Wednesday, 31 May 2023

Another Life

The Merle Norman cosmetics box bag features in the current MoDiP Reuse exhibition as part of the Another Life case, which looks at other uses for packaging in which some products are offered for sale.

AIBDC : 009526
Image credit: MoDiP

The Merle Norman brand of cosmetics is not familiar in the UK but it is a well-established brand in the United States with a long history.  Born in Longsport, Indiana in 1887, Merle Norman began her cosmetics business from a kitchen table, using her training and knowledge in chemistry to produce quality products. She rapidly developed a chain of franchises, known as studios, throughout the 1930s being one of the few companies to thrive throughout the Depression era.  During World War II cosmetics production was paused, concentrating instead on producing gun oil and camouflage sticks for the U.S. military.  Post-war, Merle Norman cosmetics grew to be a multi-million dollar business with thousands of franchises throughout North America, predominantly owned independently by women. Its success continues today.

MoDiP’s box bag was created to boost Christmas sales of Merle Norman cosmetics in December 1975, it’s relatively low-cost materials and production methods enabled it to be offered as a cost-effective incentive. It was available free with a coupon and any $20 purchase.  Advertisements show that it contained ‘a Holiday Collection of six beauty enhancers’ and described the bag as having ‘a charming mock tortoise shell and crystal look’ making it ‘a versatile fashion accessory for daytime dress or elegant evenings’.

Image credit :

Box bags became fashionable in the mid 1940s, their designs and materials varying greatly. Well known U.S. maker Wilardy produced many beautiful designs from lucite, an acrylic resin by DuPont. A Wilardy clutch bag can be found in the MoDiP collection showcasing the material’s crystal like clarity and demonstrating the maker’s skill. 

AIBDC : 008098
Image credit: MoDiP

Although not made from the same materials as the Wilardy bag, the lid of the Merle Norman cosmetics box bag with a moulded geometric design, has echoes of crystal, encouraging consumers to value and give another life to this container.

Image credit: Pam Langdown

Pam Langdown
Documentation Officer

Wednesday, 24 May 2023

Architects and Industrial Design.

Architecture and industrial design are two separate fields of study, but they do share similarities. In essence, both architects and industrial designers are problem solvers and focus on the way people live, but through the lens of different scales and perspectives.
Many trained and/or practising architects are also successful industrial designers creating familiar, and sometimes iconic, everyday products.

Drawing upon MoDiP’s collections, we have examples from Arne Jacobsen (whose designs usually came about through his architectural projects), Zaha Hadid (who set up a dedicated design studio in 2006), Julian Hakes (who believes shoes are wearable pieces of architecture), and Anna Castelli-Ferrieri (who became Italy’s leading female industrial designer throughout the 1960s-1980s), as well as many others. We have put together a small exhibition featuring these inspirational pieces, which will be on display throughout the summer.

Here are some of my favourites:

Ripples by Ron Arad, 2017.
Reminiscent of the ripples caused by throwing stones into water, this bottle is flat and rectangular for efficient storage, inspired by the dimensions of slim-line laptops. Arad translated the volume of half a litre into an A5 shape and was surprised by how thin a potential bottle could be. However, a thin, flat plastic bottle wall would inflate too much once the liquid was poured in, so he chose to incorporate structural waves into the surface, sculpted into a ripple design. It is injection moulded in styrene-acrylic copolymer (SMMA).

CD case by Daniel Weil, 1993.
This opaque, orange coloured CD case with raised studs was designed by Daniel Weil for the Pet Shop Boys album 'Very'. The design was intended to make the case a recognisable object in its own right, as opposed to merely a cover for an identifiable image and is made of polystyrene. 

Terraillon kitchen scales by Marco Zanuso, 1976.
A variation of the iconic BA2000 design created by Marco Zanuso in 1969, this set of orange coloured kitchen scales is injection moulded in acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). When not in use, the weighing pan is stored upside down on the base to create an efficient, compact, sleek, geometric form. A red coloured model dated to 1982 can be seen in the background.

Trama bowls by Patricia Urquiola, 2016
Compression moulded in melamine formaldehyde (MF), these grey coloured bowls were inspired by Japanese pottery. They are very tactile, being coarse to the touch, and feature a geometric design with four overlapping lines on the bottom which act as a non-slip base.

Other work on display includes Joe Colombo’s Optic clock, Ettore Sottsass’ Valentine typewriter, Alessandro Mendini’s Anna G corkscrew, Mario Bellini’s Moon bowl, John & Sylvia Reed’s Rotaflex lampshade, Michael Graves’ salt shaker and pepper grinder and Danilo Silvestrin’s clothes hanger.

Katherine Pell
Collections Officer

Wednesday, 17 May 2023

DC02 Recyclone, Dyson, 1997

In 1995 Dyson launched the Recyclone, the first vacuum cleaner to be made entirely of recycled plastics (refer image below). 

The DC02 Recyclone
Image credit:

Initially the cleaners were made from waste materials of the DC01 and DC02 manufacturing process, with a brand-new motor, bin and electrical components. It was intended that a scheme would be established to collect end-of-life Dyson vacuum cleaners where the plastics parts would be separated into different polymer types, cleaned, granulated, dyed and then moulded into parts for this new model. One year’s production was hoped to recover 30 tonnes of plastics from landfill. 

MoDiP’s Recyclone on display.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

Coloured green with organic pigments to emphasise its environmental credentials, the cleaner was packaged in a reusable hessian bag with user instructions printed onto recycled paper. 

Marketing literature printed on recycled paper.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

Unfortunately, however, the concept was ahead of its time and failed to capture consumer interest. In practice, the Recyclone did not offer any extra features or performance benefits over the standard DC02 model, and it was sold at a slightly higher price. Additionally, using recycled plastics was simply not viable at that time due to the need for significant quantities of virgin material to be added to the mix to ensure durability. Only about 400 Recyclones were produced when Dyson made the decision to close this project and improve sustainability by optimising efficiencies in how the cleaner operated instead.

The Electrolux prototype made from used hair dryers, vacuum cleaners and computers.
Image credit:

Research into plastics recycling and the integration of recyclate into new products has steadily advanced since the introduction of the Recyclone, but it has taken a further 25 years for another manufacturer to successfully address the challenge of creating a vacuum cleaner made from 100% recycled plastics. In 2020, Electrolux announced the development of their prototype (refer image above) in partnership with Stena Recycling, a Swedish company that collects discarded electronic consumer products and breaks them down into raw materials.

A close-up look at that lovely green colour.
Image credit: Katherine Pell

MoDiP’s example was manufactured in 1997 and is unused, donated to the collection by an ex-employee of the company. It joins our original DC01, a limited edition DC01 de stijl, an original DC02 and a DC24 All Floors, all available to view in the museum on request:
Katherine Pell
Collections Officer 

Wednesday, 10 May 2023

Plastic: Remaking our world part 2

Back in June 2022, I wrote a blog post about the touring exhibition Plastic: Remaking our world.  At the time the exhibition was on display at Vitra Design Museum.  I was lucky enough to meet with one of the curators, Charlotte Hale, and visit the exhibition when it was on display at V&A Dundee.  Charlotte gave me a tour of the exhibition and explained the small changes that had been made to give it relevance to the local audience. 

The collage of plastics objects at the entrance to the Plastic: Remaking our World exhibition.

The exhibition which explored the inventive, invaluable, and invasive aspects of the use of plastics was made up of a number of sections.  One space which marked both the start and the end of the exhibition was the Plastic Lab where visitors were asked to explore different materials and sort them using the kind of near-infrared light (NIR) spectroscopy system that is used in our recycling systems.  

The Plastic Lab

In this space families and young people were encouraged to respond to a number of questions and creative prompts. 

  •        Rethink: What should the government do about the plastic crisis?
  •        Remind: What changes will you make to your daily life?
  •        Remake: Design your own recycled plastics stool top.
  •        Recycle: Design a new way to use a plastic bottle.
  •        Reduce: What plastic objects do you most despise?
  •        Reuse: Draw your most treasured plastic object.

The colour coded responses were displayed on the wall and were a great way to engage the visitors with the themes of the exhibition, I wonder how people’s responses differed depending on whether they had seen the exhibition before or after they responded.

Questions and answers in The Plastic Lab

Every school in Dundee had had the chance to visit the exhibition.  I was happy to see a group of young people touring the displays with a member of staff.  The children were fascinated by so much that was on display especially MoDiP’s Cockpit canopy which was a key part of their tour.

Sea Fury cockpit canopy, Sydney Camm for Hawker Aircraft, circa 1945-1955. AIBDC : 008190

Other objects on loan from MoDiP include:

Plack picnic ware, Jean Pierre Vitrac for Alfaplac, circa 1977. AIBDC : 007759.  Sputnik jam dish, Mendle Brothers, circa 1957-1959. AIBDC : 003463

Yellow Darn-A-Lite, Darn-A-Lite, circa 1940s. AIBDC : 006352SA. Folding razors, Athos Bergamaschi for Elberel Italiana, circa 1975. AIBDC : 003485.1-.2

Photo: Squeezable packs, E J Jackson at Photo-services Industrial for BXL, circa 1958. BXL : 0952Sqezy washing up bottle, Metal Box Company, circa 1960. AIBDC : 005498. Hot A Dog Mustard bottle, Cascelloid for Hax, circa 1958.  AIBDC : 005637. Whipped syrup bottle, Cascelloid for Hax, circa 1958.  AIBDC : 005639. Fish shaped bottle, Cascelloid for Hax, circa 1950-1969. AIBDC : 005503. Strawberry Flip Syrup bottle, Cascelloid for Flip, circa 1950-1969. AIBDC : 005505. Coffee syrup bottle, Cascelloid for Flip, circa 1957. AIBDC : 005633. Jif Lemon, William Alec Gibson Pugh for Unilever, this example circa 2005. AIBDC : 005918. Pineapple Syrup bottle, Cascelloid for Hax, circa 1958. AIBDC : 005504. Banana Syrup bottle, Cascelloid for Flip, circa 1957. AIBDC : 005502. Blackcurrant Flip Syrup bottle, Unknown for Flip, circa 1950-1969. AIBDC : 005506.1. Yellow honey bottle, Cascelloid for Be Ze Be Honey, circa 1950-1969. AIBDC : 005634

Helmet, Plasfort, circa 1940-1945. AIBDC : 008192, German military lantern, Unknown, circa 1939. PHSL : 182. Toy building blocks, Louis Cousin for BATIMA, circa 1930.  PHSL : 34

Comb production process samples, Unknown, date unknown. WCHL : 214.1-.5. Horn collapsible beaker, Unknown, 1875-1900. WCHL : 286C. Horn scissors, Unknown, 1800-1899. WCHL : 446

As well as looking at the history of plastics, the exhibition also explored the problems plastic pollution creates especially on beaches.  All of the pieces of litter on the sandy beach below were gathered by primary schools and nurseries from a 183-mile radius of the V&A Dundee as part of the exhibition engagement project.  Some pieces were labelled with their production date to show how long litter like this had been in existence.

The beach with video backdrop.

The final space in the exhibition, 'Re-' looked at some of the work being done by scientists, designers, activities and legislators to find new ways to address and reduce pollution.  Some of this work dealt with reuse, repair, and recycling, as well as plastics based on renewable resources and biodegradable materials.

'Re-' the final space within the exhibition.  

The exhibition made it clear that there is no single solution but multiple approaches which need to be both local and global, as well as individual and societal. ‘Collectively we must remake our world’.  It was certainly an interesting and engaging exhibition and, having observed some of my fellow visitors, got people talking the future of the use of plastics.

If you would like to find out more about the exhibition, the book associated with it is available in the MoDiP Reference Library.  Plastic: Remaking our world is currently on display at maat, Portugal Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, and will hopefully be travelling to other countries in the future.

Louise Dennis
Curator of MoDiP

Wednesday, 3 May 2023

Reuse: Black plastics

One of the cases in our current exhibition, Reuse, looks at the problems that black plastics have when it comes to the recycling system and therefore how the material is then reused.

When products and packaging made of plastics enter the recycling system, they need to be separated into individual materials, for example PET, HDPE, or PP, so that they can become useful recyclate. In automated systems, this is done using a Near Infrared (NIR) Identification system. A beam of light is shone at the material and interacts with the chemical compounds of the waste; the light will either be absorbed or reflected across a spectrum of wavelengths providing a signature for the material. Black plastic products are not able to be sorted using the NIR device because the carbon black pigments absorb all of the light, making it impossible to see the signature of the material. As such black plastic packaging is often rejected for recycling.

Voet, V., Jager, J., Folkersma, R., 2021. Plastics in the Circular Economy, De Gruyter graduate. De Gruyter, Berlin & Boston. P231

Because the black pigments make it difficult to identify the materials much work has been done to discover create other pigments that still keep the black colour for brands to use in their packaging.  In 2018, Gourmet Dairy Brand, The Collective worked with recycling experts Nextek Ltd and the South Wales-based additive and masterbatch specialist, Colour Tone, to develop a new black masterbatch.

The result was a revolutionary colourant technology that enables the effective detection and sorting of black plastic waste for recycling into high quality materials.  If other fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) producers were to follow The Collective’s lead, it could have helped to reduce the 1.3 billion black single-use food pots, tubs and trays that are sent to landfill each year – around 30,000 tonnes.[1]

From October 2018, the black lids on The Collective’s 450g and 900g yogurt tubs featured the new NIR reflecting colourant to help ensure that the consumer recycling efforts do not go to waste.  The Collective says that it is ‘very proud to be leading the change’ on the recyclability of black plastics and that it is the first food and drink brand to launch a special detectable black lid. 

The Collective Great Dairy Yoghurt potAIBDC : 008198

This process was all part of the food producer making a brand promise to go cleaner by encouraging everyone to ‘eat better. do better.’[2] Other actions by the company included making the UK’s 1st carbon neutral dairy yoghurt in September 2021 and committing to making all our products carbon neutral by 2025.

Unfortunately, the company found that the recycling system was not yet in step with the changes they had made.  The black lids had to be replaced in May of 2021 with clear alternative because it was found that consumers had become used to discarding the lids into general waste and recycling centre staff, unaware of the change, continued to remove the black plastic.

The Collective Gourmet Yoghurt potAIBDC : 009565

Louise Dennis
Curator of MoDiP 

[1] ‘When Black Is Green: Yoghurt Manufacturer Takes on Sustainability Challenge’, British Plastics and Rubber, Nov / Dec, 2018, 25.

[2] The Collective, ‘Going Greener’ <> [accessed 12 December 2018].