Friday, September 7, 2012

The Skinny: Is That a Wocket in Your Pocket, or What?

We both love Dr. Seuss. Who doesn't? I have a hard time imagining any part of the world that hasn't heard of The Cat in the Hat, at least. The Grinch is one of my favorite literary characters. I actually had the temerity to call myself a Seuss book collector, until I recently encountered not one, but TWO, titles that I had never even heard of. So I decided it was time to learn a little bit more about the good doctor, who was so influential in my childhood.

Yeah, so he wasn't really a doctor. Most people know that already. Theodor Geisel, the soon-to-be Dr. Seuss, went to Dartmouth, where he edited their Jack-O-Lantern humor magazine until he got booted from the editorial staff for his role in a very illegal drinking party (it was during Prohibition, after all). He did continue to submit work to the magazine, though, and he signed it "Seuss" (his middle name). Afterward, he went to Oxford, dropped out, traveled a bit, got married, and finally settled into a career as a cartoonist for Judge and The Saturday Evening Post.

Life Magazine:May 1934; from

One of his cartoons for Judge caught the right person's eye, and he spent seventeen years doing ad campaigns for Standard Oil (and a few other companies, including Ford, General Electric, and Schaefer). As it was the Great Depression, this steady work provided crucial financial support as he started to write and illustrate his own material.

Schaeffer Bock Beer advertisement

Although he had made a career off of cartoons for various magazines (adding LIFE and Vanity Fair to the list), his first "literary" break came when Viking Press commissioned his illustrations for a book of funny sayings called The Pocket Book of Boners in 1931. I own a later hardback copy, but here's a picture of the earlier paperback version:

 In 1937, he published And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (after twenty-seven rejections). A first edition with dust jacket now ranges from $8,000 to $12,000, depending on condition. He followed this success with The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins in 1938 ($6,000-$9,000), and The Seven Lady Godivas in 1939 (they're naked!).

Although he was too old to be drafted, he made his own WWII contribution by writing military training movies for Frank Capra's Signal Corps, featuring Private Snafu as a recurring character. You might notice some similarities between the Snafu films and some certain other very famous cartoons, and the reason is simple: they were a secret project done by Warner Brothers for the War Department. (Actually, the job was first offered to Disney, who wanted too much money.) This put Seuss together with some of the great Warner Directors, including Chuck Jones and Friz Freleng. And who provided the oh-so-familiar voice for Private Snafu and his fellow soldiers? Mel Blanc. I can't even get into how excited that makes me--Mel Blanc, Chuck Jones, and Dr. Seuss in the same room. Here's Private Snafu in the Aleutians (but there's also a great one called Booby Traps that runs about 5 minutes--check it out on YouTube if you get a chance):

His two most famous works, The Cat in the Hat and How the Grinch Stole Christmas both came out in 1957.  But there are some lesser-known works that are just as fabulous: Thidwick, the Big-Hearted Moose (1948), On Beyond Zebra (1955), and Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are? (1973) . Overall, more than sixty titles bear his name. I was shocked to learn that he had another pseudonym (Theo LeSieg), under which he published books that he wrote, but did not illustrate. Some of these were on my favorites list as a child, and I didn't even know they were his! The Tooth Book changed my life, people.

 Dr. Seuss has always been in my world. My preschool class had a Green Eggs and Ham party, and I was so excited I nearly peed. I always loved the fact that my mother could recite Fox in Socks rhymes, fast, without getting tongue tied. Horton heard that Who at least once a week during a particular summer of my childhood.

And now we brag on the great Dr. Seuss:
Academy Awards........2
Pulitzer Prizes.............1
Emmy Awards............2
Peabody Awards.........1
Books sold..................200,000,000+
People who are more creative, smarter, wittier, kinder, and/or funnier because they read his books.......probably billions.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr.Seuss, 1985 copy
In our etsy shop:

* Information obtained from,,

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

On the Radar -- Call of the Wild (pt.2)

So, part 2 of the Call of the Wild trend posts is all about reptiles.  Skins, that is...

Fall 2012
OK, so this look is a bit overboard, but I think this advertisement illustrates my point beautifully.  If you want to add an animal touch to your wardrobe (or your home), you can think texture in addition to print.  I'm not sure if this is real croc, or embossed leather, but the natural variations in the pattern add a great feel to the edgy cut of all these pieces.

Reptile skins can be classic and subtle, or they can be modern and fresh, like this new take on a snake skin pattern:

Fall 2012

That's the magic of taking inspiration from nature.  There's something sensual and organic about it, but it can be transformed into many, many different forms.  Abstracted, modernized, timeless, or elegant.  It can be anything you want it to be.  And that's why designers (and trends) always come back to it.

When I worked in product development, I had a cache of photos that inspired me.  Trends were important in my industry.  I kept a large magazine tear sheet file, and rotated photos on my massive pin board in my office every season.  But there were probably around 20 images that I saved in a file on my computer.  I went back to those images over and over when I was designing-- and most of them weren't related to fashion.  Or home decor.

They were pictures of nature, animals, patterns, vintage things, architecture, art -- anything that could be an inspiration through its form, color, and content.  This particular photo was shared between us Blackbird girls -- one of us teaches science -- and it was labeled as "cool" to us.  I saw it and thought, "What a great pattern.  And the colors!"  And it was forever locked away in my inspiration file, pulled out when I needed a little push to design something.  Here he is:

Bad-Ass Snake, photo from
We knew reptile skins -- crocodile, in particular -- were coming around again when we started buying it (we have three pairs of shoes listed in the Etsy shop right now) and when we started seeing it pop up in random places, like a croc patterned backsplash on HGTV.  Then, when we looked through the fall magazines, every other page had reptile -- bags, shoes, dresses.  So I guess, everything old really is new again...

Ferragamo Heels, from our Etsy Shop
See you later, alligator...

Monday, September 3, 2012

Junk Love Monday: Glassy and Elegant

I blame my mother. I realize that this is a loaded statement, with various applications, but I'll save most of those in case I ever decide to collect therapists. For today, the blame game has one objective: glass.

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It started with a birthday (sort of). We had cake and candles, and wrapping paper was flying, and I ripped into one box to find...bottles. There were three of them, about fourteen inches high, each a different color and shape. One had a triangular base; another was round and very tapered; the third had a pattern that looked like waves. I loved them, but I was confused. I did not collect bottles, so it seemed like a random sort of gift. As the festivities wound down, she pulled me to the side and asked if I wanted her to get me something else. She worried that I did not like them. Of course I liked them (they are fabulous), but I asked her why she chose to give them to me in the first place. She looked surprised. "You've always loved colored glass. Every time we go somewhere, you look at, pick up, or comment on the big glass bottles." She had me there. My mother was right. (And in my childhood home, a victory boogie just took place. I promise never to admit it again.)

I had never really experienced deep thoughts about colored glass, particularly Mid-Century bottles, but I suppose that I was a collector in denial. It took my mother's gift of three bottles (three being the number of the counting for making a collection official, if you will remember an earlier post) to make it real. I looked at my bottles, and loved them, and devoted myself to finding them some friends.

Now, I realize that I began this story with a birthday party, but really, it starts with my great-grandmother. I spent a lot of my childhood at her house, which was where I trained diligently in the art of plundering. Her house was stuffed to the rafters with stuff, and I loved to find it. All of it. And one of the things that I found was a 1960s amber glass bottle with a stopper. I was positive that it used to have a genie inside, and she assured me that the genie was on vacation. I loved that bottle. I would look at it at least twice during every visit, to see if the genie was back yet. (He never did come back. I assume he's living the high life on a beach somewhere. But, I digress.) Anyway, the memory of that bottle was archived and filed in the part of my brain devoted to meaningless childhood details, and my mother's bottles whispered to that same neglected lobe.

And so, I had to acknowledge what my mother had always known. I love big glass bottles. It is one of my more carefully curated collections for two big reasons: limited display space, and the cat. I cannot buy a bottle with a very loose stopper, for fear that tragedy will strike the first time a stray cat meows from the flower bed. And, I don't want to get into the habit of buying large bottles that will instantly have to go into storage. Large bottles are difficult to store. I also try to vary the colors, although I tend to gravitate toward blues and greens. Interesting stoppers are a must. Blenko makes my heart beat faster.

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I go for long periods of time without finding any interesting bottles, and then I'll find a shop that has five or six great ones. They just aren't very common in my normal shopping range. But, we recently traveled to Ohio, which will forever be known as The Land of Big Glass Bottles. They were everywhere, and not just in twos and threes, but in dozens. I saw thirty-six different Mid-Century bottles in a single day, ranging in size from eight inches to around three feet in height. It was Mecca. And I couldn't buy any, because they were either too expensive or too delicate for a road trip through multiple construction zones. Even now, I'm getting depressed about all of those bottles that I will never own....

SALE Vintage BLENKO SEA Green Decanter Wayne Husted No. 6122-m Crackle Glass Floor Large
from ShootingCreekVintage on

But, I suppose it's for the best. I have limited space, after all, and I live with a cat who is insane. I just dream of the day when I have a huge window, with all of my bottles sitting in front to catch the sunlight in the morning. I hate it when my mother is right.