We paid a visit to Happy Menocal’s bright and cheery studio.
Stepping past the “Private Party” sign and into artist Happy Menocal’s studio is like entering an oasis—one that seems very far away from the Brooklyn that’s located just outside the door. We immediately felt at home in the cozy light-filled space—maybe it was the smell from the many, many Diptyque candles burning, or the kumquat and lime trees sitting pretty in the corner. A long communal table serves as the working area for Happy and her talented staff of artists and calligraphers, where they draw and water paint daily to create super personalized pieces of works for their list of clients, which basically reads like a Coveteur alumni page, featuring everyone from Moda Operandi to Jonathan Adler, Aerin Lauder and Aurelie Bidermann, plus every Vogue wedding we’ve ever lusted over.
And for obvious reasons. Happy Menocal’s whimsical creations are decorated with flowers, animals, and personal touches, making them super unique pieces that can be used for letterpress, a family ring, branding for a storefront, or even loafers—the options are endless. What Happy’s mainly known for, and what brought us to her studio in the first place, is her one-of-a-kind color-filled wedding stationery and emblems. We sat down with the artist to talk about all this, plus her craziest wedding moments and her advice for couples planning their wedding: “Stop looking at the internet and just imagine what you want to do.” Noted, Happy. Stepping away from Pinterest.
How Happy made the move from advertising to artistry:
“My first job out of college was working in advertising at a boutique agency. I was able to be an ambidextrous creative, doing copywriting and art direction because it was so small. I used to storyboard my scripts—it would look like a comic script with all the frames of the action drawn out for, say, a Budweiser commercial where it’s close up on the guy’s face and his wife opens the fridge. The directors really liked my work because it was so bad and amateurish, it didn’t look like a professional storyboard and gave them flexibility, because when a storyboard artist is really precise and gives a lot of detail, they’re bound to it by their client, so they loved working with me because my stuff is super vague and weird.
“I started getting jobs storyboarding commercials for Pepsi, Coke, Time Warner Cable… The money was really good at the time. Then my friends started getting married, one was having this big blowout wedding in Palm Beach and she gave me carte blanche to do whatever I wanted. I was like, ‘What if you guys were old-fashioned aristocrats with a coat of arms, but it was more reflective of who you are today as opposed to your ancestors.’ She loved the idea, and all the girls at her wedding that were engaged did too, it snowballed from there.”
The start of Happy Menocal and her signature style:
“When I first started, I didn’t know anything about printing or process. I would paint everything in one piece, I’d put on pineapples, pheasants and gumdrops. Then the couple would say, ‘My husband’s father was killed by a pineapple this weekend, it’s so sad, we don't like them anymore.’ And I’d have to redo the entire piece. Now I paint them separately, [Happy Menocal artist] Sarah paints the monogram and then we collage them together. I was pretty careless, hand-painting all the envelopes with typos. I did a huge six-foot-by-ten-foot board painted with the names and table assignments. But the wedding was in Virginia so I hired TaskRabbit to drive it, but it didn’t fit in the car so we had to put a tarp on it and bungee it to the roof. Thankfully it all worked out. It was a learning curve and I’m grateful to my early clients for bearing with me!”
Why she still loves working on each and every wedding:
“It’s really moving to connect with people when they’re at that moment in their life and they’re really excited about their wedding. I always feel like I’m part of a party all the time. As Matthew McConaughey from Dazed and Confused says, ‘I get older, they stay the same age.’ So I'm not really cynical about it at all, even though I know everything wedding-related is a little over-the-top right now.
“My relationship with couples is special because we start the minute they get engaged, some people even contact us before. We’ll work on a save-the-date, we’ll map out a plan, we make little miniatures of everything, so they can wrap their head around the full suite. The invitations with the reply card and whatever enclosures, often it’s a little book. We did a really beautiful suite for a couple getting married in Croatia that was a book with Japanese silk thread binding and a map that folded out. If you’re inviting everybody to Croatia, you have to hold their hand a little. It tells them what they should pack on Thursday, where cocktail hour and lunch is, all the timings.
“This work suits my metabolism because I can hummingbird from project to project. When we work with a client who has a major wedding, there’s a lot that they want to do and they trust us, then we can really dig into it and live with them for a while, it can be a year and a half. Ideally Happy Menocal is moving towards a place where we are a little bit more selective and do bigger projects, but I really like the mix.”
What makes her signature wedding emblems so appealing:
“When we work on weddings it can be as simple as just creating the emblem for them—but it actually isn’t that simple. It’s about getting to know each other and learning about not only the wedding (because we definitely want it to be a preview for their guests of the weekend) but also who they are as a new family. We want the emblem to be something that they can embroider on table linens in ten years, or put on a ring, velvet slippers—there’s a million applications and it could exist in multi-forms. Some people extract just the monogram and engrave it on letterhead and don’t have the whole bonanza of the pineapples around the stationery.
“Our family crest is all green with my husband’s and my surname, S and M, which is really funny, it didn't occur to me until after. I recently had a green onyx ring made for my husband, it’s a swan in the shape of an S, since his last name is Swansburg. There’s a 95-year-old Spanish man in midtown who carved it into the ring.”
What’s next for Happy Menocal studio:
“I was always doing other projects, and I still am. I just finished a spread for Travel and Leisure. Sarah and I did all the branding, interiors, murals, and fabric under the awnings for the cabaret and restaurant, Marion in Miami. It’s a 1940s havana-style dinner supper club, so cool. We worked with a great interior designer, Robert McKinley, who did the Sant Ambroeus interiors.
“We’re really excited about a Happy Menocal interiors project. I just did a mural on our house in our bathroom. It’s a jungle thing with big cats in it. We painted the curtains in our studio by hand. It’s hard to find a person who wants to hire us to make that for them since it’s a one-of-a-kind thing that’s very special. And maybe that is what we do, we do very special projects. But we just haven’t put it out yet, this is our secret cave for now.”
What you should add to your own stationery suite:
“A wedding map isn’t useful in the sense of directions (everyone just uses their phones) but it’s a really fun way to call out things that are important. On an island, you can point to the rehearsal dinner at the bottom and the beach over there. For invitations we work closely with the event planner and vendors, say if the florist is doing some crazy thing on the table, we work with them.
“By now we know everyone in various spots who work in the wedding world and we scratch each others’ back. I don’t want to get into full-on wedding planning because I don’t want to look like a president after two terms, but as stationers we do a little of the planning. We’ll suggest bridesmaids gifts or whatever. It bums me out to see our beautiful menu on a table with terrible flowers, but that doesn’t come up often because the taste level of the people we’re working with is always amazing.”
Her all-time craziest wedding moments:
“I’ve been to some great weddings—at my husband’s friend’s, the bride broke her leg the afternoon of practicing her first dance on roller skates. She was an incredible sport and walked down the aisle on crutches and percocets in a beautiful field in upstate New York. The whole night she was in a wheelchair but looked beautiful (and a little glassy-eyed).
“There was another one in Guanajuato, Mexico. There’s a whole city underneath from when it was flooded. They rebuilt it so you can go underneath and see the ruins. On Friday night everybody got a pitcher of wine in a porcelain watering can to wander the streets with mariachi bands, drinking. The next day the wedding was at noon and we just partied, went to lunch in the blazing sun drinking mezcal out of hollowed-out gourds. You can’t go on, you’re wasted. And then there was a mini meal, you go back and shower and then you go to the after-party in the clubs. It was crazy.”
The advice she’d give to those newly betrothed:
“My advice for engaged couples is to stop looking at the internet and just imagine what you want to do. Think about what you actually want, if you don’t care about a ceremony program, that’s fine. My husband and I didn’t really care about the food or alcohol (we had Captain Morgan), we cared about music, a beautiful space and making sure everybody could be there. I do appreciate some traditions because it is a great outpouring of love. Old people are so nice to you when you get married, so I do feel some obligation to do the things that they expect.
“This is not the most unique advice, but when planning a wedding you really need to cut yourself loose and not feel obligated to do certain stuff. You don’t even have to have a wedding, you could do something totally different!”