I have always been inspired by Wanda Wen, founder of Soolip, the celebrated Los Angeles stationer and fine paper arts boutique. Her work, her store, and her life are fueled by a passion for the simple beauty of paper, letter press printing and nature.
After 11 years in the chaotic world of fashion working with Perry Ellis and Steven Sprouse, Wen found tranquility in opening Soolip on Melrose Avenue in the heart of L.A.’s design district 21 years ago. Soolip, which is Chinese for a destiny to seek wisdom, has become synonymous with a mindful lifestyle.
Certainly, in Los Angeles, it was the right time, right place, right sentiment and her business grew fast. It included bridal shows, Soolip Wedding, a book — The Art of Gift Wrapping — and articles in The New York Times, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, C Magazine, Martha Stewart Weddings, Travel & Leisure, Town & Country, W, People, InStyle, Elle, and The Los Angeles Times. Her shop on Melrose appeared to have a TMZ camera trained on it for all the celebrities who still frequent it.
But today Wen is balancing all that with a second location in Westlake Village where she plans to create The Soolip School of Mindful Activities next door to her invitation studio. Wen plans classes on creative journaling, yoga, calligraphy, gift wrapping and more as the school gears up in 2017.
Last week, we sat down in her new Westlake studio to discuss an upcoming event and quickly got into the topic of mindfulness and the use of it in business.
Liese: Transitions in life and career are not easy, especially from fashion to becoming a well-known paper artist. How did that happen?
Wanda: I worked in the fashion industry for 11 years, but I always loved paper. As I began to become disenchanted with the fashion industry and the never-ending sales cycle, I began experimenting with a small letter press printer and began to making cards. In my off-hours I began to get into graphic design. I was then in Los Angeles and began by taking evening classes a UCLA. I realized I really loved it and letter press.
I apprenticed in Pasadena at a letter press studio for a year and ten got two more letter press printers in my garage. I used to make cards just for fun but that really was the beginning of Soolip. I made my own wedding invitations and it grew from there. When I wrote my business plan the most important part I wanted to include was to create a place of inspiration; a place where people can make something physical that is in their creative mind.
Liese: How have you infused mindfulness throughout your work?
Wanda: Transitions are exciting yet scary. I find the older I am the less I know. So you have charge through with the wisdom you have developed but maintain the curiously of a child so we don’t get stuck in our ways.
The yogic path has been so joyful for me. Somehow it does have something to do with one another. The product I make is mindful. The space between the last line of text on an invitation to the edge of the paper is important to me. I pay attention to the negative space and that’s why our pieces look like what they do. It’s part of the design. And they aren’t sure what makes it look so right, but it does.
There are no rules in my design. It’s just my eye.
Liese: Besides the School of Mindful Activities, what’s new on the graphic design front for you?
Wanda: I’m excited about partnering with the Karen Alweil Studio to produce nature-inspire placemats for Anthropologie. The tree-free paper mats come in sheets of 25 and are made from excess cotton from the garment industry. I’m so passionate about making something out of the waste.
Liese: Which brings us to your gift wrapping inspiration, much of which uses ordinary and organic objects that we find all around us. I love gift wrapping as an art form. It’s very much like an invitation – they both are anticipatory art forms, setting the stage for the recipient or attendee.
Wanda: Yes! It’s about making that first impression. But the joy of giving doesn’t have to be about fancy paper or elaborate ribbon. In the book I explore beauty and inspiration that can be found all around us.
I believe that all of us have a gift-wrap artist within us and the possibilities for transforming a run-of-the-mill present into something truly spectacular are indeed endless.
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