Paul Antonio is the go-to scribe for some of the world’s top luxury fashion brands and his exquisite hand written invitations have become collector’s items amongst fashion editors. His script work has appeared on product as diverse as perfume bottles to a model’s ‘signature’ for a handbag.
In a world obsessed by the digital, ALU Mind discovers why after thirty years in the business, Paul’s hand crafted work is in such high demand.
So, Paul what does a scribe do all day?
PAUL ANTONIO: I think people have a very bizarre idea about that, imagining we sit in little dark rooms, cutting our quills and writing on velum! But today’s scribes are very modern, my studio offers around 62 different scripts and we’re known for our accuracy of shape and line. I still find it a little odd that people can look at my work and say, “oh, that’s Paul’s work”
One of the biggest issues I have is explaining the psychology of lettering and how things work to brands. For example, an event team might be completely taken by our beautiful copperplate script and want that on a coated paper, which is impossible, because you can’t get the delicacy of line. Or they want to use capitals for a letter that needs to feel personal. So I then call up and say, “Do you have ten minutes? Let me explain this to you,”
“I’ve written Anna Wintour’s name so many times…”
How does a modern scribe work with fashion brands? I know you work with Burberry, Jo Malone, Tiffany and Smythson, to name just a few.
PAUL ANTONIO: Tiffany and Jo Malone were my first clients, I’ve worked with both for over twenty years now.
We do a lot of event invitations for the fashion industry. I’ve written Anna Wintour’s name so many times, but each time it’s a thrill and it has to be absolutely pristine so I know she’ll always get perfect invites from me.
The simplest thing we do is place cards for brand dinners. We’ll do all the calligraphy, perhaps cutting a special quill, depending on the sharpness of the lettering that we want. Sometimes I send the cut quills we’ve used to the client, because it’s nice for them to get something that they might never have seen.
Brands will tell us they have 230 people at a dinner, but by the time the night comes, you have written 350 place cards, because people drop out or new people are added, I’ll often be asked to go to the event because some guests are coming and they don’t know who they are, so you’ll find me writing behind the scenes! It’s quite high-stressed. I always tell our clients “Make sure you give us enough time, the ink has to dry!”
Often we’re asked to do the menus and a more elaborate story around an event too. For example Jo Malone did a lunch that had different infusions of tea to match the perfumes. So we did place cards that had the name of the tea with a little illustrated information written on each card.
“Make sure you give us enough time, the ink has to dry!”
Watching you work is such a great experience, are you ever asked to demonstrate your work at events?
PAUL ANTONIO: Yes, quite often. It’s interesting because people watch and once you start writing, it’s difficult to move them on. We do this with Smythson for big events. In fact, the head of PR said to me once “You know, we can’t have you writing before our CEO gives his speech, because nobody will leave the room when you’re demonstrating and he’ll have to stand there on his own.”
What is it about watching the experience of someone writing that’s so mesmerizing?
PAUL ANTONIO: It’s the rhythm, watching makes everyone calm, a bit like a meditation. When you write, it slows down your thoughts and your breathing, if you try writing fast with an ink pen, it just doesn’t work. And that’s something almost magical in today’s busy world. You watch parents teach their children to write and it’s a wonderful bonding moment.
How does the work of a scribe fit into the digital-obsessed, technology-heavy life of a modern brand?
PAUL ANTONIO: Anybody can print something now. You go to a computer, you pull up a few fonts, you press print, you get the same thing that everybody else can do. But beautiful lettering is a mark of quality, it shows the brand has gone the extra mile.
And we digitize our handwriting too, I will hand-write text for an invitation, scan it, import it into Illustrator, tidy it up, resize it if we need to, move stuff around and then send it to our printers. It’s very flexible.
“Beautiful lettering is a mark of quality, it shows the brand has gone the extra mile.”
And it fits into the feeling at luxury level for a more personalized, bespoke experience too, which all brands are seeking out.
PAUL ANTONIO: Definitely. When you get a hand written envelope letter written on beautiful paper that’s a little bit heavier than your normal post, that envelope will get to the top of the pile. For lots of fashion houses, that’s how you get a client to an event.
Kate Reardon, (editor of Tatler) told me, “When an invitation written by the Paul Antonio studio arrives, you know it must be a good event to go to.” And Kate Phelan, fashion editor of British Vogue collects everything she gets of mine. I was really touched by that!