tailed mythological figure was an ancient woodcut found in an old marine book. She became the center of the company’s first logo, looking much like she did centuries ago, encircled in a brown band with the words, “Starbucks Coffee, Tea and Spices.” Her image hung at the entrance to the company’s first store and on simple paper packages of the whole-bean arabica coffee Starbucks roasted and sold.
Once the company evolved into a coffeehouse in 1987, a more modern and stylized image emerged in emerald green that remains the center of the iconic Starbucks logo today. Beyond the logo however, the siren remained enigmatic, appearing often just in silhouette.
That changed in 1996 when the Starbucks unveiled Anniversary Blend as a tribute to its 25th year in business. The coffee was complex and full-bodied with a distinctive spicy, bold flavor from the rare aged Sumatra which is carefully monitored for three to five years before roasting.
The packaging for the first Anniversary Blend liberated the siren from her circle. Here she is seen in her home undersea – hair swirling against a coffee-brown background, coffee cup held aloft. Sepia tones evoked the original brown logo. Although legend has it that Anniversary Blend was only intended to be offered for only a few weeks, popular demand brought it back every autumn since then, with the siren at its center of the design.
For 2015’s Anniversary Blend, Starbucks senior designer Victor Melendez was given the task of reimagining the packaging.
“Whenever we kick off a new design for our coffee packaging, we have a tasting and talk about what makes each coffee special,” Melendez said. “For Anniversary Blend, we wanted to represent the true artistry and boldness of this coffee.”
Once Melendez came back to his desk from the initial meeting, he started sketching. He began with small, blank squares. In each thumbnail, he tried new type treatments, styles for the art. Just quick, rough representations.
“Although the design for our seasonal coffee packaging changes each year, we had used the same central illustration for the siren for more than 10 years,” he said. “I knew that I would redraw the siren this year to give it a new life.”
After the rough stage was done, he started to do more detailed sketches. He began exploring the arc of her tails, the movement of her hair.
Once he received design approval, he created the individual components as separate layers bringing in more dimension by using organic linework, texture and bright colors.
He started by drawing his design in pen and ink, using detailed strokes. He then turned to the separate watercolor pieces for the coloring of his drawing and the background. For the siren, he added more color - the hair a coppery red, her tail a blue-green. For the background, he created a waterscape with an ethereal, cosmic quality.
“Even though she’s underwater, it still feels a bit celestial,” he said.
Melendez then scanned the layers, adjusted each component digitally and added in the text. The finished design features the siren with a coy expression beneath her golden crown, a branch from a coffee tree in her left hand. In a nod to the past, this siren is also holding a cup of coffee – only in Melendez’s version the cup is gently floating above her open palm.
“When you hold a bag of Anniversary Blend in your hands, the focus is firmly on the siren,” he said. “She’s the hero.”