July 7, 2015 • Sarah Schwartz
The Twig & The Fig
Offbeat and ultra-luxe, this renowned brand has romance at its heart
Distinguished by its unorthodox materials and unexpected perspective, each Twig & Fig invitation is a carefully crafted work of art. Metal, wood, concrete, fabric, frosted acrylic, chains, mirrors, faux fur, feathers and leather are typically part of their wares.
At the house’s core is a willingness to try anything, explained co-owner Suzie McKig, “the twig,” who runs the design house with her partner and husband, Serge Vigeant, “the fig.” “Most of the time we are hired because we can do things never done before — neither by us, nor anyone in our industry. So there’s no sitting back on our past formulas and putting our feet up; we’re constantly envisioning what will work and what could go wrong.”
Stationery Trends interviewed McKig to learn more about Twig & Fig’s origins, and what they may explore next.
ST: The birth of Twig & Fig is part coincidence, all love story. How did you and Serge meet, and then launch?
SM: When we met, I was in Los Angeles, a single mom with two young kids, running my graphic design business. Serge was 3,000 miles away in Montreal, a product designer for his company, which specialized in fabulous bicycle bags.
I used to ride my bike to the farmer’s market, so I ordered the coolest bags I could find online. Serge loved personally responding to orders. One email led to another, and a few months later Serge came to L.A. to visit a friend and made a side trip to say hello to me! A zillion hours of phone calls and emails later, Serge moved to L.A.
The following year Serge asked me to design his company’s catalog. He (wanted) to have a really thick cover with the logo pushed deeply inside the paper. This was 14 years ago and letterpress wasn’t so available in the design industry. I discovered that it was cheaper to buy a press than have the covers printed. So we bought a Kluge from the sweetest veteran printer who not only delivered the 1,500-pound press to my garage, but taught Serge how to used it.
Owning a printing press opened up a whole world. With both of us wanting to move north to the bay area, and (from our) common (passions of) graphic design, product design, letterpress and wanting to make beautiful things, Twig & Fig was born.
ST: What’s the division of labor between you and Serge?
SM: I do the creative direction and admin work. Serge oversees printing and production. Basically, I think of all the stuff and Serge makes (it).
ST: Why are you are the twig and Serge the fig?
SM: We both have an “ig” in our last names and we (went through) the alphabet looking for IG words! I’m tall, so I got to be the twig and Serge, he’s shorter and sweet and loves to cook, so he got to be the fig.
ST: Twig & Fig is also a North Berkeley retail store. What do you look for in the lines you carry — and what do you glean from customers that you take back to your invitation creations?
SM: Our store is really tiny — 10 feet wide and 55 feet deep, with 4-by-4-foot windows along the 10-foot front sides. We curate it as best as we can, filling it with special things that have love infused in their making. Letterpressed cards, handmade journals, teas from Smith in Portland, Chocolate from Mast Bros in Brooklyn and 24 Blackbirds in Santa Barbara, Sydney Harbor candles, drawing pens from Japan.
Most recently we’ve built up calligraphy selections with vintage nibs and penholders, amazing inks and ruled, black notepads, gouache from Japan, golden inks from Germany. Whatever we choose has to contribute to the feeling that the customer has stepped into a place where their mind can wander and they’re surrounded by beautiful things.
Meeting with clients for invitations is the best. It helps to meet with their planners, too, as we get a full vision of the event and can more easily design a suite that encapsulates the full flavor of not only the event, but the celebrant. It’s a special thing to be entrusted to do, and gives us new challenges that expand our own thinking.
ST: What tend to be your biggest inspirations?
SM: There are two scenarios. One is when we have an order, our desire to delight our clients and their guests provides inspiration. The other arises from the joy designing a concept for our own collection. That is sparked most by using unusual materials in unusual ways — rusting the steel, ruching the fabric, riveting the leather — and then imagining the event and running wild with its spirit. With a decade of acquiring machines, we experiment to our hearts’ content (with our) sewing machines, foil stampers, laser etching, screen printing, and our cornerstone — the letterpress.
ST: What advice would you give to new or young stationery companies?
SM: Define your client. That gives us the vision of who we’re talking to, who we’re designing for, whose tastes we’re aligning with. Once you have (that) clarity, everything falls into place. If you are unsure about aesthetic decisions or design directions, just go back to the “what would my ideal client want” question (for) your answer.
ST: Where would you like Twig & Fig to be in five years?
SM: It took us five years to discover how our two complementing skill sets would bloom into luxe, super tactile invitations. Then it took another five years to fully embrace and blossom what the potential of that (could be). So at this very moment I can honestly say we still have so much room to continue growing.
I’ve realized that I appreciate so much where we are right now, I don’t want to be so ambitious that we don’t have a personal life anymore. It’s in having fun in our down time that we find fuel for our work time. So I think we’ll just keep our focus on what do best — crafting, sharing and appreciating the beauty in doing things by hand.
ST: Is there anything else you’d like to share with Stationery Trends readers?
SM: I’m personally thrilled how the beauty and appreciation of hand-wrought letters has exploded over the last few years. The community of calligraphy is so wonderful as well. I’ve really enjoyed participating in such groups as amazing TheFlourishForum.com and IAMPETH.
We’ve started hosting calligraphy workshops — the amazing Italian calligrapher, Barbara Calzolari will be teaching — and we’ll be bringing in other superstar maestros to our shop as well, people that live for their craft and ooze with passion to share and inspire. We welcome your suggestions for topics!
Suzie at a Glance
Q. If you could travel through time and space and land anywhere you desire, where and when would it be?
A. I couldn’t pass up a moment to take a peek into the pinnacle of Marie Antoinette’s world in the early 1780s at the Palais Versailles. Putting aside any judgments on the terrible economic inequities, it would be an amazing to experience the extravagantly luxe creations of fashion, wig and jewelry artisans. Not to mention the hand-carved, painted and gilt furnishings, the intricately woven silks and patterned brocades. Or the famous portraits and landscapes, the glorious stenciled walls, flocked wall coverings, the candlelight fixtures and Austrian crystal chandeliers, the fine hand-painted and gilt china, the ornately sculpted silverware and the cut crystal stemware. Oh, and the amazing ballroom scenes with finely robed, wigged and powdered guests waltzing gaily to chamber music while indulging in copious libations and epic delicacies.
Q. How would you define your signature style?
A. Blending strong typography with an unexpected array of textures and materials inside a color range of tone on tones. Frost is a great example with its faux fur clutch, Swarovski crystal button, and white leather tie. Another is Posh, a really fun mix of fashion elements, aimed toward younger female events like sweet 16s and Bat Mitzvahs.
Q. What’s new for 2015?
A. We’re exploring a lot of new variations on vintage references this year. They hark back to a time when everything was done slowly by hand, by specialized artisans. One suite is based on masculine sign painting, another on hand-deckled papers, another on vintage soda fountains. Oh, and there’s a steam punk theme, too.
Q. Obviously any aesthetic changes over time. Which piece do you feel reflects the overall direction of your line?
A. Versailles is becoming our go-to favorite for upscale, royal classic, and has attracted some celebrity orders. In the same vein, our more black tie version is Glitz. They are both very grand and hark back to the royal times (if they had laser etchers and foil stamping machines), but with a modern flair, full of rich textiles and lush elements.
Q. Do you have a personal favorite from your new offerings?
A. Scout from our 2014-15 line. It’s a huge wooden slice of a tree, complete with bark, and laser etched type. Some folks are even ordering them as event menus that, when turned over, become personalized cheese boards for take-home gifts. It’s a really whimsical approach to an invite and it makes people giggle and really get excited to present such a fun items. I love that.
Q. If you couldn’t do this, what would you do instead?
A. I could find happiness in many other design fields — interior, event, accessory, furniture — where there’s an opportunity to mix and match textiles and substrates, modern and vintage, feminine and masculine.