Sexy Fruit - The fruit carton and the female form

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14th February 2014

There are a few factors that distinguish Australian fruit boxes from their international counterparts. I am yet to do a comprehensive comparative study but I have noted in my travels, for example, that there is a dearth of fruity characters and general humour in American or European boxes; factors that seem to be common on boxes from down under. Of course, there are many Australian boxes that take the more sedate route in design, but on the whole it is those that have peculiarities that tend to stand out as representatives of their tradition.

The fruit box peculiarity of this entry regards the depiction of the female form – or rather the human form, as the fruit box’s treatment of the body is not exclusively female. Following on from earlier entries where the use of word play was oft discussed, the first boxes here derive their characters from the name of the fruit, in this case the lady finger banana. As the characters for their brands, Tropico Farms and Paton’s have both gone for a mermaid-like half woman, half banana. In both cases the woman’s lower half is a banana and the upper half a ‘Lovely Lady’, as Patons like to call her. I can’t decide whether it is meant to be a woman emerging from a banana (in which case it is either a very small woman or a very large banana), or if the seductively rendered women are unfortunate enough to be born with a fruity lower half. Either way it appears that both ladies are relishing their roles and getting into the spirit of human/fruit hybridity.

Basra’s Lady Fingers has gone a similar route with the depiction of a woman on their box, although unlike Paton’s and Tropico’s there has not been an attempt to make a direct link between the woman and the name of the produce by uniting her form with a piece of fruit. The Basra’s Bather (as I like to call her), is lying on a beach towel in what appears to sweltering conditions; she is depicted in a firey orange or red and doesn’t seem to be particularly at ease. Like many fruit boxes this design appears to have been created a number of years ago, and due to the cost in the print set-ups for such a process there has been little desire to update. The box’s typography, its colours, and even the Basra’s Bather all have a vintage look to them. I really felt when I first encountered this box that I had discovered something from a different era and/or realm. The first one that I found had a large tear across the front and it was not until 6 months later, after searching far and wide, that I found better one, albeit also torn.*

The nomenclature of the lady linger banana is interesting. Most would assume that as a regular banana bunch is called a ‘hand’ it follows that each banana in a hand be called a finger, and as a lady’s finger is generally more petit than a man’s the more petit banana assumed the name lady finger.

Try telling Lady Fingers that.

Lord Fingers, whose endeavours spanned many industries (hence the saying ‘fingers in many pies’), was spreading himself very thin and in order to appease his wife, who was annoyed at his foray into banana plantations, he named a new type of banana after her. She was placated only briefly however, as the farmers who bought the rights to grow the new fruit carelessly omitted the inverted comma on their new boxes that is crucial in denoting ownership. Lady Fingers’ distress was compounded by other farmers omitting the S from the end of Fingers. Instead of being called Lady Fingers’ bananas they were being called lady finger bananas. Lady Fingers was singularly (and plurally) pissed. Lord Fingers’ careless error to not include a naming clause in the terms of sale meant that he now had to sell his stake in the industry entirely, at Lady Fingers’ insistence.

In the case of Glamour Gold Grapes (above) I am not sure what the relationship is of the ‘glamourous’ figure to the fruit or its farmers. I can only assume that the ‘M’ in A & M Moraitis (the farmers’ names) stands for Marilyn. Marilyn’s outrageous proportions are probably the first thing that one notices on this box, which is not a typical one by any means. My first assumption was that there is an attempted allusion to the produce within the box and the shape of Marilyn’s bosom. Not for the first time on a fruit box design however, there are issues with scale; Glamour’s woman-like figure (so exaggerated are the proportions) should probably be on a box for watermelons. The other thing to note when looking at the Glamour Gold box is that the printing technique is ‘pre-print’, meaning that the paper is printed on prior to being adhered to the cardboard. Most boxes are printed while being cut. Whereas the post print box embodies its design – the ink dries beyond its surface – there is a slickness to the pre-print process that tends emphasise surface. With a name like Glamour Gold and a character like Marilyn it is no wonder they have gone for pre-print.

On the subject of surface, the wax-coated box is a box that is usually re-used, and often contains produce of a wetter nature – leafy things etc. The wax makes the box water resistant. Schreurs celery box is one such wax-coated box and has what is probably the most widely known fruit box model – the bikinied Celery Woman. Perhaps it is the popularity of the celery that is the reason for her fame, or that the box itself is not crushed and recycled, but re-used and by virtue of this is more visible. I once did a landscape from fruit box cutouts called the The Arcadia Project (pictured below), and Celery Woman featured at the landscape’s apex, next to some lounging frog who I have since been unable to locate.

Schreurs is a unique box as it has both scantily-clad woman and a crazy fruity character. Celery Man has a supermanesque ‘C’ on his chest, and a mini map of Australia on his bulging bicep. They have made good use of the leafy upper part of the celery as the hair for Celery Man, and as you would imagine it is quite a healthy head of hair. It would seem that what Schruers are trying to say, with representatives like Celery Man and Celery Woman, is that celery is good for your body. It is “The Weigh To Go“.

The last box in this entry is one that relates to the male form. Dicko’s Bananas have a bold design that could be considered archetypal in the world of fruit boxes. The text is a large, commanding, reinforced ‘Rockwell’ type of font. The depiction of the bananas on Dicko’s box is unique in that it is the only one to have its fruit upside-down. This is relative though as there is no right way up for a banana. Dicko’s bananas are just upside-down compared to every other box’s bananas. Alongside the brand name what this orientation does is make the fruit appear like a bunch of male appendages. I’m not sure if this was intentional, and it is something that I didn’t really notice until repeated visitors to my studio observed my arrangement of banana boxes and made comment of it. I admit I couldn’t disagree that Dicko’s bananas have something of a phallic flavour to them. You be the judge.

*Fruit boxes, and in particular banana boxes, often have a sticky gum on the box’s lid in order that when they are transported en masse in pallet-form they do not slide around. The gum holds the boxes together but it also tears a significant section of the design away from the box underneath when the pallet is dismantled. It is curious enough that farmers put so much effort into the design of their produce cartons, but to then sabotage them with the gum adds another layer of peculiarity to the equation.