Gaux Girl - Happy Menocal

2019-06-08

There’s quite simply no way around the pun: artist Happy Menocal’s work is happy. Her eponymous studio is beloved for the custom creations it turns out for brides, brands, and anyone who appreciates a bespoke crest or seal. The cheerful, cheeky mix of anything the heart desires results in utterly unique pieces that have one important factor in common: a sense of sophisticated whimsy.

As the daughter of a classically trained artist, Happy was exposed to the idea of creating early. Eschewing formal training, she spent time at a boutique advertising firm and sharpened her proverbial pencils by storyboarding her scripts. Then, a close friend’s wedding in Palm Beach came calling, and, with it, the idea of fashioning a modern woman’s take on the historically aristocratic crest.

The rest, of course, is history.

In celebration of our exciting collaboration with her studio, we chatted with Happy about her artistic process, growing a boutique brand, and marrying old-school style with modern life.

What is your earliest memory of painting something?

As a kid I would color in graph paper meticulously, sort of Paul Klee style. Very different from my thing now.

When did you first realize you could take something you love and turn it into a business?

Town & Country featured a portrait of a dog I painted in a holiday gift guide in 2009. I thought I’d get, like, 2 orders, and instead I got over 100, in the span of a few months.  It was gangbusters. I loved doing the portraits, but was out of my depth with the whole money and logistics part of it. 

Was there a big leap-of-faith moment?

In 2014 I hired Sarah, basically just to help me pack orders and keep me organized. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to afford her, and had a hard time delegating at first. She is now our art director and calligrapher and really the soul of the studio.  Everything she touches is impeccable. 

Your foundation story involves creating a crest for a close friend. What emblems would you have on your personal crest?

My husband's and our kids’ last name is Swansburg, so a swan definitely. I love daffodils, with their guileless, honking little faces. Maybe the swan is emerging from a giant daffodil, wearing it like an Elizabethan collar. I’d like it to be pretty simple and graphic, like a race car logo.

As your company has grown, how have you felt out when is the right time to do something?

I'm pretty impulsive, but have been careful to hire people who are more methodical. It has take 5 years to perfect our custom business, and we are now just starting in earnest to develop some more scaleable ideas and good partnerships. I want the brand to exist in 100 years. 

The art you create has such a feeling of whimsy. Where do you go to get inspired?

Really into children’s books and movies right now, from mid-century Disney to the trashy new princess stuff my daughter watches on YouTube. There’s a psychedelic elegance to all of it that I’m trying to channel in our work. Flowers with faces, towers of cakes, the way mermaid hair moves in water...

I also love dollar store packaging, where the products are often attempted imitations of recognized brands. The disconnect is powerful -- the wrong shade of blue, lawless typography -- so many delights. I find that "good" design can be a boring feedback loop. It embarrasses me because I recognize my own work and instincts, and want to destroy them. Back to the dollar store!

Do you ever experience something like “artist’s block” and how do you beat it?

I'm full of new ideas, it's more than that we are so busy that I feel like I can't get off the hamster wheel and actually spend time developing them. But yes, I do also get tired of the sound of my own voice. My team is is my salvation there -- each person has a totally unique sensibility. We have a lively reserve of secret Pinterest boards.

How does the idea of enduring style play into your business and the art you create?

The studio is founded on the premise of taking an ancient tradition and approaching it with a contemporary attitude. This means everything from color palettes and techniques that reflect the zeitgeist (5 years ago everyone wanted "ombre") to tone (black tie, but make it “Marfa"). What does not change is a commitment to total particularity (it must feel *totally* right for the client), total exuberance (go big or go home), and, by our standards, beauty.

What does being a girl on the gaux mean to you?

Well my thing is I walk everywhere, briskly. So for me, having pretty shoes that look polished and are super comfortable and well-made and don't cost a million dollars is revolutionary. I also generally wear painters pants and white tee shirt, so the shoes make me feel feminine and professional. I love my denim pointes with vintage levis and a threadbare blue t-shirt. They've weathered so well. I've also been wearing the prototypes of our new collection in Rose with a super-short futuristic pale pink dress from Ulla Johnson, and I feel like a queen! 

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Photos by Kirsten Francis for Margaux

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