Paul Formal runs the Max Formal Company, a linens and work clothes shop his father established in Providence back in 1953. Inside, the store resembles more of an inventory room than a retail space. Most of Paul’s walk-in business has dwindled since introducing on-line shopping. Curb appeal has taken a backseat to Web appeal making the looks and layout of the bricks and mortar shop less important these days. But tucked away among the stacks of contemporary sheets, pants and shirts are a trove of vintage fashion styles that really caught our eyes. What was especialy amazing is seeing these threads and frocks still packed in their original boxes wearing their classic designer labels. Quite the treat for a couple of graphic designerds!
Paul allowed us to explore and photograph his impressive collection. He even took us on a tour throughout the back rooms and basement of his multistory building. Each room revealed more goodies and visual delights. In one closet Paul had a collection of empty boxes that he kept simply for the attractive packaging design. “To me, these are all works of art,” Paul told us. We couldn’t agree more.
Beyond his role of local business owner, Paul is also a supporter of the arts, especially the creative students attending RISD just down the road from his store. One student who benefitted greatly from Paul’s support was Shepard Fairey who established himself as a notable graphic and street artist around Providence in the mid 1990’s. Shepard is best known for his Andre the Giant stickers and the iconic Hope poster seen in the 2008 Obama presidential campaign. As a gesture of his appreciation to Paul for his assistance and friendship, Shepard designed the Max Formal Company sign that hangs above the shop today, an icon in its own right.
Check out the pictures Laura and I took of the old school graphic design labels spotted in Paul’s. And if you find yourself in Providence stop by for an in-person peek.
CORRECTION: Paul runs the Max Formal Company together with his beautiful and loving wife Debbie. They, like the WE team, have been supportive partners in life and business. Our apologies for this oversight.