As a huge fan of Masterpiece Theater’s Downton Abbey (Season 3 is set in the midst of the 1920’s), I thought it fitting to pull out a post about a project centered in that historical time.
I was commissioned (in partnership with SocialNicole, LLC), to design an invitation, a “Save the Date” postcard with a corresponding web page for a Roaring 20’s Gala benefit. Proceeds went to the Madison Claire Foundation in support of its key project: To build Madison’s Place ~ “a universal accessible playground where children of all physical and developmental abilities can play together to foster friendships, acceptance and understanding.
First reactions were “What a great, fun project!” followed by “How do I come up with a concept around “Roaring 20’s” that hasn’t been done a trillion times before?” to “How do I tie together a Roaring 20’s concept with a cause that helps children with disabilities?”
To answer the “Hows” is Do The Research. (Works every time when I’m looking for inspiration). I’ve never read “The Great Gatsby” and I realized my factual knowledge of that wild time in America (and abroad) was sorely lacking. What I knew for certain was I didn’t want to use cliché images like a silhouette of a flapper twirling a long string of pearls, nor did I want to “sex it up” — that wouldn’t fit the Madison Claire Foundation brand.
The history of that era is both fascinating and conflicting: There’s the rise of Communism and the Klu Klux Klan, the carefree social elite and notorious gangsters, jazz, radio, movies, the automobile — it was an exciting time. But one of the more interesting statements about the 1920s was it was the first decade to emphasize youth culture over the older generations, and the flapper sub-culture had a tremendous influence on main stream America, especially when it came to new words and phrases. Some have gone out of style, others still enter into our conversations today.
After doing some digging, I thought the best approach would be to explore the popular culture of the time. I looked into fashion, color schemes found in home decor, art deco and advertising. I looked into popular typefaces that could work for the invitation ~ faces that were readable, but also digitally hold up on a web page.
All This Intriguing Research Lead To:
The Ideal Visual. A peacock feather. The thinking behind this was at the time, America was fascinated by all things exotic and peacock feathers suggest all things exotic ~ far way places filled with spice, mystery and adventure. King Tut’s tomb had been discovered and a popular Chinese parlor game called Mah Jong was all the rage. Homes were decorated with vases of peacock feathers or they found their way into an art deco patterns. Then, of course, there’s your feather boa and fan. I was lucky to find beautiful photography of peacock feathers isolated on a white background ~ perfect to wrap copy around. The peacock feather was an eye-catching, non-cliché solution that visually captures the essences of the 1920s.
Period Typography. This came down to what would look right for a gala invitation. A charming Coventry Garden and just as fitting, Gatsby became our favorites for the design.
One Thing Felt Missing. An actual theme. Yes, it’s being called a “Roaring 20’s Gala,” but that felt more like a descriptive characteristic verses a theme. To find a “theme” that might work, I turned to music. The song “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby” popped into my mind.
Most people will remember it from the 1938 screwball comedy “Bringing Up Baby” in a scene where quirky heiress Susan Vance (played by Katharine Hepburn) and befuddled paleontologist Dr. David Huxley (played by Cary Grant) attempt to coax a surly leopard named Baby off the roof of a house by singing “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby.”
But Here’s the History Behind the Song: “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” is an American popular song and jazz standard composed by Jimmy McHugh and lyrics written by Dorothy Fields. It was introduced by Adelaide Hall at Les Ambassadeurs Club in New York in January 1928 in Lew Leslie’s Blackbird Revue, which opened on Broadway later that year as the highly successful Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds of 1928 (they did 518 performances), wherein it was performed by Adelaide Hall, Aida Ward and Willard McLean. Given those facts, the song’s date of conception made it feel like the right choice for the gala’s theme.
The rationale for theme choice I presented was that this is about a mother’s love for her daughter. She couldn’t give her anything but love, because there isn’t a known cure for the defect she was born with. I’m sure many parents feel this way when their child is born with a disability. So in essence, this is a fundraiser to be able to build on that love and provide a safe and fun place for children with disabilities play and be active.
Next Came the Copy. I found several websites listing the words, phrases and meanings behind the slang that sprung up during the 1920s. I wanted to use a select few choice expressions for the invitation, but not so over the top that it sounded ridiculous. (What I found interesting were the expressions regarding dating and affection revolved around “money.” For example, “Bank Closed” — no kissing or necking allowed. “Cash or Check?” — do you kiss me now or kiss me later?)
Invitation Copy Snippet:
Step into the world of Jay Gatsby, carefree high society, mingle with flappers,
fly boys and maybe a few notorious gangsters ~ all for a swell time and
a good cause.
So put on your glad rags and join us at the ritzy Van Dusen Mansion,
Saturday, September 24th. There will be hot jazz, cool drinks and a swanky
silent (and live) auction. Attending in costume is optional, but we’d love to see you arriving all dolled up.
Putting It All Together: Invitation Front Cover
Production Notes: Invitation sized at 7.25” square printed on Wausau Royal Linen Bright White 100 lb. Cover. Invitations mailed in 7.5” square white cotton envelope. Save the date postcard (design based on invitation) is an affordable era sized 4” x 6” with this little 20’s era detail I designed for the back.
Background Notes: The Madison Claire Foundation was created in loving memory of Madison Claire Millington whose precious short years on earth were ended due to complications from Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). The foundation is dedicated to helping children and their families diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and other life threatening illnesses and disabilities.