Stacy Claire Boyd created her first hand-painted invitation for a small affair—a bridal shower Maria Shriver was hosting for Caroline Kennedy. It was 1985, and Stacy, a fresh University of Alabama graduate, was working in a paper boutique in the Henri Bendel department store on 57th Street in New York City. Maria had walked in one day needing the bridal shower invitation more quickly than the store could turn it around, so Stacy’s manager quickly found a solution. “Well, maybe Stacy can help you,” she told Maria. “Oh, fantastic!” Maria said.
But Stacy was caught off guard. “I loved drawing and doodling and calligraphy and writing and pretty things and just the art of addressing a letter, so that’s what [my manager] had seen me do,” Stacy recalls. “But I had never really done anything formally.” But of course Stacy couldn’t say no—it was an epic break into the world of paper. ”So I acted like, ‘This is what I do all the time. This is no big deal,’” Stacy says.
The guest list arrived as Stacy was working on designs to show Maria. “I was awestruck,” Stacy says. “I would call my dad and say, ‘Oh my gosh, Barbara Streisand is on the list, and Jackie Onassis is on the list.’ I was really glazed over by the whole thing.” As she hand-crafted each invitation, she wrote “Stacy Claire Boyd, New York City,” and from there her brand and business—now based a short drive from her Mountain Brook home—was born.
Growing Up with Stacy Claire Boyd
In the early days, Stacy worked with Caroline Kennedy, Kathy Lee Gifford and others who found her by word of mouth. “They would wine and dine you,” Stacy says. “They’d pick you up in their limo and take you to the Four Seasons, and you’d talk about what the invitation should look like.” From the start, she was known for her hand-painted personalization. She’d cover every surface down to her refrigerator in her studio apartment with drying paper.
From there, she started attending the National Stationery Show trade show and got to know little mom and pop stationery shops all over the country, eventually moving her business back to Alabama and raising a family. During that era she became known for her birth announcements and other whimsical designs with animals, butterflies and other designs that appealed to kid events. “You would befriend these people,” Stacy says of the stationery stores. “My cards have photos of my kids on them, so they would grow up with my product. My customers became my friends and say, ‘Oh my goodness, I can’t believe how big Alex is!’”
The card business was a big part of her kids’ lives too. “You knew if you were going to the beach, you weren’t just going to the beach with swim suits and sunscreen,” Stacy says of their childhood. “You were bringing little props. Like there was always a tutu or something to be extra cute for the photo.”
Raising kids also gave her insider perspective on the market for kid invitations and the like. “I knew what kind of birthday parties people wanted because I was having those same birthday parties for my kids,” Stacy recalls. As her business evolved, she designed a line of baby clothes and gift ware under the Stacy Claire Boyd brand.
Be it nature or nurture, Stacy’s kids inherited their mom’s creativity. Annie, now studying fashion merchandising in college, crafted a line of hand-made jewelry and hair accessories for a number of years and won a dress design competition for Birmingham Fashion Week in high school. Last year Claire, a college freshman, did makeup for models for Birmingham Fashion Week. And Alex likes to fly his drone where he lives in Colorado and create videos with music and type.
The Digital Decades
Three decades after Stacy’s start in New York, the stationery business looks much different. Her designs are now digitally printed on demand by Shutterfly.com and used in stationery stores that she says are “alive and well”—all under the Stacy Claire Boyd brand. The transition to digital, she says, has been fun. In the past she and coworkers would sit by the printer overnight to make sure the color was right—and often it didn’t quite turn out as she had planned. She’d also have to take a risk and print and hand-customize 1,000s of pieces at a time, hoping she’d sell them.
Today cards are printed as they are ordered, color selection leaves no question marks, and all the personalization is done in the design stage. “The possibilities are so much greater, and it’s so much more fun because you are not limited,” Stacy says. “It used to be a very painstaking process to hand glitter a card and to make things sparkle and shine. Now with technology they have ways to make things look like glitter and gold foil is very big… You don’t have to pay up for something that looks so special.”
Printing speed isn’t the only thing that has also increased in the era of Pinterest and Instagram. “Inspiration is everywhere,” Stacy says. “It’s almost like inspiration overload.” Sometimes a spark comes from flipping through an Anthropologie or Free People catalogue. Sometimes it’s from a friend’s photo on Instagram or photos of billboards or graffiti her kids text her. Sometimes it’s something that catches her eye as she drives down the street. The heart of it digs deeper than just visuals though. “You are trying to evoke a feeling,” Stacy says. “You want your card to stand out because even the wording speaks to you—wording that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy.”
While much of the design work is digital, the early stages are very tactile just like Stacy’s early days in her New York studio apartment. Often she starts by creating watercolors and hand-painted elements that are later digitized. For their holiday line last year, she and her two designers gathered twigs and pieces of holly to photograph to use. (Holiday design season starts right after Christmas season when Stacy says “you are feeling hot chocolatey and thinking about those same feelings and sounds and songs.”)
A Brand Evolution
While hand painting is still an important part of Stacy Claire Boyd, some designs are all based on typography or blocks of color, and today their focus is on holiday cards and wedding invitations. So what does it mean to be a Stacy Claire Boyd design today then? Melissa Francis, a designer who has worked for Stacy for 11 years, says they are known for being sophisticated, clean, accessible and clever.
“It’s good thoughtful design you can count on,” Stacy says. “I think we have a following because they used it in the past, and it worked and they got compliments on it. It’s kind of like when you had a cute outfit and it’s Kate Spade, you might go back to Kate Spade again because it works for you… We go from real clean good design to the watercolor-y hand-painted things to the child-like things. We cover all of it.”
Still, notables like Reese Witherspoon, George Clooney and Adam Sandler are still choosing her designs out of the myriad available online. Often, Stacy will write a hand-written note to certain customers and to their Shutterfly staff they work with. She ended up corresponding a few times with actress Dakota Fanning and her sister Elle after they bought some stationery, and Natalie Morales, former anchor of The Today Show, has written her a few times.
Stacy’s designs have evolved with culture too. Holiday card photos are now more casual. “Now it’s just so simple and everybody has a photo,” Stacy says. “It’s not necessarily that it even has to be taken by a photographer. It’s the kids laughing in the swimming pool or just that moment that you capture in your iPhone. You are getting a taste of someone’s daily life, and it’s not this formal portrait.
And weddings—the other cornerstone of her business today thanks to getting featured on Today Throws a Wedding on The Today Show—are more fun and less formal. “When you receive an invitation, you feel like that was them sending it to you so it has their stamp on it.”
At one time the Stacy Claire Boyd operation got up to 90 people in a Liberty Park office, but now she’s refocused on just the design part of the business and outsources the customer service and shipping to a business in Pelham. She and her two designers are a three-man shop in Cahaba Heights—a “tight, tight, tight family,” Melissa says, noting that Stacy has been like a mother and a sister and a friend and a mentor to her.
“It doesn’t feel so crazy,” Stacy says. “You feel more in control and like you can focus on the things that matter.” And for Stacy, that’s always been design itself—from hand-painted shower invitations for Caroline Kennedy to a digitally printed gold fold wedding suite for a bride who finds Stacy’s style fits her own.
THE ROLE OF PAPER TODAY
“There is a place for paper and there always will be—at least I really hope so anyway. I don’t think there’s anything like going to your mailbox and getting something that’s beautiful. It’s like getting a gift really, especially now. Everything is so professional looking. It’s important like a real book is. I don’t want to Kindle my book at the beach, I want to turn some pages, I want to touch it.
“There’s no other way to really do that. It’s always important to get a hand-written note or thank you note. I don’t really see that that has changed so much. I think we teach our kids that, and hopefully they teach their children that. You have enough times in your life where you know the importance of it because you’ve received something hand-written in the mail and you know how important it is that somebody took the time to do that.”
-Stacy Claire Boyd