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26 July 2014
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Event Supplier Profile, The Ice Box

Units A35 / A36, New Covent Garden Market, London SW8 5EE

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Transparent Success

Ice Box has carved itself quite a niche, says Annica Svensson

It’s fitting that Ice Box’s 10th anniversary party last year was called ‘The Next Ice Age’, for here’s a company that’s really moving into a new era – and bringing the event and marketing industries along for the ride. Where once you’d be lucky to find cold drinks at a party, you can now have entire venues carved out of ice, as evidenced by the launch of Guinness Extra Cold, for which Ice Box placed a solid ice pub, complete with a pool table, dog, and fully functional bar, in the middle of Broadgate Circle. Now, how cool is that?!

Ice Box started out as an ice cube supplier to the catering industry, a business that still accounts for about 40 per cent of its turnover and over half a million ice cubes a day. ‘We’ll never stop doing them. It’s a crucial part of our relationships with clients,’ says managing director Philip Hughes, who nevertheless admits he no longer jumps at small jobs but prefers the large orders he receives from the likes of the Sanderson, Conran and Gordon Ramsay.

It was a holiday to Boston that inspired Philip to expand the business. ‘I went to see a company that had a vast freezer full of sculptures and I just thought: “Wow! We should be doing this!” It wasn’t exactly a new concept but no one was doing contemporary ice sculptures in the UK at the time,’ he explains. Once back home, Philip booked himself on an ice-carving course in Canada. He hired his first sculptor in 1995, who started working on vodka luges. Before long, the business had moved on to produce sculptures and structures, too.

When we caught up with the Ice Box team at seven on a cold April morning, we found them busy recreating Iceland in a function room at the St Martin’s Lane hotel. Their client, an Icelandic cosmetics company, had wanted to fly journalists to Reykjavik for a product launch but decided against the hassle of travel. So was Iceland still cool when transported to London?

Well, if the ear-to-ear smiles the PR girls produced as they made themselves comfortable on their fur-lined ice seats, looking out over a room of wall-to-wall shimmering ice, were anything to go by, we’d say yes. Definitely.

‘We do a lot of promotion work because ice is an engaging material that lends itself well to advertising,’ explains Phil, who recently played an instrumental role in the launch of the new VW Polo (the ice car was all over the papers and even made a brief appearance on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross).

Then, of course, there are the parties. We can’t think of a single party organiser who hasn’t used Ice Box creations – ‘Great if you’re looking for wow-factor,’ says Penny Ellis of EventWise – and we’re not surprised the people behind the Bond premiere Die Another Day enlisted its help in transporting the feel of the film’s Ice Palace to a Hyde Park marquee. With features including a 15-metre wall around the VIP area, a giant chandelier, clusters of stalagmites, a vast bar and several food stations, we hear it looked fabulous.

‘One of the most exciting things we do is being market makers,’ says Philip. ‘We always give clients three quotes – what they’ve asked for, a souped-up version of what they’ve asked for and a completely over-the-top version of what they’ve asked for – and I’d say about 50 per cent of clients go for the latter, mostly because what we’ve suggested to them has never even crossed their minds.’ With education top of the priority list as Philip takes over as ISES president this summer, we may indeed be entering a new Ice Age.

Icy Inspiration

Not sure what sort of thing can be made out of ice? The following list of past creations should prove that just about anything is possible: aquarium, Apple Mac computer, Audi TT, bars, bowls, candlesticks, chairs, chandeliers, chess board, colour logos, dart board, dinner plates, dog, food stations, Formula1 car, glasses, London skyline, Mickey Mouse, pool table, product displays, pub, sculptures, serving trays, sitting room, snake, sofa, stalagmites, thistles, thrones, unicorn, vases, vodka luges, wall clock, words, Xmas trees.

From Square Meal The Magazine, Summer Issue 2004