I’ve always said that there’s a lot of crossover between the worlds of bookbinding and seamstress-ing. I should know: both have been my stock in trade, at one time or another. The two realms share terminology (“mock up” “tie-off” “pleat”), tools (needles/thread/cloth of some sort) and techniques (sewing & stitching/determining the grain of one’s materials/creasing or ironing). An incredible amount of precision is required for each part of the process, in order to create a couture garment or a finely bound volume.
When my old friend (and former employer) Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden Unique Corsetry called me, I had a feeling the project would be something remarkable. “I’m interested in working on something together,” she told me. “I’d like to write a letter to someone important.”
She went on to tell me that through a spectacular series of events (a black tie gala, her incredible ensemble, and an introduction via Dita Von Teese), Autumn met Jean Paul Gaultier when the designer was in town for the opening of the De Young Museum’s The Fashion World of John Paul Gaultier: From Sidewalk to the Catwalk. “He was absolutely charming and it was such an honor to meet him,” Autumn confided. “I’ve always idolized his work. To meet him was a dream of mine and I want to write a letter to let him know what an inspiration he has been to my work.”
How could I refuse? The project was a perfect marriage of art and fashion, correspondence and personal passion.
Over a handful of meetings, we decided on design elements such as paper choice and theme; it was very much like designing a line of clothing. Autumn took care of writing the letter; all I had to worry about was the overall “look” and presentation.
I came up with three different design options, based on things we had discussed. Now the real fun began! –searching out papers, choosing typefaces, looking for imagery that was interesting but not too “twee”. Autumn had mentioned a love of vintage laces, so I focused on that as an outstanding element, testing different ways of pricking and punching paper in order to mimic Victorian lace patterns.
How to create a delicate wrapper for a letter, something more than an envelope but not overwhelming to the contents inside? Thin-as-tissue (yet strong) rice paper seemed like a sure bet – the warm ecru colors reminded me of vintage nightgowns (with made-by-hand lace trim) handed down to me by my grandmother. I discovered that running mulberry paper through my inkjet printer gave nice results.
But what about the ribbon, the part that binds it all together? “It has to be the right shade of pink,” Autumn said “a color that’s like a cross between champagne and old wallpaper. You know: grandma pink.”
It was hard to say goodbye when handing off the bon mot. I mean, how does one ever really know where their letters end up, or what happens to them? I have faith that the letter itself will reach its destination; after all, Autumn and FedEx will see to that. But what about after it reaches Paris? And then falls into the hands of a personal assistant or intern? Will this missive be placed in a stack of “already opened” or “to be opened”? I always wonder about those sorts of things.
At the end of the day, those questions are important, but they are only part of the larger story. To work on a project such as this is truly it’s own reward. In the same way that Autumn was honored to meet Mr. Gaultier, I am thrilled she invited me to collaborate on such an important project . And it goes without saying that I’m looking forward to hearing about her adventures in Paris, when she heads there next month.
PS: francophiles and curious letter lovers – Autumn let me know this morning that FedEx delivered the missive safe-n-sound to the Gaultier atelier!