October 15, 2016 • Sarah Schwartz
Objects of Great Beauty
Sometimes failure leads to success. Just ask Ellen Weldon of Manhattan’s Ellen Weldon Design (EWD) on Fifth Avenue. One would never guess that Weldon — the owner and principal behind one of NYC’s best-kept secrets for stand-out stationery for top event industry leaders, private individuals and corporate clients — got an “F” in sixth-grade handwriting.
That grade led to a mastery of calligraphy, which led to stints at Cartier and Estée Lauder, and then finally her own bustling business. She even finds time to nurture the next century of calligraphers. Stationery Trends interviewed Weldon to learn more.
ST: What did you learn at Cartier and Estee Lauder that you used in establishing your own brand?
EW: I learned to listen carefully to what each client wants, to deliver a thoughtful and thorough presentation on time and how to think creatively. I learned how to meet expectations and then exceed them. The only place to be is at the top of my game. Lastly and most importantly, is to surround myself with people who feel the same way about quality and beauty that I do. I am constantly inspired by the team at EWD.
ST: You teach calligraphy to NYC-area school children. How long have you been doing that?
EW: The fourth-graders I’ve taught for the last 10 years are amazingly enthusiastic. Kids have a way of seeing an activity with such wonder. This continually reignites my passion. Although I (do) have to make sure they are not given full bottles of ink. There have been many a permanent ink footprint scattered on the classroom floor!
ST: How do you keep offerings for your discerning clientele fresh and tailored to their needs, but still true to your brand?
EW: We are constantly searching for new materials and methods of producing invitations. We often look outside our industry to repurpose manufacturing techniques to create something that has never been done or seen. This can (be) stressful, but the satisfaction of creating a thing of beauty is the best counter to that stress.
I have many museum memberships and am forever inspired by artwork, from ancient to modern. We also keep abreast of all trends across creative industries. While keeping them in mind, we design with the hopes of creating the next one.
ST: Do you personally collect anything?
EW: I don’t collect objects as much as amazing experiences. I love to travel and see new things, experience different cultures and meet interesting people along the way. People and places are my passion aside from work.
ST: Can you describe a typical day?
EW: I’m up by 6:15 a.m. and off to the gym for my hour and half workout. Back home for breakfast or meeting friends for coffee, then to the office by 9. Although we don’t officially begin the day until 9:30, it’s great to get a head start.
It is usually non-stop until 1 p.m., when my body reminds me that it’s time to eat. Lunch is a quick bite at the conference table gazing out the window at Madison Square Park — my 15-minute midday meditation — then back to artwork, calligraphy, emails, client management and design.
Around 4, we all take a break for coffee or tea and some treats. There are lots of snacks in our office. Long-time clients know that they will always have a little nibble, no matter the time of day. Food is love, after all. We try to wrap up around 6:30 and I always walk home.
ST: Does running your business differ from how you envisioned it?
EW: When I started, I worked in my two-bedroom apartment. (At that time) we created hard copy mechanicals by cutting and pasting artwork from the photocopier, if you can believe it.
As interest in invitation design grew and computers became more robust, methods of production became more sophisticated. Over time, I added more staff and now we have an office of seven or eight people. At the start, I was focusing mostly on calligraphy but was very interested in the entire process of producing invitations: the engraving equipment, the custom inks, silk screening, hand etching of plates, etc.
As I learned about the different techniques I was simultaneously allowed by clients to produce invitations utilizing those techniques.
Fifteen years ago, there were very few letterpress printers. I worked with a hospital nurse in a hospital and printed in his garage on the weekend. We would send a messenger up to the hospital to deliver the stock for printing and then do the reverse to pick up.
ST: What advice would you give to new or young invitation designers or stationery companies?
EW: Never give up, expect changes, work with the best people you can and feed your staff.
ST: Where would you like Ellen Weldon Design to be in five years?
EW: I want to be part of a thriving and growing sector of the stationery market for the BEST quality and the finest materials. We want to be considered a Metier d’Art by the Chanel Foundation. We hope to continue making invitations and have them revered like hand-sewn shoes and quirky, highly individualized jewelry, like JAR.
ST: What consumer, lifestyle or industry trends do you currently find affecting your work?
EW: The consumer trend of communicating via online options has definitely affected the way our business operates. Millennials are coming of age not having appreciated communicating via paper and its permanence. E-vites and emails are ephemeral while a physical invitation is lasting. If the trend of e-communication replaces paper, we will lose the opportunity to look back through our most treasured correspondences and reflect on people who meant the most to us.
I do notice a resurgence of a commitment to physical invitations and stationery as a means of personal expression. I’m hopeful there will be many new and interesting convergences of digital and physical invitations, and I’m currently exploring several options to help guide that transformation.
ST: What other stationery designers or companies do you admire and why?
EW: I love visiting Benneton Graveur in Paris, one of the oldest engraving businesses in the world. Their invitations and correspondence are always elegant and timeless. Also in Paris, the creative agency Creanog does the most amazing hand-carved 3-D embossing work with an innovative, modern sensibility.
I greatly admire my competitors because I know what they go through to create and implement beauty on a daily basis. We may all have different aesthetics and viewpoints but our goal is universal: create objects of great beauty and sentimentality for our client’s most special life moments.
ST: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
EW: It warms my heart that there is a large community of people that care about paper and design as much as I do. Cheers to my friends in arms!