The Wrap Artists

Using everything from crocodile prints to yesterday’s newspaper, today’s creative gift givers are thinking outside the box.

Whoever said it’s simply the thought that counts has never spent time wrapping gifts with designer-cum-candlemaker Douglas Little around the holiday season. A professed "obsessive wrapping person," Little devises a theme every year. For 2007 it’s Marchesa Casati, a rather esoteric Italian femme fatale and designer, whom Little will channel via leopard-print and shiny black "reptile" paper from Paperstudio, a favorite source. To that he’ll add giant black and white pearls from M&J Trimming, an old-fashioned "trimming" store in New York. Past themes have included everything from Auntie Mame (gold lamé and coral paper accented with tiny bells and tassels) to Noir Noel (shades of black, purple, and midnight blue, along with blackened green paper and ribbon). The act of wrapping itself, which for Little is "a bit like a religion, yoga, and meditation all rolled into one," is accompanied by music, wine, and the perfect tools—an X-Acto knife set, Alvin cutting mat, and Fiskars scissors. Little believes that "the idea is to have fun, do something incredible, and break some of the rules while keeping the elegance and magic of this special time of year."

While Little’s approach is obviously over the top, the way one wraps often says more about the gift giver than the present itself.

De­­signer Han Feng, who created the costumes for Madama Butterfly at the Metropolitan Opera last spring, prefers to use not paper but fabrics—in her case, bold, unfamiliar textiles—that she picks up in places such as India, Mexico, Morocco, and China. "There are no rules," she explains. "There are too many rules in life so this is always free-form and of the moment."

Los Angeles–based fashion and home product designer Christina Kim takes a pared-down approach—and an ecofriendly one—using old fashion show invitations, along with antique ribbons she finds in bazaars in Istanbul and New Delhi. "I try to recycle everything," Kim says.

Taking that idea still further, both Barneys sage Simon Doonan and fashion de­­signer Isaac Mizrahi are partial to newspaper. Each tops off the look with a touch all his own. Doonan likes Italian and French newspapers; Mizrahi holds everything together with Day-Glo tape for that thoroughly modern twist.

Then there are the devotees of industrial-chic kraft paper. Style arbiter Eva Chow fan­­cies hers up with antique silk ribbons (they drape better, she says) that she finds in Parisian flea markets. Still, she’s philosophical about the whole matter. "As long as a present is from the heart, everything, including the wrapping, will be perfect," she says.

Textile designer Lulu de Kwiatkowski also likes kraft—on which she paints designs of circles or stripes—and is similarly democratic in her outlook. "Anyone can do this!" she insists. As a final touch she likes a white orchid stem.

Neisha Crosland, the British designer whose specialties are wallpapers and fabrics, uses pieces from her past collections, along with a satin ribbon tied in a knot—instead of a bow—off to the side, snipped at a slant. She then incorporates tissue paper in a contrasting color for that extra surprise.

For others, including illustrator Maira Kalman, tissue paper is the whole story. Kalman likes her packages to look festive and simple, with white tissue paper accented with idiosyncratically printed labels she collects in Egypt and India. departures contributing editor Carla Sersale, of Le Sirenuse hotel in Positano, Italy, buys all sorts of colored tissue papers at the Milan stationer Papier, then writes her greeting in felt-tip pen. "The writing is actually very decorative," she says. Kate Spade also favors simplicity, using construction paper and wide ribbons from the venerable New York trimmings specialist Hyman Hendler and Sons. She is a believer in the it’s-the-thought-that-counts school, adding that "for certain men I know, it’s enough to take the price tag off and find a gift bag with tissue!"

For decorator Charlotte Moss, it is quite an­­other story. "Christmas gift wrapping takes weeks and is a bit like a mil­itary maneuver," she says. Moss comes up with a different palette every year. "I wouldn’t want anyone to get bored with my gifts," she says, although that possibility seems remote. This season her focus is on metallics (matte and shiny) from the classic paper firm Caspari. She’ll complete the look by threading satin ribbon through velvet and leather leaves, which she buys in Manhattan’s flower district. Says Moss, "The time and atten­tion you devote is all part of the gift."

Leaf, Paper, Scissors

Stephen Doyle—cofounder of the graphic design firm Doyle Partners, whose clients include the Museum of Modern Art—believes the art of the perfect gift requires equally perfect wrapping. But inevitably, he explains, "This is always a last-minute affair," so he makes sure to always have paper on hand that he designs himself. In the past Doyle made papers from photos he took of tree bark; this year he’s created them from a hypnotic array of leaves in snowflake formations. He gathered the greenery from his garden, including artemisia, clematis, and ferns, and is printing with soy ink on postconsumer waste stock, explaining that "we are maniacs about recycling in our house." hauteltd.com; doylepartners.com, 212-463-8787

Present Perfect

This year, says Douglas Little, his holiday gifts will be wrapped in crocodile-print papers made in Thailand and adorned with faux coral and a black tassel.

"I like to use bright ribbon with paper I’ve collected and painted on," says textile designer Lulu de Kwiatkowski. "To give it a natural feel, I then throw in a flower."

Designer Han Feng wraps with fab- ­rics she collects from markets in Mexico, Morocco, China, and India.

Isaac Mizrahi loves to use news­-paper and Day-Glo tape that he picks up at art-supply stores.

Where to Buy

The old reliable shop Caspari, in Paris, is a go-to for rich Chinese damask and boldly striped gold foil papers. 7 Rue Jacob; 33-1/55-42-15-00; casparionline.com

A family business since 1938, San Francisco–based Flax Art & Design offers a broad selec­tion of papers, from whimsical city-map prints to earthy wood-chip paper. 1699 Market St.; 415-552-2355; flaxart.com

Greenwich Letterpress, in New York, carries paper from many top small presses as well as its own line of beautiful invitations and stationery. 39 Christopher St.; 212-989-7464; greenwichletterpress.com

Ito-Ya is Tokyo’s best shop for intricately made washi papers and sheets printed with Japanese patterns. 2-7-15 Ginza, Chu­o-ku; 81-3/3561-8311

Known for its collection of some 4,000 papers from 40-plus countries, Kate’s Paperie, with four Manhattan locations, also provides custom gift wrapping in the Japanese tsutsumi style. 72 Spring St.; 8 W. 13th St.; 1282 Third Ave.; 140 W. 57th St.; katespaperie.com

The graphic wallpaper at Neisha Crosland’s shop in London makes for a clever alternative to traditional wrapping paper. 8 Elystan; 44-20/7584-7988; neishacrosland.com

New York Central Art Supply is famous for its knowledgeable staff. Be sure to ask about the store’s Yumei satin brocade papers; they look and feel like fabric but fold and cut like paper. 62 Third Ave.; 800-950-6111; nycentralartsupply.com

The Paper Studio, in Tempe, Arizona, not only sells decorative handmade papers but it’s also a studio that teaches the art of papermaking. 520 E. Southern Ave.; 480-557-5700; paperstudio.com

Located near Milan’s Piazza Duomo, Papier offers a wide array of tissue, handcrafted lace, and pressed-floral papers, all exquisitely displayed. 4 Via San Maurilio; 39-02/865-221; papier-milano.it

Formerly a fixture in Columbia, South Carolina, and now an online outlet, Phoenix Art Supply is known for its large assortment of handmade and im­­ported papers from Egypt, Nepal, Zimbabwe, and beyond. 803-376-1319; phoenixartsupply.com

Hyman Hendler and Sons, a century-old shop in Manhattan’s garment district, has a wide selection of vintage ribbons, with some dating back 200 years. 21 W. 38th St.; 212-840-8393; hymanhendler.com

Service at the recently renovated M&J Trimming can be less than perfect, but the selection of beads, pearls, ribbons, and many other fineries is well worth the trip. 1008 Sixth Ave., New York; 800-965-8746; mjtrim.com

Mokuba is based in Japan but has outposts around the world. Its gorgeous velvet and fine satin ribbons are the reason to visit. 55 W. 39th St., New York; 212-869-8900; mokubany.com

Tinsel Trading Company, the Store Next Door, and the Store Across the Street supplied the U.S. government with thread for uniforms during World War II. The trio of New York–based stores, all on the same street, are like a gift-wrapping playground. 47 and 64 W. 38th St.; 212-730-1030 and 212-354-1242; tinseltrading.com

Aedes de Venustas is not a paper, fabric, or trimming store but rather a boutique specializing in scents that it wraps exquisitely. 9 Christopher St., New York; 212-206-8674; aedes.com