Leigh Chandler may have named her newly launched creative agency, Sister Mary, after a nun, but her creative roots are anything but puritanical. She recently sat down with Creative Boom to explain the virtues of vice and why she wants to design for brands that people don't just want or need but crave and covet.
Leigh Chandler has made a career of crafting rich and desirable designs for booze and cannabis brands (Baileys, Guinness, Fuzed). And in her new venture, Sister Mary, she is determined to crack open the code of traditional vice cues to design brands that range far beyond the vice category.
First, a brief history of vice: 'Vice' as a category is informed by Dante Alegheri's Seven Deadly Sins – Vanity, Envy, Anger, Laziness, Greed, Gluttony, Lust. Traditionally, the category encompasses a range of goods and services considered potentially harmful to your health or well-being. Think cigarettes, spirits, and, more recently, cannabis.
Leigh herself started designing for tobacco brands before moving into the beverages category over a decade ago, but even so, she's always seen vice a little differently. In her work, Leigh questions how relevant it is to define our desires as vices today.
She tells Creative Boom: "The term 'vice' is traditionally associated with behaviours or habits that might be addictive, have negative consequences, or go against societal norms. But as our norms evolve, categories merge and overlap, and people's relationship with brands change, we must rethink the definition of vice brands."
She playfully extrapolates why Dante's Seven Deadly Sins have lost their sting in the modern day: "Today, loving yourself isn't selfish, it's rightfully encouraged: vanity is essential to stay healthy, fit, and well. We all experience envy – it creates hype around limited releases and drops. With increasingly hectic lives, sleep (laziness) can only be dreamt of – and there are a hundred products to help you sleep. Indulgence doesn't have to mean gluttonous - with healthy indulgent treats saturating the market."
Leigh's reframing of vice feels particularly astute in a moment when people are chasing purity, health, and wellness from the products they support more than ever before. "The blending craze of the 2010s may have aimed to strip everything back to the severity in order to reveal purity and simplicity, but increasingly brands are finding that if they want to promote wellness, then healthier, purer, and more sustainable options still need to feel indulgent, covetable, sexy."
Indeed, as more and more drinkers opt out of alcohol, an explosion of zero and low-alc brands have risen to the top of the market, successfully harnessing the cues of vice to compete with their boozy counterparts. Seedlip, Kin, and Avec have all leant into the indulgent language of luxury spirits, recognising that you can satisfy your craving for the ritual of a drink without sacrificing your sobriety.
Health-conscious alternatives to many a favourite indulgence have followed suit: Leigh herself worked on two notable brands (Baileys Deliciously Light and Casatera) that needed to retain the decadence of vice while appealing to modern drinkers' craving for a more balanced drinking experience.
And, of course, the legalisation of cannabis in a number of US states has changed the game for the vice category; cannabis-infused vape products and edibles that previously spelt legal troubles now promote their healing properties, meaning these products sit bang at the intersection of vice and wellness. There's practically no distinction.
Meanwhile, the hottest make-up brands, luxury pantry items, stationery, and even pet food are all leaning into maximalist, indulgent branding designed to make customers hungry to be part of the tribe of devoted users. "People are looking for more character and vibrancy in their lives, and the indulgence inherent in vice cues supports that vision," explains Leigh.
Leigh's own vices certainly don't fall into the standard category of classically 'naughty'; instead, they're indulgent, hedonistic, and worthy of her devotion. They're her personal weaknesses, not prescriptively dangerous products.
"The evolution of vice really hit me as I opened my 6th delivery box of Graza olive oil, covered my laptop in Fishwife stickers, and realised I'd been loyal to Kiehl's skincare for almost 20 years," she explains. "These are brands I feel love for and loyalty towards. These aren't products in vice categories, but they're vice brands. People just don't feel the same way for Filippo Berio as they do for Graza."
She makes a particularly interesting case for classifying Fishwife as vice: "I'm not a sardine lover, but Fishwife's packaging and tone of voice radiate pure joy. The bright colours, playful iconography, and perfect sense of maximalism effuse nothing but genuine, candid delight. There is nothing to not love. So now I'm a tinned fish devotee – it's a vice for me."
It's safe to say that if tinned sardines can be a vice, anything can – it all comes down to creative that feels indulgent, treat-worthy, and so sinfully satisfying that you can't help but want it all for yourself. Leigh explains: "Vice brands are the ones that make people feel good when they buy it, that people feel a real emotional connection to, and want to surround themselves with it in their homes and their lives."
"Vice is simply and powerfully the weakness we have for something we love,' Leigh concludes. "The products that reflect you and what you stand for that you purchase out of love and devotion, not need: Cannabis, CBD, spirits, non-alc, beauty, cosmetics, luxury food and drink can all fall into this space."
In other words: designed well, vices can become any indulgence we desire, deserve, and would do anything to get our hands on.
From the Sister Mary headquarters in NYC, a city she calls "a hub for all things hedonistic and the prime location for exploring vice," Leigh plans to continue leading the charge for what vice can mean, for every kind of craving and every kind of brand.