I have a fairly vivid memory from music class in sixth grade–and no, this is not the one where my best friend and I did a dance to Eiffel 65’s “I’m Blue” along with, I am not kidding, an inflatable alien (I may have been a nerd, thinking back on it). No, this one is of our teacher handing back folders in front of the class. Most of my peers, again not the type to have danced with a large plastic extraterrestrial, had mild-mannered folders, those kind of poster-boardy ones that you can doodle on. But when Mrs. Rice, who had a fondness for embroidered sweaters and therefore was not of very good taste, got to mine–well, she stopped, and held it out for everyone to see.
“There are just so many–I can’t even find this person’s name. What is this?”
It was my Lisa Frank folder; a scene of rainbows and glitter and starbursts and tropical fish kissing in a psychedelic ocean. Duh.
If you were a girl in the late 80’s and 90’s, Lisa Frank turned your back-to-school shopping experience into a giant explosion full of vaguely anthropomorphized animals, in enough colors to potentially pose a seizure risk. In the good ‘ol days, CVS had a whole shelf of folders and binders and pencils and stickers, bursting with multicolored leopards and seals and orca whales and bunny rabbits, all doe-eyed and irresistible, dancing and singing and swimming and traveling by sparkly balloon through a sea of rainbows. Now, if you want a transparent backpack adorned with a majestic unicorn, you’ll have to fork over $160 on Etsy. Simpler times, indeed.
Lisa Frank–who is a real person, named Lisa Frank–still exists in some capacity. The company has a Pinterest! But I do know a ten-year old who is sorely lacking in florescent teddy bear Trapper Keepers, and she is pretty hip to the groove (not the dancing-with-aliens type) so it appears not to be what the kids are into these days. At least not the actual kids. If you’re still basking in your protracted adolescence, you’ll be happy to note that purveyor of racially-insensitive wares and artist knock-offs Urban Outfitters sells “one of a kind vintage” Lisa Frank items, along with limited-edition t-shirts designed by the glitzy virtuoso herself . To promote their collaboration, Urban Outfitters even sent a camera crew (or the world’s luckiest intern?) to the Lisa Frank Factory in Tucson, which looks exactly like you imagine the Lisa Frank factory would look (covered in rainbows) and appears to employ at least one rainbow-colored leopard/doorman. She supplied Urban Outfitters with stock from her fireproof warehouse, in which she keeps at least one of every product ever made. Kind of sounds like 10-year-old Jamie’s dream come true–second only to the speculative Lisa Frank World theme park, which I still don’t think the world is quite ready for. I mean, it hurts my corneas just thinking about it.
But after all, I think there is probably a lesson to be learned from Lisa Frank–shouldn’t we always be digging for the deeper stuff all the time anyways? Though she declines to appear on film or, really, in any other interviews, the woman is generally excited by and about the Lisa Frank universe. It’s not just a brand, or a giant rainbow tiger. Instead, the giant rainbow tigers and bikini-wearing fruits are a bit (or a lot) about embracing the insane–dancing with the inflatable plastic alien, if you will–and about not being embarrassed to be seen. To be as bright as possible is a literal goal in Lisa Frank land, where the company patented their own super-secret neon ink, and Lisa Frank offered us all that opportunity. As Lisa Frank’s latest tweet says, “Looking for inspiration? Look no further than yourself and the beautiful person you are!”
And my music folder? I raised my hand and called out “That’s mine!” and proudly walked down the risers to retrieve it.