It’s not an exaggeration to say that Irma Boom has designed some of the coolest books ever put on a bookshelf. Throughout her career, the Amsterdam-based designer has made more than 250 volumes, and a staggering 20 percent have found a home in a permanent collection at MoMA. They really are works of art, though Boom herself is vehemently against calling them so. “I do not consider and approach my work as art. I do push the boundaries of bookmaking, but it is never art,” she says. “Books are not unique—it is commissioned work, it is a reproduction.”
What Boom creates is often more than just a book as we typically know it. A book by Boom is an experience, an object to be appreciated in its own right, even when its technically just a vehicle for another artist. Like this book commissioned by Chanel, the Parisian fashion house, for its Chanel No. 5 perfume. And in classic Boom style, it’s not what you’d expect. The 300-page book has no ink—each of the crisp white pages is embossed with a drawing or quotation that helps the story of Gabrielle Chanel unfold. It’s clean, understated and ephemeral, and somehow still totally engrossing.
When Boom begins working on a book, she totally immerses herself in the subject. She says Chanel gave her carte blanche to do whatever she wanted with the it, with no artistic pressure or push in any direction. The fashion brand simply provided her with as much information as possible and let it percolate until the idea struck her. In this case, Boom spent time in Chanel’s Paris apartment and studied her life. She witnessed the bottling process and even joined the Chanel team as they picked roses in Grasse, a village in the Provence region of France. “When I was there I immediately got the idea for the book,” Boom recalls. “What I smelled there was so intense, exciting… not visible.”
The attention to detail in the Chanel book would be astonishing, if it weren’t Boom making it. The book is 5 cm thick, a nod to the perfume’s name, and each design was hand drawn.