Before I started my own custom invitation and greeting card line, I thought it would be a good idea to get some hands on experience. Although most people would describe me as a ‘Downtown’ type, I took a part-time gig as a custom printing expert at a Papyrus store located in Manhattan’s Upper East Side neighborhood. I targeted this area of New York City known for its society crowd and high-end clientele willing to pay for the best products and services and their dedication to tradition and social etiquette.
I wanted to learn more about the customs of writing and sending correspondence – invitations, announcements, personal notes and business letters — and its impact socially and in business. For many on the Upper East Side, a handwritten ‘thank you’ note is not a courtesy; it’s a requirement…
Discovering Crane & Co…
Working at Papyrus, I quickly learned what you write is as important as what you write it on. Many of my customers were movers and shakers in society and business circles and insisted on top-tier papers for their custom printing needs. Hands-down Crane & Co. was one of the most requested. Many customers refused to print on anything other than Crane’s 100% cotton stock. I discovered that generations of families and businesses exclusively used Crane papers to detail significant events in their lives including wedding and birthday invitations, birth and moving announcements and personalized holiday cards. In addition, as a printing specialist, one valuable tool was my relationship with Crane’s customer service department. I knew I could phone them to get quick answers on everything from the weight of certain papers, etiquette suggestions, printing methods and turnaround times.
During my retail boot-camp, Crane became one of my favorite books to sell because of its quality papers, history in social stationery and loyal customer base.
I was happy to receive my invitation from Crane & Co. to stop by their booth at the National Stationery Show and ‘peruse their new premier collections.’ Most special was an opportunity to meet their new VP of Creative and Product Development, Rachel V. Ivey. Before joining Crane, Rachel was Creative Director of Color and Trend for Wal-Mart and previously Head Designer at William Sonoma were she established the design direction for which the brand is now known.
Wait a minute… Color? Trend? Design? Rachel’s appointment was a signal to me that Crane & Co. known for its distinctive heritage and classic look was making a big move to modernize its brand. I couldn’t wait to talk with her…
brandnewdaydesigns: On our tour of the Crane windows at the National Stationery Show you mentioned one of the first things you did when you came on board was to go through the archives. For a company that’s been around since the early 1800’s, what was that experience like?
Rachel V. Ivey: I had in my head the archives was this big vault with the big wheel handle. It turned out to be maybe thirty albums – like a photo album – of papers that weren’t necessarily in acid liners. We have an incredible historian named Peter Hopkins and he spent a lot of time with me going page-by-page explaining the history of Crane. The first experience in the archives was really more about the papers – not so much about design – and seeing whose lives we’ve been a part of. Almost every celebrity that’s done their stationery with Crane was in these books. Like Gerald Ford had presidential stationery, but I think I saw about ten rounds of different stationery that he did.
bndd: In your position overseeing creative and product development for Crane, how important is it to look back to move forward?
RI: I feel like my responsibility being the first creative person in the two-hundred and eleven years of Crane that I had to at least look at what was going on because I think we’re living in a time that heritage is modern. For example, when you look at what Christopher Bailey did for Burberry which I think is a perfect analogy if you were to compare brands. Burberry is known for its plaid. We’re known for our paper, not our design. Burberry at its height, had a big fall and brought somebody in who knew how to use the heritage of the company to make it modern again. I’m watching www.stylesight.com and noticing how Gucci and Hermes are doing artisan workshops where they’re celebrating the heritage of their company by teaching craftsmanship of what they do to people who want to learn. When I’m thinking about how I’m going to make my stamp at Crane, I would be remiss if I thought, let me just come in here and do my thing without respecting the heritage of this company.
RI: At the Crane museum, Peter pulls out the presidential collection. I was floored because I didn’t realize that Crane had been part of every presidency going back to Taft. I was holding in my hand Mrs. Taft and Mrs. Eisenhower’s calling cards. I was also holding Mrs. John F. Kennedy’s sympathy card which I was telling my mother about and that night she e-mailed me a photo of the one she received in the sixties because she contributed to John F. Kennedy’s library. So the exact same thing I was holding in my hand, my mother had kept it all these years. It was incredible. The Americana Collection is my love song to Crane.
bndd: Crane’s brand is iconic and many loyal customers and retailers are traditionalist when it comes to Crane’s classic stationery. What do you think about that?
RI: I think there’s a way to do classic and traditional in a way that’s updated. That’s definitely been my focus. My job is to keep the tradition of our brand, but move us forward because quite frankly the generation that does write notes and use personal correspondence is an older generation. My responsibility is keeping the heritage of the brand relevant for a newer generation and that we can be teachers of our own doctrine of having personal correspondence and that the written word is important. The classic never gets old; it’s how you innovate within that that keeps you afloat.
bndd: What role do you see QR codes playing with personalized stationery?
RI: A lot of people are like “What’s up with the QR code Rachel?” For example we see putting ‘Harold Abrams’ on a card and a QR code next to it. That could take you to your Pinterest account or a your tumblr page or whatever you’re excited about. For wedding invitations which we showcased in a big window box we showed the deckle-edged paper with an engraved announcement and instead of directions on the insert card we put an engraved QR code. That QR code could take you to directions, but could also take you to a photo sharing website. It’s a way of trying to make it modern. Believe me, I’ve gotten a lot of flak about it. A lot of traditionalist who think “What am I doing to Crane?” I’m not trying to make a statement that everybody should start doing QR codes, but I think it’s irresponsible of me as a creative person to not acknowledge that people are doing this right now. If a mom and pop stationery store is sitting across from a twenty-something bride and her parents and the bride ask “Do you do QR codes?”; that was my way of empowering our retailers to demonstrate what’s going on in the world. If you want to use it, great. If you want to stay traditional, don’t.
RI: It’s twelve designs based on black and white designs with gold accents and through the personalization and the liners we would do something that Crane wasn’t known for and that was color. It’s four steps to style. You pick your pattern. You pick your personalization and type-facing of which we chose for you, so you only have the ability to chose the most fabulous. You chose the color of your personalization and then your liner. The liners are solid in color or for a ten dollar up-charge you can go for a more pattern graphic approach in all black, white and gold. There’s actually over a hundred combinations you can put together. What I’m excited about is that it still captures classic and traditional motifs, but it does it in a way that’s fresh and modern — and yes you can use the words ‘Crane’ and ‘modern’ at the same time — it updates us with color which we’re not known for. Not every collection is going to be like that, but we’re relevant.
bndd: Tell me the significance of writing ‘thank you’ notes?
RI: I love a thank you note so much that my daughter has three kinds of stationery because we go through it so fast. Handwriting a note is a time stop and makes you think about why you are thankful. To this day I write my mother a thank you for patience she had with me when I was nineteen years old. It’s the selection of the stationery, the opening of the letter. It’s the time taken to write a note. I don’t think the thank you note is a lost art. At Crane, it’s our biggest category. There are so many personalities out there which is why we have such a variety in thank you notes.
I love opening a Crane box! Thanks to Rachel, Wallis Post and everyone at Crane & Co. for my personalized correspondence cards and envelopes chosen from the Crane Style Now Collection. Nice liner right?
DISCOVER: Crane & Co.