Caja del Campeón

Our Label is Who We Are

Our label says everything about who we are, what our men's valet box is, and hopefully something about the men who use it.

This box and its contents are like its owner: sturdy, smart, and strong.  In a world where so many things are electronic and ephemeral, it is a solid place where a man can store his things –  real, tangible things – things his fathers handed down, things he wants to hold, things he carries every day, and things he brings out only every now and then.  And like its owner, this box holds that we should use what we have before consuming new resources; it is handcrafted from rubber trees that no longer produce sap.

First, We believe in the tangibility of things, actual things you can hold in your hand.  We love technology, and we use a lot of it everyday.  But we still see the value in holding beautifully designed things in our hands.  Perhaps these things were inherited from fathers or grandfathers.  The memory-evoking power of tangible things is remarkable.  Pull out a toy that you haven't seen since you were a child and tell us we are wrong. 

Coke bottle

Here are some examples of things we want to hold: a compass, playing cards, a pocketknife, wooden pencil, baseball glove, a book.  The things that have that great feel often are made from wood, leather, stone, paper, glass.

We also worked hard to make sure that the label itself was beautifully designed.  The anchor represents solidity, the crowns the nobility and manners that gentlemen aspire to.  If you have not seen it, take a look at the thought process that went into the design of the label in Behind the Design.

Third, we believe in doing what we can for the environment.  We made a conscious decision for our men's valet boxes not to be crafted from hardwood trees.  Having seen the devastation caused by illegal logging, we instead found a way to make these sturdy boxes from rubber trees that were culled because they no longer produce sap.  We believe in using what we have before consuming new resources.

And finally, of course, it resembles a cigar box label.  Whether you smoke cigars or not, you will recognize the masculine nature of cigars, and how they are rolled into our American history and remind us of special moments in life, like a quiet night outdoors, the announcement of a new birth, and a drink and good conversation with friends.

Written by Caja del Campeón — April 15, 2013

Behind the Design

We are pleased to have as guest writers, Natural Selection Design, who did the excellent design work for Caja del Campeón.

Joel & Marla -- take it away...

Behind the Design

I was all ears when Daniel told us that he wanted to meet about a new project he was doing. Having worked with him before, I was looking forward to what he had in mind since our first collaboration was a business card and this new project was going to be a personal, entrepreneurial one.

Joel and I met with Daniel at his house and the first thing he showed us was his grandfather’s cigar box.  As an object, it possessed sentimental value, masculine intrigue and history.   He told us about the idea he had of creating a gentleman’s valet.  The concept for the design of the valet was to come from the intricate and ornate details found on most cigar boxes. 

We were booked for a flight to Hong Kong soon after we met and found this Latin American themed cigar box sitting in a shop’s window there.  Ideas began to form.

My exposure to all these intricate designs inspired me to put together mood boards to jump start the thinking process for the project.

For the first mood board, I started with the name “Caja del Campeón” and traced its Hispanic roots. I came up with monograms and vibrant colors.

I thought of tropical animals and sparkling cocktails, so for type ideas, I decided that we needed to go with something that had panache.

For my next study, I imagined Ernest Hemmingway, Daniel’s other inspiration for the box. To me, Ernest Hemingway symbolized America, specifically an adventurous, romantic, and rustic idea of the American man.

So out came the diner signs, the Vargas girls, and the sailor tattoos.  It called for a more subdued palette.

I also decided to go for a folksier type treatment – taking my inspiration from the movie O Brother Where Are Thou by the Coen Brothers, which takes the cake when it comes to rustic typography.

In the end, we decided that we wanted to break away from the stereotypical cigar box design. It meant saying goodbye to the Hispanic feel and embracing the more masculine promise of the Americana mood board. We wanted the box to feel dangerous and sexy, so it meant going dark and clean. (Our designs ended up becoming predominantly black and white!)

Of course, there are images in Latin American cigar boxes that have embedded themselves in our psyches as archetypes. We agreed to develop a crest with a nautical theme and to embrace the complex line work.

We hit a couple of bumps in the road before we nailed the look and admittedly it’s because we have never taken on a project with so much detail as this one.

Some of the sketches we scrapped:

We struck gold with this one:

Joel draws and I render. Here is the sticker with Latin borders and a detailed background pattern inspired by the mathematical patterns found in bank notes.

As for the logo, we went with the O Brother Where Are Thou.

The challenge was to be able to translate the logo into a hot press. The lettering had to be crisp and the details not too ornate. Luckily, all we needed to do was adjust the thickness of some of the borders when the design was tested out.

I derived the funky shape of the logo by experimenting with symmetry and messing around with different angles and lines. To me, this was a great way to make the logo distinct and the wrap-around labels on cigars mostly inspired it. Creating the shape also gave it more versatility without worrying about the background or the medium it will be placed on – it will look great on cylindrical objects, print material, and yes, on a burn plate.

All in all, this project was a great opportunity for us to explore and experiment with new techniques.  Our affinity towards the old world charm and our love of old typography led to a rewarding experience at the end of the design process.  

Adiós y hasta luego!

A typhoon, illegal logging, and MDF

In mid-December 2011, Typhoon Sendong swept across the southern Philippines, dumping three times a month's worth of rain in one night in areas that had insufficient warning and largely were unprepared.  More than a thousand people died.  

The greatest cause of destruction, though, was not landslides; it was illegal logging upriver from the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, the two cities which suffered the brunt of the damage.
"A river of logs" -- that's how Iligan locals described what crashed into their homes -- many of which were hovels built precariously along the side of the river.  
Take a look at this excellent report from Rappler journalist Maria Ressa on how illegal logs swept downriver, creating a natural dam at a bridge, submerging villages, then crashing through homes.  
When I thought about my dream of creating a gentleman's valet box -- a sturdy place for men to store their things when they empty their pockets at the end of the day -- and the inspiration of my great grandfather's cigar boxes, I knew one thing:  I did not want the boxes  made with wood harvested from the Philippines.
Medium Density Fiberboard
Enter medium density fiberboard (MDF) and Authentic Wood, a Manila-based shop that uses MDF to make a variety of items, including humidors and cigar boxes.
MDF is ground-up rubber trees from Malaysia and China that no longer produce sap.  
MDF is formed from wood fibers that are combined with a resin to produce a hard surface that is stronger and denser than particle board or plywood ... and does not warp
For this project, choosing MDF was a natural choice.  Moreover, Authentic Wood had experience in replicating wood grain onto the MDF surface.  
gentleman's valet boxThe apparent wood grain on the surface of the Caja del Campeón boxes is the result not of actual grain, but skilled artisans who are able to recreate what wood grain would look like on an MDF surface.
This is the best of both worlds.  Caja del Campeón boxes are handsome and strong and have the hallmarks of a vintage cigar box.  
Yet they are made not from harvested trees -- they are from rubber trees that were destroyed because they no longer produced sap.

Written by Caja del Campeón — February 07, 2013

Passed On

This is my great-grandfather.  In telling how I came to make a gentleman's valet box, I will start with the big-eared Pole who married my great-grandmother against his own family's wishes in 1913 when he and his fiance could only scrape together $44 between them.
His father-in-law, Louis, had a bushy mustache and tended bar in University Tavern in Tremont, a Cleveland neighborhood.  Tremont's immigrants -- Polish, Ukrainian, Hungarian, Austrian, Serbian, Russian -- built magnificent cathedrals, ate pierogis with cottage cheese or whole plums, avoided speaking in their native tongues, drank beer, ate czarnina made with duck's blood, had their wives and daughters tailor their own clothes, sent their wives and children to church, and then did not bother to attend church themselves.

My great-grandfather used to ride the trains in Cleveland, and when he reached his destination, he had to jump off while the train was still moving.  He once saw a man leap off and get pulled back under the wheels and crushed.  

Eighty years my senior, my great-grandfather was only known to me when I was young, after he and his wife Mary had moved from Cleveland to then-rural Medina, Ohio.  They had a farmhouse and five acres and fruit trees where they grew peaches and cherries and apples and pears and crab apples.  When I was a boy, my cousins and I shot bb guns on the stone driveway and pulled  cherries out of bushel baskets and pitted them with bent paperclips.
In my mind's eye, that house is always dark, approaching its final years.  There was a grandfather clock, an enormous black and white television, and a giant radio with mysterious knobs and dials.  I was the boy surrounded by baseball cards on the thread-bare carpet -- Pete Rose, George Foster, Johnny Bench.  The staircase to the second floor was menacing. Overgrown bushes and drawn pull-shades seemed to block all daylight.  My great-grandfather slept on the couch at the other end of the long living room.
Inexplicably, a sun-faded 1959 Life magazine cover hung in the entryway  in a place where a more religious family might have hung a crucifix or a more patriotic family might have hung a picture of the President.  Shirley Maclaine and her daughter oversaw the comings and goings -- fewer and fewer as the years went on -- of everyone who visited.  
On the landing as you walked up the entryway stairs into the kitchen, there was a manual scale of the type that might be found in an old general store.  In the basement were tobacco cans and paint brushes and jars and screws and nails. There was no light there either, and my father once spotted a snakeskin in the rafters.  In the bedroom, my great-grandfather had a pistol and old Time magazines.  It was a house jammed, crammed with objects, tools, artifacts -- things -- in such a way that perhaps can only be explained and understood by people who lived through the Great Depression.
When I knew him, my great-grandfather smoked a pipe.  He packed Mild Kentucky Club tobacco into the bowl, and lit it with paper matches, drawing the fire into the tobacco once, twice, three times.  Then he held the match out to me, and with great gusto, I blew it out.  He passed on when he was nearly 93.
I would like to say there was some meaningful moment where my great-grandfather passed on these cigar boxes to me, but that would not be true.  Instead, these cigar boxes somehow made their way past an estate sale after my great-grandmother died to my mother to me.  They are of unclear dates.  One is marked that cigars are three for 50 cents, the other 20 cents each.  One clearly has been bored through by termites.   
I do not even really know if they were my great-grandfather's.  His father-in-law was said to have liked "Old Granddad" whiskey and big cigars and lived to be 92 and never was sick or needed a hospital until three days before he died.  Maybe they were his.
I went looking for a small box as a place to empty my pockets at the end of the day -- my wallet, 
keys, coins, watch, cell phone -- and a place to keep a few things that  mean something to me but I don't bring out very often -- cuff links, an old ticket stub, a dog-eared Johnny Bench baseball card.  But when I began to use these boxes, I felt a connection to my father, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers, and I saw the bushel baskets and the cherry pits and the Mild Kentucky tobacco cans and the extinguished matches. And I thought, if I have the chance, I will pass these boxes or something like them to my son or my grandsons or, maybe if I live to be 93, to my great-grandsons.

Written by Caja del Campeón — October 08, 2012