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Leslie Linsley's DecoupageDesign "Create" Display
By Leslie Linsley
Bulfinch PressCopyright © 2004 Leslie Linsley
All right reserved.
MY MOTHER TAUGHT ME HOW to do decoupage when I was in college, and I sold the first pieces I made decoupage was never a hobby for me but rather a means to an end while I was looking for a "real" job. My grandfather; a retired architect, made charming wooden boxes with hinges and clasps for us to decoupage. The boxes were wonderful before I did a thing to them. It was on these handmade boxes that I first applied my designs, which presented an exquisite introduction to the craft.
When I first started selling my decoupage boxes (in the beginning, that was all I made), I was fortunate to meet many celebrities who purchased them. I was selling my work through Henri Bendel, an upscale boutique department store in New York City known for its innovative products. The then-president of Bendel's, Geraldine Stutz, had created a store that had individual boutiques within it. Her approach was to showcase new designers in such areas as costume jewelry, home accessories, gifts, and clothing. Many of today's best-known designers got their start at Bendel's.
One day I was in the store delivering an order when I had the good fortune to meet Steve McQueen and his wife. This bigger-than-life star took to myboxes and later introduced me to his friend Polly Bergen. Over the years they commissioned special-order boxes to give as gifts. Many others, including Jacqueline Onassis, ordered my boxes. These boxes were charming and unusual and enabled me to offer something uniquely my own.
The experience at Bendel's led me to Bergdorf Goodman across the street, and then to Tiffany and Cartier, all in the same neighborhood. I now look back on those years as quite special; there was an explosion of creativity, and I was free to design what I think of as my best work. I had a readymade outlet and an abundance of buyers looking for original products, and they gobbled up my boxes as fast as I could make them.
During this time I was introduced to the famed window designer for Tiffany, Gene Moore. For a brief period he commissioned me to make a series of boxes exclusively for Tiffany. Each half-round box resembled a treasure chest, which would hold a single diamond bracelet or ring for the window displays. The outside of the box was always painted white. Once I had applied twenty coats of varnish over the decoupage, the box looked as if it were made of ivory. The decoupage designs were created with extremely delicate flowers, stems, and buds, and I lined the inside with brilliant pink velvet. One day while walking down Fifth Avenue, I was stopped in my stride. There in every window was one of my treasure boxes, lid propped open to reveal a spectacular piece of diamond jewelry raised on a tiny pedestal inside the velvet-lined box. There was no greater thrill than to have Gene Moore use my boxes in his window displays.
After that I received orders from Cartier. This time Gramp and I created a special lap desk that would be an exclusive. When Cartier put in its first order for sixty lap desks, my grandfather's only comment was "Are you trying to kill me?" In reality, he confessed that this business we had entered into together was keeping him alive. He lived to be ninety-six and continued to make boxes until the day he died, leaving me with a wonderful legacy of boxes that I still work on, though sparingly. I am parsimonious with his boxes, mixing them with manufactured ones that I also decoupage. You can imagine my pleasure when someone brings me a box he or she purchased many years ago to show how it has stood the test of time.
On one of my visits to Bendel's, Geri Stutz asked if I would design a decoupage kit just for the store. At the time, I was dating a man who had a graphic design firm. I like to tell people that I couldn't afford to pay him to design the kits, so I had to marry him. Eventually we formed a partnership that led to a boutique line of beautifully packaged kits under the name of our newly formed company, "the whole works." We then designed an adorable little kit in a bag for Bergdorf Goodman. The white cotton drawstring bag, printed overall with the whole works in cherry pink, contained a little wooden stamp dispenser with all the materials to make the finished decoupage box that had become so popular in the store. It was a huge success and led to several other kits for Bergdorfs.
Finally we created a line for Bloomingdale's and had a kiosk in ten stores, complete with demonstrators to show customers how to do decoupage. This led to orders from such mail order catalogs as the Horchow Collection and ultimately to J. C. Penney. It was at this point that I realized I was no longer a designer-craftsperson but a manufacturer and drowning in administrative work. It was time to sell the company and get back to what I loved best, design and writing about crafts and decorating.
Over the next twenty years my husband, Jon, and I produced more than fifty books on crafts, home style, and decorating ideas; created thousands of projects for magazines; and designed products for companies. Now and then I speak before women's groups. I have been attracted by many arts and crafts and have learned to do them with enough skill to teach others. But no craft has had the lasting appeal of decoupage. Today my teaching is confined to television appearances and an occasional speaking engagement abroad. Writing my weekly newspaper column, "Home Style," enables me to present quick and easy decorating ideas for people who like to do things themselves.
After twenty-five years of selling to the most sophisticated stores in the country, I now offer my work exclusively through my own store on Nantucket, where we live. Our studio is brimming with interesting objects waiting to be transformed, and the store is where they are showcased. We design everything that's used in the home, from furniture to plates. Occasionally someone who collected my original boxes stops by the store while on vacation.
My mother still does decoupage as a hobby and does a great deal of cutting for me. Her technique is still and always will be better than mine. She has more patience and works on one piece at a time, creating that one jewel-as perhaps you will, too.
Excerpted from Leslie Linsley's Decoupage by Leslie Linsley Copyright © 2004 by Leslie Linsley . Excerpted by permission.
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