Wednesday, September 5, 2012

WTF Wednesday: Lisa Frank is Cray Cray

You remember Lisa Frank.  She's the kitschy, sugary-sweet, almost certainly insane artist behind every Trapper Keeper made in the mid-90s.  You know the ones: kittens peaking over the brim of a splatter-paint high-top sneaker which floats inexplicably in a night sky replete with neon dolphins leaping over baffling neon rainbows.  Or maybe your style was more purple penguins hugging on a psychedelic unicorn with a kaleidoscope mane?

What I bet you didn't know, however, is that Lisa Frank is still peddling pink puppy binders and plush rainbow-tiger-topped pencil erasers, those cornerstones of the little girl school supplies market.  And what I bet you couldn't have hoped for your wildest dreams is that the real Lisa Frank seems to be every bit her public persona: tiny, colorful, bizarrely famous, and bat-shit crazy.

No amount of describing Lisa Frank's artwork -- though a super fun, theasaursy task -- could ever truly do it justice sans images, and no post about modern day Lisa Frank would be better introduced than with a screen shot of the "Official Store" section of her current website, copyright 2011:

Click to make it bigger and have your head explode!
Did everyone have the same first two thoughts that I did?  1) How fast do you think they can ship that amazing crushed velvet shirt? And 2) I was not aware that lady sexcessories were properly classified as "stationary."

I hadn't thought about Lisa Frank in years, but then I came across this rare, recent interview Frank gave to The Daily discussing her career and aspirations.  According to this article (lovably written on purple ringed binder paper studded with Frank-like stickers), Frank is a recluse who shudders at paparazzi-level fame and, in her own way, "understood Michael Jackson." 
You know what? I bet she did understand him. Source: NY Times; see also: this blogger.
On her staggering fame, Frank laments, "If I use my credit card, people go, 'Oh my gosh, there's Lisa Frank who makes the stickers.'"  Apparently unaware how common the names "Lisa" and "Frank" are in this country, Frank nonetheless has a tried-and-true celebrity approach to such near-recognition by a merchant card-swiper  The J.D. Salinger of stickers, Frank denies her fame, brushing off the coincidence with the comment, "[I]sn't that the craziest thing I have the same name!"  Is it, Lisa? Is it the "craziest" thing?

Lisa Frank and J.D. Salinger: two elusive American icons.
Lest you think she's paranoid or past her prime, though, Lisa Frank is hardly outdated.  The pop-art guru modernized her school supplies for the new millennium by collaborating with one of the only other people in the universe to share her sophisticated, refined, subtle aesthetic: Ed Hardy. (The other kindred spirit here might be Saddam Hussein. Remember his insane fantasy art collection? Photos here.)  And sure enough, collaboration of this mind-blowing magnitude can't exist without the blogosphere taking note.

Missoni seems fitting.
In 2011, Frank launched her first (and fingers-crossed, not last) line of apparel.  But making clothing isn't necessarily easy for the queen of color: "'America loves black,' Frank lamented, pretending to cry," (emphasis added).  She hopes to collaborate next with Missoni, or the Olsen twins (those bastions of color?). We can only assume that the Olsens will hide their pretend cries behind their giant sunglasses. 

Before we got this juicy interview with Frank herself, Hello Giggles had come closest to with an interview with another insider.  Rondi Kutz (isn't that a perfect 90s name for a cheer-team mom slash sticker-maker?) was the head designer at the company from from 1987-2002, and had this to say about Lisa:
"Lisa IS her brand! She lives, breathes, and quite possibly eats colors. Her house was/is purple. She wears the most awesome shoes – usually with super platforms – and unique designer clothes. She is teeny tiny, with a personality about a million times bigger than she is physically. Lisa radiates creativity along with extreme business savvy. She is one sharp and colorful cookie!"
And The Daily indeed confirmed Rondi's assertion and all of our hopes and dreams and desires and cuddles and puppies: "'My house really is purple,' [Lisa Frank herself] promised, 'and yellow and hot pink and light green and orange.'"

Bonus: this great video trailer for the biopic of Lisa Frank brought to you by Upright Citizens' Brigade.  Bonus to the bonus: I was as surprised as anyone to see Brian Faas, a high school friend, in this video.  Brian, I wouldn't have wanted you to sneak up on me in any other way.




Final thoughts on this (one of my longest pieces ever that's devoted to such a ridiculous subject).  Frank is an easy target, easy to mock, easy to make fun of, and maybe that's exactly why she's been so media-averse.  Her interview may have been a little silly, but we were all poised and ready to make it a little sillier.  Her whole empire may be a joke, but it's a billion dollar joke.  (By comparison, this snarky blog post will earn approximately $0.03.)  So, cheers to you, Lisa. I bet your purple house is awesome.

3 comments:

  1. I have a Lisa Frank iPhone app. For those moments when I need brightly colored bears wearing overalls holding paintbrushes. Which is a lot, surprisingly.

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  2. I didn't know Lisa Frank drove a Lamborghini... http://0.media.collegehumor.cvcdn.com/8/4/collegehumor.120d6518e17c0c3cf5962f14b8e834d6.jpg

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  3. *snaps* Had me in titters.

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