Photo, Hair and Makeup by Carrie Woomer
We’ve all seen that silly, wide-mouthed monkey before, even for those of us unfamiliar with Paul Frank. But, who is the man behind the monkey? He is an artist, cartoonist, and fashion designer. Though his company Paul Frank Industries (PFI) was formally incorporated in 1997, it actually began in a California garage two years prior. PFI believes in, “Bright, happy colors and inspired surroundings. Humor, pleasant sarcasm, and everyday cleverness. A youthful, fresh approach to just about everything.” Inspired by art, entertainment, music, and architecture, the initial handful of employees aimed to create products that interested them. From the very beginning, the PFI team wasn’t thinking as much about their target customer, which, funnily enough, ended up capturing everyone. It was referred to as somewhat of an anti-marketing method. The brand is known for its pop art, cartoon-like aesthetic and use of color. Nonetheless, even with its bright color palette, that you would think would be targeting today’s youth, this brand is beloved by all ages.
In the beginning, they started broadening their design horizons by designing guitar straps for bands including Weezer, The Foo Fighters, and The White Stripes. Later on, they expanded to limited edition Coachella festival t-shirts. From pop stars to films to music bands, Paul Frank is and has been all the rage. PFI products have been featured in films including Austin Powers, Knocked Up, Charlie’s Angels, and Superbad, not to mention many others. In the past, Paul Frank has also collaborated with other artists and companies, including Thomas Campbell, Mattel, Elvis Presley, Andy Warhol, Wahoo’s Fish Taco, ProKeds shoes, SHAG, John Deere, Nirve Bicycles, Oscar Mayer, Obey Giant, Mark Ryden, Hello Kitty, and Lego. And, stars including Zooey Deschanel, Elijah Wood, Hilary Duff, and Avril Lavigne are all lovers of the almost iconic monkey, whose name is Julius. If you’d like to meet some of the other PFI characters like Worry Bear or Sheree the cat, you can play with all of them through Paul Frank’s interactive website. The PFI site is all about fun and different activities like creating your own Julius, navigating through all the other cartoon friends, and playing at the arcade.
Now, let’s talk about some of the Paul Frank products. They don’t just have your run-of-the-mill clothing and accessories. Some of their unconventional desirables are their pancake mix, neon bicycles, stretched canvas wall art, the heartprint booster seat, sneaker booties for toddlers, south of the border pet bed, a birthday party kit, blank spraypaint long underwear, and skate/moto helmets. Even so, all these items don’t even scratch the surface of PFI’s range in their merchandise. They even sew custom gifts for friends when they have the opportunity. Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Macy’s, Target, Colette, Selfridges, Beams and, of course, flagship Paul Frank store locations all carry PFI merchandise.
Let’s move on to the Academy of Awesome Tour. PFI front-monkey Julius travelled cross-country this past summer with battling bands and interactive activities with the whole Paul Frank crew. Inspired by the tour, PFI decided to put together a fun compilation album, which features rock artists that they encountered on the road from cities like New York City, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C. Personal favorites are We Are Children by The Mulhollands, States Away by The Secret, In Hollywood by Ariana Sloan, and Play Your Piano by Eoin Harrington. I do have to say, though, that I’m enjoying all of the tracks. Each one is fun and uplifting, which perfectly reflects the way of the Paul Frank brand.
Even with all the company does for themselves and their customers, they are very into giving back to the community and the environment. They enjoy giving back by getting involved with charities like Festival of Children, Boarding for Breast Cancer, The Elton John AIDS Foundation, First Book, and The Children's Hospital of Los Angeles. In addition to these foundations, PFI holds events to promote education and awareness through their retail department with the company’s Winter Coat Drive, Annual Book Drive, Earth Day, and College Nite.
For those of you who don’t know, last summer, Los Angeles billionaire Haim Saban shelled out about $50 million to buy Paul Frank Industries from the original Paul Frank. And so, PFI actually belongs to Saban Brands now. Their plan is to turn wide-mouthed Julius into somewhat of a media star; hence, why the company has exploded through music with its national tour and record album. Julius has also appeared as a giant balloon amongst the many this past Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. In the LA Times, the president of Saban Brands, Elie Dekel inists that, "Julius is ready for the big time." So, what’s next on the horizon for PFI? I know the company hopes for a family TV program featuring the spirited monkey and his pals. The biggest dilemma is that they must figure out the right look for Julius so that they can remain true to their original consumers and surf culture in addition to pleasing their beloved hipster fans. Nonetheless, they also will have to please their new audiences in order to make the show a success. The key ingredient to a prospering brand is consistency.
So, where is the original owner today? What is the actual Paul Frank up to? Frank currently owns and runs two new design studios called Treestitch Design, Inc. and Park La Fun. His new label has brand new characters and takes a more personal approach, being very hands-on with his projects. The new line includes wallets, t-shirts, purses, and other accessories, which are all designed by Frank himself. On the side, Frank often contributes art to various museums and charity events while also participating in 3D art shows. But, let’s hear more about Park La Fun, which is actually an anagram of Paul Frank’s name. All merchandise from Park La Fun is unique and one-of-a-kind, as Frank considers his style to be just that… unique and one-of-a-kind. New characters under the Park La Fun brand include Huff the Hippo who loves to read and Ponty who likes to pontificate a lot. When it comes to the new products, some personal favorites of mine are the Feather Fatchel Bags, the Posse Bracelets, and the Sask-watch Coin Purses.