Target's back-to-school line goes old school

  • Article by: SARA GLASSMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 7, 2011 - 3:37 PM

The retailer has teamed up with a Wisconsin wood type museum for its back-to-school line, creating inventive items from vintage graphics.

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Target's designer collaborations have spanned the globe from Liberty of London to Jean Paul Gaultier to this fall's much anticipated Missoni line.

But for its back-to-school collection, which will appear in stores Sunday, the Minneapolis-based retailer looked closer to home for inspiration -- the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wis.

The museum houses the world's largest collection of wood type, with 1.5 million plates of graphics that include crowns, roaring tigers, 1950s movie posters, circus imagery and countless letters and numbers. The graphics will appear on pencil cases, handbags, pajamas and clothing for boys, girls, men and women in 1,755 Target stores nationwide.

A partnership without a brand name is new for the cheap chic retailer.

"This is the first time we've ever partnered with a museum to do an apparel collection," said Michael Alexin, Target's vice president of product design and development for apparel and accessories. "Everyone in the business does denim and T-shirts. We thought, 'How do we differentiate ourselves and really make Target stand out and leverage design and do something really unique?'"

The aesthetic fits right in with the Americana trend in fashion. But the clothing also tells a story, founded on Hamilton's rich history in the Midwest.

"Wood type was the mass medium of its time," said Bill Moran, artistic director of the museum. "It really blossomed in the early 1800s in the wake of small towns popping up across the country."

The ornate and oversized type was used widely for large newspaper headlines and billboards. J.E. Hamilton Holly Wood Type Co., which was founded in 1880, quickly became the nation's largest producer of wood type. The nearly decade-old museum is housed in a 40,000-square-foot Hamilton building dating from 1927.

In 2008, a Target designer attended a Walker Art Center screening of "Typeface," a movie about the museum. Inspiration struck.

"The idea of authentic vintage graphics was so cool," Alexin said.

Target's design team visited the museum in November. They, along with Moran and his brother Jim, the museum's director, scoured the museum's collection to find the 54 graphics they used in the Target line.

"A lot of times, you can create things that look like that on a computer, but this is actually how it printed," Alexin said.

According to Jim Moran, many of the plates Target chose came from the Chicago-based Globe Printing Co., which designed graphics for circuses, racing, rodeos and grocery stores. Bill Moran said the Target team put the images together in "amazing compositions."

"Authenticity" is a word that Alexin invokes to describe the collection, which uses custom-designed fabrics and retro color combinations.

"What's really cool is when you can actually take something and make it current, make it modern -- you know, give it a new voice," he said.

As part of the mutually beneficial relationship between the small-town museum and the mega-retailer, the Hamilton logo appears on the product line along with the Target brands. There's even a Hamilton-emblazoned sweatshirt.

"The typefaces are versatile and useful in ways, and they always have been," Jim Moran said. "The reinterpretation of them is an example of picking up the instrument and playing a different type of song."

Sara Glassman • 612-673-7177

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