The Paion Society: Mystic Order of Dreamer Vigilance

Every so often a project comes along that is so energizing and fun that it entirely reboots my creative drive and re-inspires me to be the best designer I can be. Very often, these projects are collaborations with other designers, where the meeting of minds proves true the old adage that "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." In the case of this invitation suite, I was lucky enough to join forces with two other creative minds: graphic designer Megan Knight Gonzalez of MaeMae Paperie and the bride, Shoshana Rosenberg. Our cross-country collaboration (from LA to Minneapolis to NYC) manifested itself as long email threads and brainstorming explosions, resulting in one of the most exceptional, unique invitations that I have ever laid eyes (or hands) on. It is as beautiful as it is absurd; as funny as it is peculiar.


Because photos really can't do it justice, I feel the need to tell you about each of the items in this suite, which was actually a box of goodies sent to each guest:

  • Each invitation was packaged and shipped in an 8.5 x 11-inch kraft paper box, caked in vintage stamps, addressed in large black calligraphy, lined with navy tissue paper, and tied with red and white baker's twine.
  • Navy #10 envelopes calligraphed with guests' names in white and sealed with custom-made red wax seals that said "Ian & Shoshana" were the first elements recipients saw when they peeked inside.
  • Inside these envelopes were letterpressed invitations on 220-lb Lettra with a blind-embossed, patterned background and black text. 
  • After opening the invitation itself, invitees were presented with an array of curious and delightful "extras":
    • The 14-page Paion Society Official Handbook — the secret society Shoshana and Ian created just for their wedding guests.
    • The Paion Society Official Membership Card (for the "Mystic Order of Dreamer Vigilance & Camera Alignment").
    • A fold-over reply card entitled "Lettuce Know".
    • A rubber-stamped reply card envelope with more vintage stamps and a custom-designed embossed seal on the flap that depicts a compass and reads "Clear Eyes • Full Hearts • Can't Lose".
    •  A metal decoder ring for guests to decrypt a secret cipher that Shoshana wrote inside the Official Handbook.

As Shoshana played a huge role in conceptualizing her own invitation suite, I asked her to give me a little background about her inspiration and the design process. She writes:

I am not sure I have ever been as excited about a project in my life as I was about these invitations. Ian and I both love comic books, and I actually began my vision for the suite with the altered version of the Kavalier and Clay cover. I worked with Dan Anselmi's team at Imagecraft in NYC to lovingly re-work the book cover from Chabon's brilliant novel. (I'm a bit old-fashioned and wanted to make it "Ian and Shoshana," but the spacing simply doesn't allow for it.) The original cover art was done by Henry Sene Yee, and it is really such a gorgeous and high energy piece of artwork and great design that I was struggling to find a way to create pieces that could complement and accompany our use of it without being overwhelming.
Once the cover art rework was finished, I contacted MaeMae Paperie. I had been to Megan's lovely site again and again in my endless research, and as soon as I knew that I wanted graphic design...there could be no one but MaeMae. I sent her the "book cover" and the copy for the invitation and we started to talk in earnest. Megan was wonderfully supportive and open about my idea — I wanted to try to create something that felt like a "Secret Membership Kit" that a child might have ordered from the back of a comic book in the 40s. I had once sent away for similar kits from Bob the Sub-Genius, and from Bed Edlund at New England Comics. They had been absurd and elaborate kits, replete with all manner of clever nonsense. We agreed on several ideas for pieces and presentation and I went hunting for and, to my absolute amazement, found, those honest-to-goodness Secret Decoder Rings which are made and designed by Seth at Retroworks.
I wrote and drafted the copy for all of the pieces as we went along, and Megan came up with endless ideas, including the inspired idea of including games and puzzles. I giddily ran with that mission and wrote into the middle of the night for several nights, and more than once sent her far more than we could use. She found stunning graphics and picked perfect fonts for all of it. I am a pain in the neck as a client because I am a perfectionist with a thousand ideas and inputs and edits, but Megan is an absolute creative genius with wonderful acumen, and she designed the suite of pieces in complete harmony with everything we had discussed and that I had hoped for. They absolutely floored me.
The invitations really seem to have wowed everyone who received them, but the one item in the suite that was the most romantic of all was the piece that I wanted to be the true gift of the invitation, and it is the piece that most of my friends and family have kept and displayed and raved about: the box the invitations were mailed in, with addresses calligraphed by Plurabelle. In this day and age, the spectacular way the lettering was done on the boxes and the formal invitations, for most of us, is akin to seeing our names in lights. A friend of an invitee asked if the box had been commissioned as art just to show off their new address. My husband, an artist in his own right, was shaking his head again in awe a few weeks ago when looking at Plurabelle's work and said "I still can't believe this was made by a human hand!"
From the start I was set on very plain boxes with elaborate and personal stamps and gorgeous lettering — a keepsake that would look as though it truly was arriving in your mailbox from 1942. When Megan recommended Plurabelle to me I was immediately in awe. I had already swooned about the pieces Plurabelle did for prior MaeMae collaborations and I found the work on Plurabelle's site to be absolutely breathtaking. I think my first email to Plurabelle sounded a lot like begging...or maybe it was my email to MaeMae begging that she make the inquiry on my behalf...but there was a great deal of willingness to beg, and an overwhelming sense of gratitude when I knew that Plurabelle's artwork would be the first and most lasting impression of the whole endeavor. In one of those repeating and endless "chain FWDs from a decade ago about lovely things kids say," I was always struck by this quote: “When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.” (This is currently being credited to the author of a book published in 2010, but I cry foul.)
When I was sending out these invitations, these months of everyone’s work and creativity, to everyone we truly love, I knew that their names were not only safe, but would be both unforgettable and treasured in Plurabelle's hand.

{ hotography & Calligraphy by Plurabelle Calligraphy  |  Invitation design and production by MaeMae Paperie, with the exception of the altered comic book cover (originally designed by Henry Sene Yee) done by Imagecraft  |  Invitation suite copy by the bride, Shoshana Rosenberg}

I'll take this opportunity to say...

MaeMae Paperie is the outstanding stationery studio founded and headed up by designer Megan Knight Gonzalez. Apart from being an extraordinary designer, she is a great friend, awesome collaborator, and valued design world peer who has inspired and motivated me (specifically in one memorable pep talk over a pizza dinner) ever since I've known her. MaeMae offers completely custom wedding and social stationery and recently launched a new collection of wedding stationery that is now in wedding and fine stationery stores nationwide.