color crushes

Four Fab Things in New York
November 3rd, 2011
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With some time to spare in Manhattan last week, we took a cultural spin around midtown. Even in a single day, the jolt of shows and stores in New York gave us a fresh new perspective. Here are four things that particularly captured our attention.

1. De Kooning’s Colors. (above) The blockbuster art show in New York this Fall is unquestionably this enormous retrospective at MOMA. Frankly, for us, a little bit of carnivorous women paintings goes a long way. Instead, what impressed us about the show was how, over a very long career, de Kooning returned time and again to the color pink (often complemented by a mustard yellow). It’s this color that gave his paintings a consistent sensuality. As de Kooning himself said: “Flesh was the reason why oil painting was invented.”

2. Elie Nadelman in the MOMA Sculpture Garden. We can’t believe we never spotted this wonderful Nadelman bronze before. (One of his drawings, above right, takes pride of place in our personal collection.) The graceful stance is pure Nadelman, and how charming is the whimsy of the bowtie, sitting like a butterfly on his chest?

3. Organic shapes at Museum of Art and Design. The show itself — Flora & Fauna, MAD About Nature — was a little lackluster, but we were intrigued by Ted Muehling’s “Thorn Necklace”. (See more of his lovely pieces here.) The way the shapes interlock is striking, but then we noticed a single coral pendant, nearly hidden among the thorns. This made the whole piece that much more arresting. Perhaps the thorns had drawn a drop of blood?

4. Cheap clothing, fantastic stores. Just enough time for a retail dash along 5th Avenue. Forget about Gucci and Armani, the most sensational stores this Fall are the new Uniqlo (above left), with its Blade Runner light show, selling cashmere sweaters for $49.90, and the sleek video cube minimalism of the Hollister store (right), which features $25 sweatpants.

Orange and Black Can Only Mean One Thing …
October 30th, 2011

Orange is one of our favorite colors here at J. Falkner, so naturally we’re very fond of Halloween. It’s interesting to see how strongly one date can possess a pair of colors. Put orange with black and you have Halloween. No debate. Rarely will you see that color combination used for anything else. Orange and brown, sure (hello Hermes), red and black fine, but orange and black are owned by Halloween.

Where did this palette come from? Many date Halloween way, way back to the Celts in 700 BC, who celebrated it as the end of harvest and hence orange symbolizes the richness of Autumn. But the day also emerged as one when prayers would be made to the dead, and therefore the black of death became a partner to fiery orange.

Orange also leads us to the tradition of pumpkins,
and here there is a charming story in Irish lore, featuring a man named Stingy Jack. Heaven didn’t want him because of his miserly ways, and he was also rejected by the Devil, so poor Stingy Jack was forced to wander the world in misery. He may have been stingy, but Jack was also inventive: to see his way through the darkness, he travelled with a piece of burning coal in a hollowed out turnip — which gives us the name “jack-o-lantern”. The earliest Halloween carvings were of turnips, but when the practice came to America, pumpkins became de rigueur.

We’re sorry to say we were too busy fulfilling our holiday orders to create a Halloween collection this year, but we did want to share at least one card, made especially for you today. Here it is. Happy Halloween!

Do as Eleanor Does: Perk Yourself Up with Red
September 24th, 2011


Eleanor Lambert — the founder of the International Best Dressed List, and the subject of fab new book “Eleanor Lambert: Still Here,” by John Tiffany — was the type of formidably chic woman that seems to have passed away as the last century closed. Diana Vreeland, Millicent Rogers, Doris Duke, Helene Rochas, Babe, Slim … it’s not very modern to indulge in nostalgia, but we’re hard pressed to find anyone to match them today. Or anyone quite so quotable.


Eleanor Lambert once said of her favorite color: “I perk myself up after a hard day by wearing red.” Now, in her case, that might be a Charles James gown (now in the Met Museum’s collection), but even something as simple as a bouquet of red roses — like the ones (above) a friend brought for Sunday lunch — can achieve a similar effect. Here are some other red stories that inspire us.


One day we are going to get a grown-up closet, and when we do, we are going to paint it scarlet like Richard Lambertson and John Truex have done in their Sutton Place apartment (above).


Vibrant tomato is our favorite shade of red. (We’re not at all fans of berry red.) This luscious tomato and ball of buffalo mozzarella came from a market in Taormina, Sicily — and made for a salad we can still taste.



During a trip to Italy last Autumn, we were riveted by the luminous reds of the Venetian Renaissance painters. These details are both from paintings that hang in the Accademia: Giovannie Bellini (above, top), and Giovanni Mansueti.


This door off the main square in Cusco, the old Inca capital of Peru, captured our imagination with its marvelous gloss, especially against the old stonework.


So perhaps it’s no accident that some of our bestselling cards favor red. And not just for Valentine’s Day. As Eleanor said, it is a color that always thrills. And now it couldn’t be easier — shameless self-promotion ahead — to buy any card you like from our new online shop. Give it a try, and let us know what you think!

* Our preferred red is Pantone’s “Warm Red”.

September Moodboard: Camel & Lilac
September 21st, 2011

When a newspaper stopped by our studio recently to do a profile on us (yes! we were thrilled), it was a great excuse to re-imagine our moodboard for Fall. And since ‘Fall’ is a very relative term here in Florida — we’re expecting 92’c this weekend — there is all the more reason to signal it with a new color story.

Generally we start with one or two key images on our moodboard, then mix in a few more to complement the whole. Then we take a step back. And then we normally start all over again, because the right mood isn’t quite there yet.

But this time, from the moment we found this picture of a camel skirt set off by purple suede pumps, we knew we had it. The collection of paint cans soon followed (don’t you love that one confident punch of red among the soft lilac), and then a tearsheet from the Prada men’s Fall campaign — this time it’s a jolt of blue against brown— clicked into place.

We discovered we could assemble a similar palette from our own cards: lilac elephants, a brown rabbit, fuschia high heels, and balloons against an electric blue sky. We’re like children that way: we like matching things up.

Of course we love color in all its forms, but after a while all those acid colors of summer start to give us indigestion. So we nominate camel and lilac — muted, luxe and slightly unexpected — as our color combo for Fall.

Sources: House Beautiful (right now far and away the best interior mag for color ideas), J.Crew catalogue (always an inspired use of color): and the Ruben Toledo illustration (lower right) is from the Nordstrom Fall ad campaign.

Our colors: We favor pantone 2635 for the perfect lilac.

Eye Travel: Peru
September 15th, 2011

For this new series of posts, we’re inspired by Diana Vreeland, Gustave Flaubert, and Walker Evans. DV said: “The eye must travel.” Flaubert remarked: “God is in the details.” And Walker Evans told us to: “Stare. It is the easy way to educate your eye.” Travel is such a powerful inspiration for us, but it is the small details and textures — not the broad postcard vistas — that we’ll be exploring in these visual essays.

First up: our trip to PERU this time last year.


We’re smitten by this rich orange/grey combo: lichen against the Imperial Stone Wall at Machu Picchu … a silver bracelet (right) from a local jeweler in the Pisac market, and the royal alpaca scarf we wore everywhere (Peruvian silver and textile craftsmen trace their history back to Inca times) …


… isn’t the chipped marquetry of this signage from Bar Cordano in Lima so chic and evocative of art deco glamor gone by — we’re tempted inside for a Pisco Sour …


…. we love how the textures and colors of these succulents in a garden in Urubamba … complement the vivid crewel work on a table runner …


… a beautiful brass handle that seems to float on a glass door at the Hotel Monasterio in Cuzco … and how romantic is this heavy room key with a tiny hand clutching the keyring (and yes, that date does read 1692).

We hope your eye enjoyed the trip! Here’s one last image, since no picture of Peru would be complete without a llama. This little fellow, silver inlaid with turquoise, and once again the work of Pisac market craftsmen, is only 2.5″ tall: a tiny memento of a big trip.

Black, White and Red: Belle Epoque Beauties
September 13th, 2011

Black, white and red are our signature colors, so when we came upon these two marvelous portraits by John Singer Sargent, we were inspired to look closer.

John Singer Sargent’s striking portrait of society coquette Virginie Gautreau — “Portrait of Madame X” (1884) — is now viewed as his greatest painting. But at the time the simplicity and color of the dress was considered so scandalously sensual, especially against Gautreau’s famously white skin, it effectively finished his career in Paris (he fled to London two years later).

To the modern eye, a black dress like this evokes restraint and elegance. Yet place it in the context of Belle Epoque fashions with their florid details and pastel colors (think of Barbara Streisand in ‘Hello, Dolly!’ and you get the picture) and see how incendiary simple black can be.

In “Dr Samuel Jean Pozzi at Home” (1881), Sargent uses a rich scarlet red to portray another Belle Epoque charmer. Renowned as one of the most handsome men of the era, Dr. Pozzi was immortalized by Proust, and was rumoured to be the lover of both Sarah Bernhardt — and Virginie Gautreau.

This is why we find it illuminating to consider the pictures side by side. The spare color palette complements each subject so intimately — consider the black of her dress and his black hair, the white of his cuffs and her porcelain skin, and, most tellingly, his red robe and Virginie’s celebrated henna hair — we can’t help but imagine Sargent was making a connection about their affair.

(Neither sitter had a happy ending: the scandal of Virginie’s portrait evicted her from the Paris society she cared so deeply about, and, in a bizarre episode much later in his life, Dr Pozzi was fatally shot by a patient he was unable to cure.)

* “Madame X” can be found at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and “Dr Samuel Pozzi” at the Hammer Museum at UCLA. And there is a marvelous book about Virginie: “I Am Madame X”, by Gioia Diliberto.

Summer Mood board: Fleeting, Happy Moments
August 31st, 2011

Just before we take down our ‘High Summer’ moodboard on this last day of August, we wanted to consider these images once more — and also what makes the season such a favored one.

A central aspect of summer’s joy is always to be found in color. Whether it’s rich yellow sunshine, shimmering blue pools, or ice cream colors, when we think of summer our minds automatically flash to a color. And, like drinking tea on a hot day to cool down, somehow hot fashion colors work especially well as the temperature intensifies.

It’s not surprising summer is also a season when painters can arrive at their most luminous work. To our mind, Georgia O’Keefe and Pierre Bonnard (both equally underrated) are two of the most significant colorists of the 20th century — to experience their paintings firsthand is to see pure joy in, and a deep inquiry of, color. On our board (lower left), we pinned O’Keefe’s New Mexico summer sky, and Bonnard’s nude of his wife.

What makes summer particularly sweet is its fleeting nature. While winter goes on and on, summer never lasts long enough. The afternoon spent on a sailboat, the lazy ride on a ferry, or the delicious afternoon dozing on a sofa — these are moments to savour before the real work of back-to-school Autumn begins.

* Selected sources: Hotel du Cap feature from WSJ Magazine, photo of Brigitte Bardot on Hydra from Paris Vogue, ice cream paint palette from House Beautiful.

Marvelous Maira Kalman show!
August 25th, 2011



Last month we caught the Maira Kalman show in New York, and though it’s now closed, we’re such huge fans of her work and it was such a lovely show that we had to share our enthusiasm with those who might have missed it.

Maira Kalman achieved fame with her now-iconic New Yorker ‘Newyorkistan’ cover, and then further renown with her illustrated coverage for the New York Times of the last election. There is also an ever-growing band of us that pass around her inspirational book ‘The Principles of Uncertainty’ like samizdat. (We’ve given so many copies as gifts, we’ve had to start a list.)

Maira Kalman’s first plan was to be a poet, but, with characteristic honesty, decided her poems were terrible. Instead she found poetry in everyday objects, and now her illustrations lead us to find bursts of joy in items we might otherwise not notice. She opens our eyes to the delightful way duvets are folded in an Austrian hotel (lower right), or the rather poignant simplicity of Le Corbusier’s sink (top right). The exhibition also has a room full of the actual objects that she has collected and painted over the years, and these are marvelous to behold (middle left).

What also inspires us about her work is her rich use of color. Our favorites: her vivid chartreuse (check out Edith Sitwell, middle right), lush vermillion and pulsing pink — often used together in the same piece. But she also has a beautiful milky white and beige that serve as counterpoint.

The exhibition is informed by her modesty and sense of wonder, which brings a sense of charm and intimacy you rarely find in an exhibition. As Kalman says, “Good things come of incomprehension”, and what fresher way to celebrate the world than that?

Sources: Kalman has several books that are widely available, and you can follow her fabulous blog. Whigby also do a great range of cards with her illustrations. And of course there is www.mairakalman.com.

* Maira Kalman, Various Illuminations (of a Crazy World), Jewish Museum, NY, exhibit now closed. www.jewishmuseum.org

Just Because: Roses, Pink & Orange
August 22nd, 2011

We normally like to give snippets of useful information in our posts. But sometimes we run across an image or two so delightful or visually intriguing, we need to share. Just because.

Like these roses we bought yesterday. Not fancy — they’re the $10 grocery store find — but just so pretty because of the color combination. (Here we’ve cut the stems down to around 6″; this allows even less expensive blooms to open more fully, and last longer.) Pink and orange. It’s fascinating how this pairing works regardless of the intensity. A lush orange and soft pink here, but equally a hot pink and bright orange are fab together.

A picture of roses also allows us to trot out one of our favorite quotes. From J. M. Barrie (who wrote ‘Peter Pan’): “God gaves us memory so that we might have roses in December.” (Now if that doesn’t call out to be featured on a card, we don’t know what does.)

So chic: Bernard Villemot
August 16th, 2011

We found another fab piece from Bernard Villemot’s collaboration with Bally in the 70s that we had to share. Look at this wonderful color combination: yes, the scarlet and tobacco brown are marvelous together (that color combo was all over the runways for Fall), but I wouldn’t have expected the powdery pink and the denim blue to work in there, too — and yet they all do.