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Special Design Issue | Metropolis / Entertaining

Enveloped in Delight

Custom Invitations Create Ambience From the Start

November 10, 2002|EMILY YOUNG

So you want your party to be an affair to remember. Instead of settling for something off the rack (sorry, Hallmark), get personal. How better to set the tone than by having a card designed to reflect your own unique style, from the paper and ink to the imagery and message? With custom invitations, choices range from parchment to gold leaf, neutral to Day-Glo bright, classic to kitsch. Almost anything is possible.

Invitations change with the times, of course. In recent decades, they've evolved from over-the-top '80s glitz to nature-inspired '90s simplicity. To find out what's current, we checked with three top sources of high-end custom cards, each with a different specialty. Prices per invitation range from $5 to the-sky's-the-limit, depending on quantity, complexity and materials.

By printing her invitations on an old-fashioned letterpress and occasionally accenting them with antique cords and trinkets, designer Claudia Laub turns out exquisite cards with a decidedly vintage edge. "Letterpress is for the antique-ophile," she says. "The type 'bites' into the paper and creates texture." Laub says her Hancock Park studio and gallery has been getting requests for more festive invitations after a period of subdued designs. "I'm seeing color in papers and inks again--oranges, greens, mauves and purples." While accordion pleats are gaining popularity, so are single cards left unfolded. "In this economy, people are scaling back, but they'll spend on hand coloring," she says. For one set of bat mitzvah invitations, Laub painstakingly dotted watercolor on an intricate printed design. "It took forever, but they turned out gorgeous."

At Hiromi Paper International in Santa Monica, owner Hiromi Katayama stocks more than 500 handmade Japanese papers that are masterpieces in and of themselves. Little wonder that Katayama and her staff feature the papers' delicate fibers, hand-dyed hues and woodblock-printed patterns in their custom invitation designs. "The customers we attract here [at Bergamot Station] are artistically inclined," says graphic designer Silvia Capistran, who collaborates with card designer Tania Baban. "Very often, they're content to let the paper stand alone."

Still, Katayama says, some folks insist on gilding the lily, layering several papers in the same color palette or adding silk ribbons and dried blooms. Hiromi Paper's most requested extras are origami flowers and birds that can be glued on or included as separate ornaments.

Despite designing the new Pottery Barn paper line of fill-in-the-blank invites and writing a book on invitations, Marc Friedland of Creative Intelligence in Los Angeles continues to create one-of-a-kind cards with themes that extend to party decor. Not long ago, he created a slick, tech-oriented invitation, then translated its green-and-white circle motifs into bubbling table centerpieces: fish aquariums inside empty iMac computer monitors. Friedland reports the rise of the color combos pink and gray, and baby blue and chocolate brown; simple typefaces; and tailored rather than craftsy styles, a trend that's a far cry from wilder past projects involving such flourishes as an actual stiletto pump (white with pink fur) and a mini treasure chest. "Custom invitations aren't so much about being lavish anymore," he says. "They're more about being heartfelt and communicating shared experiences. The nice thing is, they become keepsakes years later."

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