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By Jill Stewart
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Dropping off my daughter and her friend at the Paul Frank store at Third and Crescent Heights for the in-store appearance of the world’s coolest designer, I expected to see a long line of 12-year-old girls. After all, Nola and Cleo and all of their friends have for the past few years been in a protracted war of acquisition, asking for and receiving Paul Frank this and Paul Frank that — wallets, bags, pajamas, T-shirts, flip-flops, jewelry — all, or mostly all, featuring the ubiquitous pie-face of the monkey called Julius. And then, of course, there was the reason for this particular event — the introduction of the Paul Frank Barbie.
A long line ran alongside the store, all right, but perhaps only a third of them were girls; the rest were a mix of ages, genders and races. One was a 42-year-old black man called Pabboo Redfeather. More on him later.
Frank arrived, just after 1 p.m., in the company’s Julius-emblazoned Winnebago. He stepped out wearing one of his John Deere caps, Barbie being just the latest in a series of astute collaborations between Frank and other artists and companies such as Shag, Mark Ryden, Hello Kitty, Elvis Presley, Bad Religion and Vans. Frank is a big guy with a large hooked nose meeting full, pushed-up lips — a sweet cartoon goombah of a face that might belong to, say, the aesthete son of Bronko Nagurski. In spite of this, he was accompanied by a bodyguard, and the two of them took up position at the rear of the store, where for the next two hours Frank signed posters and Barbies and other products, and gamely posed for photos with his fans.
The appeal of Frank’s designs, with their bright colors, simple, readable designs and sense of fun, is evident. And yet it doesn’t fully explain the growth from Huntington Beach guy making wallets for his friends to opening stores all over the world. I asked Nola and Cleo what the deal is. “I like the animals, and how they’re, like, alive,” said Nola. “Like they do human things.”
“You mean,” I said, “like a bear sitting on a toilet?”
She gave me a look that said, “You’re an idiot, but yeah.”
“It’s not, like, trying hard to be cute or fun,” said Cleo. “It just is.”
Lydia Chain, 19, said that the Frank clothes go with her other love, rock music — Fallout Boy, Less Than Jake, Rilo Kiley. Chain was buying a pair of brown Paul Frank ProKeds, while her father, who had driven her in from their home in Tarzana and bought her a Barbie, waited outside. She figured she has spent “maybe $2,000” in Paul Frank stores all over, including New York, which she just visited. “My goal is to go to every city with a Paul Frank store,” adding that she had bought all this stuff in New York and packed it in a box, but the airport staff must have stolen it because it never arrived. Included was a big-apple shirt with a worm coming out. “So cool,” she said sadly.
Pabboo Redfeather was here for the Barbies, which he collects. “I’m actually very well-known in the Barbie world,” he said. “I design gowns for them.” Redfeather, who runs the International Black Barbie Doll Collectors Club out of his home in Van Nuys, added that he has been collecting since he was 5 and now owns 15,000 dolls, 6,000 to 7,000 of which are Barbies. He pulled the Paul Frank doll out of his bag and explained that this is the Steffie face, one of the most popular faces in the Barbie collection. Redfeather said he’s looking forward to the next collaboration, which will feature Barbie in red Paul Frank pajamas. “I’m tempted to buy the pajamas myself.”
Lisa Barbosa is tempted to buy almost anything Paul Frank. In fact, Barbosa, 35, might have a bit of a Paul Frank problem. The new mother and her husband make a trip from their home in Reseda to the Frank store in West Hollywood every two to three months and spend $300 to $500. They also frequent the two Orange County stores, and they wanted to go to the recent opening of the Las Vegas store, but there was a wedding they had to attend. The Barbosas probably don’t need to go to another store: They already have a Paul Frank living room (bar stools, framed pictures), a Paul Frank bathroom (rugs, shower curtain, beach towels) and a Paul Frank closet (some 35 shirts between them, his shorts and all her underwear). And they just bought sheets. Today, Barbosa has brought her 6-month-old son with her, presumably to meet his Uncle Paul. The baby’s name? Julius.
“When I was pregnant, we discussed names, and we knew that if it was a boy, it would be Julius.” Baby Julius is wearing, of course, a Julius baby snap-on, one of five Barbosa had altered from T-shirts. She plans to continue buying Paul Frank things, especially now that she has her very own Julius. “I want him to know where his name came from.” For his part, baby Julius seems to like his namesake: “He just stares at the Juliuses in the living room,” Barbosa said. “It relaxes him.”