By John Lopez, Vanity Fair
© 2013 MARC FRIEDLAND/CREATIVE INTELLIGENCE, INC./LA-NY.
Marc Friedland takes envelopes very seriously. "In today's world, everything's so fleeting," he opined to us in his hip, Mid-City L.A. studio where his company, Marc Friedland Couture Communications, creates ornate custom invitations for celebrity clients. "With these kinds of things, they become part of the anthropological landscape. If you find them 100 years from now, it gives you a snapshot of how a culture communicated or commemorated itself." Friedland's team has designed elaborate invitations for everything from Oprah's Legends Ball to the extravagant opening of the Atlantis Palm Hotel in Dubai, a fête so lavish its fireworks display was visible from space. But Friedland's most famous client? The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, for which he makes the most recognized piece of stationery on the planet--the envelope.
On Oscar Sunday, you will see 24 handcrafted iterations of Marc's masterpiece--the Mona Lisa of letterhead--every time a teleprompter-dazzled presenter says, "And the winner is," and then fumbles to open his envelope. (Actually, when we asked Marc about starlets' persistent inability to crack the envelope in one smooth, dramatic gesture, he became even more serious. "Hopefully that's [just] been the perception," he corrected. "Ours have not been. We re-engineered [them] to make it dummy-proof. Like any great suit, we took it out a little in the seam, so that way it wasn't that snug."
Marc was first hired to do the envelope in 2011 for the 83rd Academy Awards; before then, the envelope was actually a somewhat nondescript affair--a utilitarian tool that winners were likely to fold over and put in their tux pockets to forget about until next year's People's Choice Awards. In fact, the Academy didn't even use an envelope until 1941. The presenters were simply told the winners' names, and newspapers were given the results for publication immediately after the awards. Naturally, when the Los Angeles Times graciously published said list before the 1940 awards began, that practice was discontinued and an envelope was adopted to prevent irksome reporters from spoiling the affair.
These days, the envelope has taken on iconic status, so Marc has given it the kind of obsessive-compulsive thought not seen since the Gilded Age invitations Caroline Astor sent out for her hierarchy-defining balls. Decrying the digital age's stationery substitutes as ephemeral, Marc takes pride in his handcrafted approach: "Nothing takes the place of something touched by loving hands--that's the love and attention that goes into this, and I feel like it shows." He sources the iridescent metallic-gold paper stock from a tiny German village and then lines it with high-gloss red lacquer. Both the outside and inside are stamped in satin-gold leaf with a repeating pattern of Oscar statuettes--a pattern hand-carved into a bronze die by an artisan die-caster. (Sharing this last factoid, Friedland casually looked at the mold and joked, "Who's going to do this in 20 years, I don't know. Hopefully he has sons or apprentices.")
The back of the envelope and flap both feature an Art Deco gold-foil frame with debossed, ecru space with the category written in charcoal ink. The winner's card itself is also a hefty gold-foil, charcoal-ink, and red-lacquered ecru affair, with the category name also clearly printed to be visible for television cameras. Having held it delicately in our own hands, we can assure you there's no folding this bad boy up in your pants pocket only to discover it in the laundry a week later. There just can't be anything incidental about the envelope, as Friedland has to please Academy members, make it show up on camera, and prevent it from clashing with presenters' tuxes and luxuriant gowns. "I would say the Academy is the next thing to the White House in terms of protocol," Friedland said, telling me his design was intended to be simple but classic and unchanging. "You know, we're not going to use fluorescent pink!"
So far, Friedland's hit a home run. Tom Hanks called the envelope a work of art live on-air after first using it, and apparently Friedland's design has stirred envelope envy from winners whose envelopes pre-date him--"it's a lot more transportable than your statuette." Fortunately, nominees won't go away quite empty-handed this year. Even though the "winner" cards Friedland makes for the ultimately losing nominees are destroyed by PricewaterhouseCoopers, this year the Academy had him design all the invites for the various Oscar-season events: the Governor's Awards, the Scientific-Technical Awards, the Nominees Luncheon, and a welcome cocktail party for the foreign-film nominees, in addition to the ceremony itself. (Friedland settled on a jeweled color palette using shades like ruby and sapphire for each event, with hand-braided event programs--even the envelope for parking tickets is meticulously wrought.)
Meanwhile, mere mortals can also get in on the action: Friedland's teamed up with Evite's Postmark brand to offer digital Academy-sanctioned Oscar-party invites modeled after his official design. However, our favorite creation of Friedland's (available on his Web site) might be red-carpet bingo cards with categories like "celebrity baby-bump" and "just went blonde." Sure, the Oscar ceremony is one of the most elite, prestigious formal events in the world, but even someone as serious about stationery as Friedland likes to have a little fun.
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