With over 200 brands showing at Playtime NYC, we were overwhelmed in the best way possible by the beauty, thoughtfulness, and creativity of the children’s apparel and lifestyle collections. However, one newcomer managed to capture not only our attention but also our hearts. Of Unusual Kind, purveyor of achingly beautiful paper dolls and stationary, literally transported us back in time to a simpler, technology-free childhood.
Proving that art is as powerful a medium as technology to kindle the imagination and satisfy the soul, Of Unusual Kind debuted with Rosemarie and Florence. These exquisitely crafted paper dolls with moveable joints and numerous wardrobe possibilities will inspire hours of play for adults and children alike.
We are delighted to introduce you to Of Unusual Kind founder, celebrated fashion illustrator Anja Kroencke. Get to know more about Anja’s unique background and her new enterprise, Of Unusual Kind—and enjoy a sneak peek of her next characters Olive and Magnolia, which will be available by the end of March at www.ofunusualkind.com.
You are famous in your field for fashion illustration. What commercial projects have been most creatively fulfilling to you?
Oh dear, I’ve been doing this professionally for so long that there were so many projects throughout the years. But I would say that pretty early on in my career when fashion illustration had a boom and all these companies had incredible budgets I did a year-long assignment for US Vogue which was an advertorial campaign that included a minimum of 20-30 full page illustrations every quarter. In addition, there was a fully illustrated marketing campaign, so I must have painted around 200 illustrations for Vogue that year. Another fun project was to design and illustrate for the windows of Printemps, a big department store in Paris or collaborating with Pucci International to create a collection of mannequins. A few years ago, M.A.C. Cosmetics hired me to illustrate 2 cosmetic bags for a limited artist edition and that was certainly very cool.
How did your work life change after you became a mother?
Priorities shifted big time—my family’s well-being is most important. Before I had my first daughter I was at the height of my fashion illustration career and literally worked non-stop 7 days a week. So by the time I got pregnant I was creatively burnt out and I really welcomed that change to slow down and reinvent myself. At the same time, social media started and with it the way the creative business works completely changed. It got much more focused and I really tried to get things done asap as I never know if I will have enough time tomorrow...
Did you study art or art history formally?
I’ve been drawing since I can remember and I also grew up in a big, creative, do-it-yourself family (partially out of necessity). I studied Textile Design & Fashion Illustration in Vienna, but after graduating I pursued a career in graphic design and in 1994 I moved to New York City. Inspired by the energy and creativity of the city I rekindled my passion for drawing and began illustrating part-time while still working as an art director, but within a short period of time, my work was so well received that I was able to devote myself full time to my illustration career in 1997.
What artists through history (or contemporary ones) inspire you?
I was born in Vienna, Austria so my upbringing was strongly influenced by the city’s rich culture, especially the Wiener Werkstaette, and my family’s multicultural roots (my father is half Bulgarian/half German and my mother is from Denmark). During my teenage years, I was obsessed with Picasso and Egon Schiele and the art of the South Pacific Islands.
You debuted Of Unusual Kind at the most recent edition of Playtime New York. How were your paper dolls received by the children's lifestyle and apparel community?
Really well! A lot of the adults get very nostalgic and remember playing with paper dolls when they were young. It became clear that it is a gift product for children and adults alike. This has been a labor of love and in development for the past 2 years so I was really happy to see that the details and illustrations were so much appreciated by the buyers/community especially since there is nothing really similar out there currently.
You've launched Of Unusual Kind with two paper dolls—Florence, and Rosemarie. Are your characters based on real-life people, or are they fictional creations?
They are all fictional characters, I always give my characters names—even in my fashion illustrations the women I create have a name attached to them once I’m finished with the drawing. For the paper doll collection I wanted to have quirky, unusual names and they all have a funny little story attached—a little bit Wes Anderson, but sweeter. So the next two dolls in production are Olive and Magnolia, on both I collaborated with surface designers and licensed their patterns which was really fun to do. However I’m also in the process of developing a way to offer custom/personalized dolls and I have a few more collaborations in the works.
Do your daughters have input into the paper doll creation process?
They are certainly my critics and if I need to make a decision or want to know if something is cool I will ask them…so yes, I get my final approval from them.
What is your creative process like while designing wardrobes for your characters?
I usually come up with a theme and based on that I create the character and the wardrobe by researching and putting together a mood board. During that process about half way through the name and character starts to crystalize.