LOS ANGELES — Like the Wizard of Oz with his magical wand, Marc Friedland has created the most magnificent, and wanted envelope in show business.
In 2011, the self-described designer of “luxury social communication” was the first person to create an official envelope for the Academy Awards. In all of the 83 years prior, there never was a specifically-designed envelope for Hollywood’s most glamorous night.
And he got his start at the Brentwood Arts Center in Santa Monica.
During a recent tour of Friedland’s L.A. studio — which architect Josh Schweitzer calls “a creative temple” — there were examples of the iconic envelopes on display. We held with some awe the glittering Oscar-gold envelope (a “Best Actress” label showing on the front with lettering in the simple, modernistic style of famed architect Richard Neutra), with a red carpet-colored card inside. He matches our own reference, calling the envelopes “like the ruby slippers, everybody wants to touch them.”
Viewed by millions, but only touched by a handful, Friedland’s artistic creations found their way to the Oscar ceremony last year thanks to a little spontaneity and persistence. Speaking to a close friend and production designer for last year’s Oscars (Steve Bass), Friedland mentioned his long held dream to design “the envelope,” to which his friend replied, “I think that’s a really good idea.”
Friedland had already built a reputation for creating stunning invitations for celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks, earning him the moniker “stationer to the stars.” His work is also sought after by Fortune 500 companies such as Microsoft, and by local entertainment heavies like Warner Brothers and Paramount Pictures.
Soon his envelope proposal passed up the hierarchy of the Academy. With his background, his chances of landing the gig seemed good. But the initial response from the Academy was: “We already have envelopes, thanks.”
“They didn’t understand what I was talking about, so I said, I’m going to show you what I mean,” Friedland says. A design was created, very soon thereafter accepted, and the rest, as Friedland says, “is history.”
For the Oscars, Friedland provides envelopes, three sets of cards for each nominee, then he hand delivers them to the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, who in turn is in charge of the secret ballot counting. The winning cards arrive in briefcases the night of the Oscars with off-duty LAPD escorts.
Friedland got his start in his craft while seemingly picking up a few extra credits — for his master’s degree in public health at UCLA — by taking a mixed media art class at the Brentwood Arts Center (still located at Montana Avenue and 26th Street). Soon his intended career path was abandoned (though Friedland notes with a smile that all the mixing in undergrad chemistry was a start), and a new career was begun.
Beginning with Artafax, and the individual hand-painting of over 24,000 magazine covers, to now the 25th anniversary of his present company, Marc Friedland Couture Communications, he has seen a steady rise in clients as well as innovations with the exploration of new materials (such as Swarovski crystals and flecking) and complex printing processes. With nods to inspirational figures in the world of fashion design, such as Tom Ford, Friedland nevertheless refers to his himself uniquely as the “Marc Friedland of Couture Communications.”
His gift is the ability to express the individual personalities of each of his clients. He hearkens back to the time-tested hand-written note. And it is a mission of his to preserve, in a culture fixated with texting, computers and short attention spans, the lost art of communication. He notes with some sadness that cursive writing is hardly taught anymore in school. One of his latest initiatives, called Write On, has involved getting sixth graders to write (yes, by hand, without auto-correct) to pen pals, and for one recent project even the president.
His latest debut: the first-ever collection of Academy-sanctioned invitations for Oscar Sunday viewing parties, now available for complimentary download exclusively on Evite Postmark (postmark.com), Evite’s new premium site. The Oscar Collection by Marc Friedland features digital designs taken from his own handmade creations, from the classic gold and red, with the official Oscar statue showing, to the “Glitz and Glamour” to mid-60s inspired chic. The complimentary download of the Oscar invitations serves as an introduction to April’s launch of Evite’s new premium online service, and Friedland’s signature craftsmanship work.
When asked for his advice to the next generation of designers, he says, “learn from each generation.” For Friedland his ongoing education has involved a combination of innovation and tradition.
“The envelope, please … .”
Where to watch
The 84th Annual Academy Awards
Hosted by Billy Crystal
Sunday, Feb. 26 at 4 p.m. on ABC