What is a Chinese Snuff Bottle?
October 29th, 2011

When we mentioned to friends that we’d recently been hard at work creating a pair of greeting cards for the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society — which this week celebrated its 43rd annual convention here in Palm Beach — more often than not the response was: exactly what is a Chinese snuff bottle?

In the hope you enjoy learning new things as much as we do, we wanted to share this account. Tobacco arrived in China in the mid-16th century, but a century later the smoking of it was banned. However, sniffing tobacco was still allowed since the Chinese believed it to have medicinal purposes. Go figure. But the unintended and rather fabulous result was the development of lovely, tiny (rarely taller than 2.5”) bottles to carry the snuff itself.

As the vogue for these bottles reached its peak in the 18th century at the height of the Qing Dynasty, there were increasingly intricate examples of the craft emerging from the Emperor’s workshops. The use of snuff fell out of favour after the establishment of the Republic of China in 1914, but the bottles themselves became increasingly collectible. Today they are a hot market among collectors: last year, one bottle from the Qing dynasty fetched a record $1.17M. Not bad for something barely 2 inches tall.

So that’s your history, but what really attracts us to the bottles is their simple beauty. Yes, they can be intricately carved and decorated, but we prefer the ones that are less adorned and instead celebrate their materials — whether it be white jade, which is notoriously difficult to carve (up top), or a luminescent green glass blown into perfect symmetry (above). And what super-chic color combinations: jade, black and coral looks just as modern today.

With this pair of cards (below), created as a limited edition for the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society, we wanted to celebrate the vivid color palette — a Chinese lacquer red, a deep jade — and the intimate charm of delighting the eye with something so small and fine.

* For more info on Chinese Snuff Bottles, read the recent article in The Palm Beach Daily News, or visit the website of the International Chinese Snuff Bottle Society.

Artist Profile: Adrian Valencia
October 12th, 2011

One of our best-selling cards features a pair of long slim legs clad in Prada kitten heels. Sure, the line “May All Your Gift Be Shoes” is hard to resist, but what makes these cards stand out are the super-chic drawings, courtesy of illustrator Adrian Valencia.

We first met Adrian over 10 years ago in London, when we commissioned him at a fashion magazine. He arrived at our offices, not long out of art school, and luckily for us his portfolio was as delightful as his Argentinian charm.

When we started J. Falkner, we knew we wanted a great line of fashion cards and our immediate thought was: get Adrian! Since we first worked with him, he’s assembled a pretty fabulous client list, including British Airways, Montblanc, Cartier, and Vanity Fair Italy. But he was as enthusiastic about collaborating as we were, and found the time to create the wonderful “Style Set” range, which features everyday cards, and also a new holiday range.

We are fascinated by how visual ideas come together, so we were delighted when Adrian agreed to share his creative process. Here, in his own words:

“Everything can be a source of inspiration. A woman getting out of a car … A couple waiting for the ski chair lift in the Alps … Elle McPherson taking her kids to school … The little toys I keep on my desk … A great music video … A fun night out with my friends …

“I don’t think I’m drawing fashion. I simply observe what is around me and then draw. I’m fascinated by how people carry themselves in certain clothes, and I hardly ever get bored.

“I see illustration going back to basics. I see a lot of illustration mixing watercolor and graphite. There are many trends around but it is still something precious to see hand drawn artwork.

“I love art that tells a story. I love Lori Earley. Her work makes me want to paint. Her talent is not only inspirational but sexy, fun and emotionally provocative. (See Lori’s work here.)

“Right now my favorite color is fluorescent orange. A friend gave me a beautiful orange folder to keep my desk tidy, and on sunny days it seems to glow with its own light.”

See Adrian’s full portfolio of work at, and don’t miss his blog His illustrations of fashion’s front row and Will & Kate’s wedding guests (see them here) are our favorites.

A Jackie Kennedy Quote That Deserves a Card
October 10th, 2011

It’s no surprise to us all the attention paid to the recently released Jacqueline Kennedy interview tapes, recorded shortly after the assassination of her husband, now nearly 50 years ago. They reveal that the sugary soft voice could also dispense a surprising bit of spice, calling Indira Gandhi a “bitter prune”, Charles DeGaulle an ”egomaniac”, and Lady Bird Johnson “a trained hunting dog”. Oh dear.

To us, focusing on those particular soundbites seems a bit of a shame. Instead we like to imagine Jackie’s comments being as unwaveringly chic as her outfits.

There is one Jackie phrase in particular that enchants us. Late in her life, when she was very ill, she had a lovely lunch of six (yes, six!) desserts with her good friend John Loring. It so lifted her spirits that, in a note to him, she wrote: “… Seeing you is always like champagne.”

Well, if that wonderful turn of phrase doesn’t call out to be a card, we don’t know what does. The quote itself is marvelous enough, but we puzzled — in a sea crowded with cards with quotes — how to give it a distinctive visual treatment? … And then, from the deep and occasionally creative recesses of our mind, an idea burst forward: what if the type was in the shape of a champagne glass? And there you have it.

This card will be going into production later in the year, accompanied by other quotes that have caught our attention. And certainly we’d love to hear about your favorite quotes. Let us know, and maybe they, too, could become a card.

Read the whole story of John Loring’s friendship with Jackie as it was published in Harpers Bazaar here.

Eye Travel: Fantastic Floors
October 8th, 2011

Our instinct, when taking in travel sights, is to look high for new perspectives. But it can also be fascinating to look down, and find unexpected beauty in the floors on which we tread.

We’re reminded of Fay Wray’s wonderful story about Cary Grant, who was once besotted with her. “Whenever we went to a party,” she recounted, “he would always sit on the floor beside me. I thought that was kind of beautiful, like that’s where he wanted to be.” Kind of beautiful, or kind of crazy — on ne juge pas — but here are some elegant floors that might tempt Mister Grant.

The terrazzo floor (above) is from the Museo Correr in Venice. Viewed up close, the shattered colors remind us of an abstraction by Jackson Pollock or Jean-Paul Riopelle.

We love the clever whimsy of these tiles — see how exactly the same circles can act as air bubbles from a fish or eggs guarded by a gander — and the irony that they should be found in the home of one of America’s least-whimsical authors. From the bathroom floor of the Hemingway House in Key West.

These floor tiles, from a lovely little hotel outside Carcassonne in France, have a shifting perspective that evokes the art of M. C. Escher. Intellectually mischievous, Escher once asked: “Are you really sure that a floor can’t also be a ceiling?” Look again at these tiles (above), and let your eye play tricks.

When we finally arrived at the little palazzo in Marsala, Sicily, it was in the darkness of near midnight. And we confess we found the place a little forlorn. But, the next morning, when the sun had spread like a song through the house, we realized the same floors over which we had dragged our suitcases the night before were in fact these luminous beauties. And our holiday spirits lifted.

Stand-out Shop: The Mouse with the Mostest
October 4th, 2011

Like the first swallow of Spring, the opening of the Church Mouse in Palm Beach is one of those signs that the start of The Season can’t be far off. This charity store, with its pretty blue walls and fresh white awnings, has been a village institution since it opened its doors in 1970. All the money raised by the shop is given to area non-profits — which makes you feel so much better as you seize that pair of Stubbs to see if they’re in your size.

So it was with a skip in our stride that we arrived on Monday to check out the new stock, and here’s what we scooped up.

A silver-plated, wood-lined cigarette box from Germany. Don’t quite know why we keep on buying little boxes, but we do. What clinched it for us was the unexpected detailing on the legs — we love the way the chunky round discs play with the geometry of the square box. It feels modern and unfussy, in a 30’s deco way.

Nope, no actual shoes in our size, but these shoe-trees were. It almost seems a shame to hide them inside shoes, they have such a marvelous sculptural quality. And the leather tags give them a great touch of luxury.

A whimsical crystal paperweight. Definitely cute, but when we saw it was signed Oleg Cassini, we had to have it. Some of our favorite finds are from the days when fashion companies went license-mad and put their names on all sorts of silly things. Now everyone is deeply corporate and strategic. So the sheer frivolity of a dice-shaped Oleg Cassini paperweight is worth celebrating.

(The paperweight is sitting on our Flamingo folded cards.)

* The Church Mouse 378 South County Road, Palm Beach, FL 33480. (561) 659 2154

Just Because: A Longing for Falling Leaves
October 1st, 2011

We confess it’s hard to have many regrets in all the Florida sunshine of Palm Beach, but one thing we do miss — especially as October starts today — are the leaves that begin to fall up North. Even a slightly moody existentialist like Albert Camus had to admit: “Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower.”

So while the palm trees sway outside, we look back with a little bit of longing to our memories of their deciduous brothers, and the clouds of color in Central Park that used to hover outside our balcony (above).

How many perfect shades of orange you can find in one simple tumble of maple leaves (above, at the New York Botanical Gardens).

The gingko trees (above, top), with their yellow helicopter leaves, were always our favorites. It’s no surprise to us that Irving Penn seized on their graphic shape for the cover of his 1991 book, “Passage” — one of the landmark photography books of the 20th century. If you ever happen upon an edition lonely at a garage sale, pounce.

In Lenox, MA, we were struck by the golden yellow of this maple tree against the white clapboard siding. And understood why the 19th century Massachusetts poet William Cullen Bryant once wrote: “Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.”

We marveled how a single perfect oak leaf, blushing red, stood out in a pile — and it inspired us to create a similar cluster of leaves for this sympathy card (above).

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”.

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.

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.

Postcard heaven in Vancouver
August 12th, 2011

When people hear that we run a card company, the conversation often turns to postcards. As in: what ever happened to all the wonderful postcards you used to be able to send? Well, now I know. They’ve all gone to postcard heaven: Stella Chapman’s tiny (and by tiny, I mean no more than 10′ square) little shop on Vancouver’s Granville Island.

We felt like Dorothy falling down the rabbit hole into a magical place. Unexpected postcards and the little stories they all hold. It was hard to stop at four.

Clockwise (from top left): a typically quirky Elliott Erwitt photo from ’56, a delightful Dutch fashion pic from the 60s, a charming doodle from the French illustrator Serge Bloch, and a piece of advertising from the 70s designed to look 30s from Jean Villemot. Villemot is a discovery for me. French, 1911-1990, the master of many Orangina posters in the heyday of French poster art. He’s very collectable these days.

Serge Bloch is fast becoming one of our favorite illustrators. That French ease and insouciance charms us. Check out his site here.

Elliott Erwitt’s website is also well worth visiting. Yes, he’s the guy that took that famous shot of the couple kissing in the car’s mirror.

* The Postcard Place, The Net Loft Building, Granville Island, Vancouver. 604 684 6909