Westport shop elevates the art of correspondence

April 3, 2018 GMT

Shari Lebowitz easily recalls the stationery that gave flight to the many notes she wrote from her tweens to her college years.

“My mother got me stationery from Crane’s,” she says of Crane & Co., the Dalton, Mass.-based fine stationers, whose clients span from Paul Revere to Jimmy Fallon. “It had an embossed butterfly on it and my name was in lime green, which I thought was the bee’s knees.”

After becoming an interior designer, she became known for giving her clients custom-made stationery once the project was complete.

“Say I did a room in your house that was orange and aqua — something you might not have ever considered. I might create something on paper as a keepsake using those colors.”

These days, this self-described “paperpreneur” still helps clients pick out colors, patterns, textures and designs, but it is as founder and owner of Bespoke Designs, a fine stationery, couture invitation and gift store in Westport. She opened it a year ago, after moving there from Manhattan. The store arrived amid rising interest in customized and couture stationery that makes a statement even before any words are written.

For those who feared the art of the handwritten note was slipping away with all those fingers tapping out missives on keyboards and touch screens, the last dozen years or so has brought comfort. Even as sales of more pedestrian stationery (office paper, folders) slows, these niche, high-end products have made a comeback. It began with the rise of small letterpress shops that reclaimed the centuries-old art of pressing paper into metal type. Next came younger consumers — perhaps the same nostalgic block who had reached for vinyl records and fedoras — who wanted unique greeting cards and beautiful day planners.

“There is a resurgence, No. 1, of bespoke. Everyone wants to express their individuality,” says Stacey Bewkes, of Darien, who pens the popular lifestyle blog Quintessence. She worked with Lebowitz to develop her own stationery that featured a purple flamingo with a custom monogram from Dallas-based Bell’Invito. “No. 2, the artisanal handmade aesthetic is totally back.”

An old-time craft may have returned, but the aesthetic is modern, fresh and bold, full of contemporary wit and humor. It offers fans a chance to differentiate themselves in a digital world that has increasingly become glutted with images — many easily reproducible, unoriginal and shared.

“That is what makes paper all the more special when it is used,” says Heather Wiese Alexander, owner of Bell’Invito stationers, which opened about 15 years ago. Known for its personalized invitations and couture stationery, it has embraced old-world craftsmanship and modern techniques to offer letterpress, engraved and foil products. Bespoke Designs is one of eight shops around the country that carry the line.

“People are saving up and understanding the value of what it brings to the table,” she adds, during a phone interview from her Texas office. “When you write a note, it makes a statement about taste and attention to detail. When you see a paper printed out with calligraphy, or a great texture or metallic ink ... it just jumps off the page.”

It can be pricey. The cost to design a customized monogram from Bell’Invito, for instance, can run more than $600. But there are lower-cost options too, that feature the same quality paper and design. Handwritten notes will only increase in value, Bewkes says, as the world becomes more technological. “Whether you are picking stationery or designing a house or buying clothes, you want something that expresses your style and personality.”

That may mean the French chateau where you are getting married becomes part of the design of your wedding invitation suite, or a beloved painting your daughter made at age 6 is an integral part of her sweet 16 invitation. These are all projects Lebowitz has worked on in the past year. Whether the visual inspiration arrives in hand, or customers are moved by the images and invitations pinned to the shop’s walls, Lebowitz wants to create something that is unique to that client — not unlike the interiors she once designed.

“We write multiple stationery orders every day,” she says, of the ones she sends off for wedding and birthday celebrations, bar and bat mitzvahs, as well as customized note paper and envelopes. “We live in a Pinterest world, and we’ll have brides that come to the studio ... or kids planning their sweet 16 parties, and they already have a board of inspirations. They want their invitations to reflect their story, their personality. It becomes all about the creation.”

chennessy@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @xtinahennessy