Style, minimalism, and grief

Style Diary

Thoughts on style, moderationism, and grief.

What is TOAST?

Rifling through the mail this evening as I walked in the door, I spied a trifolded mailer emblazoned with the word TOAST in bold, hairline knockout type. I absolutely depise getting unsolicited catalogs from brands who have bought or traded mailing lists, but it was just different enough for me to pluck it out from the stack of junkmail that went straight to the recycling bin.

 Printed in gorgeous offset lithography, you can still smell the ink.

Printed in gorgeous offset lithography, you can still smell the ink.

Before I was a graphic designer, I was a printmaker specializing in letterpress printing. It was my chosen concentration in art school - I loved letterpress. Unfortunately for my ability to ever start my own shop, so did everyone else. I bring this up because I'm about to launch into a tangent about printing.

Then, I was fresh out of college, and letterpress printing was on an upward trajectory in popularity. Everywhere you looked, someone had gotten married, seen how nice their letterpress invitations were, and decided to hang their own shingle. I feel like there is definitely a correlation between the increasing proliferation of the wedding industry, Pinterest, and the rise of letterpress in popular culture.

There are only a finite number of presses in existence, as none have been manufactured since the late 20th century. You can imagine the bidding wars on a press once letterpress printing went from an obsolete academic or artistic pursuit to the buzzwordy juggernaut it has become. In 2009, I narrowly missed the opportunity to buy my own press, ultimately hesitating too long before it was sold to a quicker buyer. Today, the same amount of money I hesitated over in 2009 would cover just a fraction of the asking price of a press.

I realize this is an enormous digression, but stick with me here.

So with diminishing opportunity to ever own my own letterpress, I moved on. Over the years I've kept a membership at a community printmaking studio so I have access to printing presses, but for the most part these days, in my design work, I do a lot of commercially printed pieces, usually either offset or digital. Over the last century offset lithography, as it is technically known, eventually outpaced and replaced letterpress as the preferred commercial printing technology because of its greater ease, predictability, capacity, and efficiency. It's not sexy like letterpress. But in my work I've come to appreciate the special qualities unique to offset that make it its own kind of great.

Offset printing can be just as gorgeous as the hyped up letterpress. With the right papers and inks, its a thing of beauty. While Ietterpress is celebrated for how letters and lines are visibly debossed into the paper, offset ink just kisses the paper, leaving no impression. With four color process inks, offset printing offers the ability to print in full color. But with spot color inks, you can also print large flat areas of a singe color, a feat oftentimes challenging or impossible to achieve with the limitations of letterpress.

Anyway, back to TOAST I guess.

This mailer is a really nicely done piece of printing. Beautiful muted colors on uncoated paper. It doesn't feel too precious, already creased from the mail. The trifold opens to an oversized saddle stitched pamphlet featuring a black and white photo of a woman dressed in a sweater and impossibly blousy shorts. I audibly gasp.  

 Here's what it looked like when the mailer, which we have established is beautifully printed, was unfolded. Those shorts!

Here's what it looked like when the mailer, which we have established is beautifully printed, was unfolded. Those shorts!

I'm hooked enough to settle in on the loveseat and see what the deal is with TOAST.

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There's a manifesto of sorts on the inside cover spread. I learn the brand is welsh (my heritage!), and they make "simple, functional, beautiful clothing and homewares." They purportedly aspire to "a slower, more thoughtful way of life." There is a lot of nice flowery talk about delightful design and "creating and curating." What I don't see is any mention of ethics sustainability, which are things l am always interested to hear about from a brand. (UPDATE: I found on their website more about their ethics. It sounds pretty baseline and generic but still good that they've dedicated the space to talk about these values)

But, the shorts from the cover have piqued my interest and I continue flipping through the catalog. 

 Blousy Trou, bottom left.

Blousy Trou, bottom left.

Gorgeous color photography, sharp graphic design, but even sharper clothes. I even see some pants bottom left that look like a really good candidate for a blousy trou. Check out those generous pleats! I'm definitely going to do some more investigation on these.

 Even blousier culottes. You can tell this is four color offset printing because of the tiny circle pattern visible in the ink — this is the indication that four colors of ink (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) were printed in tiny overlapping dots to create the rich tones.

Even blousier culottes. You can tell this is four color offset printing because of the tiny circle pattern visible in the ink — this is the indication that four colors of ink (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black) were printed in tiny overlapping dots to create the rich tones.

On the next spread is an equally eye-catching pair of culottes. There's just a few more spreads which feature other clothes, then some attractive homewares.

Because I work in marketing, I'm hyper aware of when I am being marketed to. But kudos to TOAST because they have officially hooked me enough to launch me into some deeper investigation of the brand. It is partly the intriguing trouser selection, but also its the thoughtfully designed print materials. Whatever demographic info I've volunteered to Big Data over the years made this brand think I would be a good person to send this piece to, and I guess they were right.

My deepest apology for the earlier digression into a somewhat biased history of printing, but it feels necessary to explain a little about my appreciation for the medium. It can be so special to hold in your hands a tactile manifestation of a brand, to experience it outside of a screen — the next best thing to experiencing that brand first hand.

I get so much bland junkmail and most of it goes right back out after coming in. Its refreshing to see a brand make the decision to go all in on a print piece like this in a world of digital marketing. Something just different enough to make me take a second look.

Have you ever recieved a catalog or solicitation that made you look twice? Is it just novelty or do you believe a brand experience can transcend media?