If you had a trapper keeper in the '80s or '90s, you best believe you had that bad boy covered in Lisa Frank stickers, if it wasn't already motifed in the brand. Your folder would have been a technicolor collage of unicorns, rainbows, ice-cream cones, stars, kittens, and bears. Nothing was safe from being cast in a neon hue when you were living in Lisa Frank's world. But what brilliant mind could have come up with this psychedelic, acid trip of a school accessory? What genius could have envisioned a sticker set that would mark you has the epitome of cool? Well, that woman was (is) the real-life Lisa Frank. That's right – the woman behind the raddest stickers to ever be stuck on a school book is named Lisa Frank, and she truly built an empire.
There are probably a lot of things you didn't know about Lisa Frank, despite your penchant for her brand during your elementary school days, but Lisa Frank's a candy-colored mystery that, over the years, has slowly started turning her enigma inside-out.
For instance, did you know that she's from Detroit and had a private jet? Did you know that her husband essentially ran the company into the ground? And you get two guesses as to the color of her house. Maybe after scoping out the fabulous, hard-working life of Lisa Frank, you'll be able to do a lot more than guess about this cotton-candy icon.
Apparently the downfall of Frank's company wasn't due to teenage girl's waning interest in unicorns and bright colors, but more to do with her husband, James Green – CEO of Lisa Frank Inc. Green was said to be a greed-motivated, rampant cocaine user, who, if that wasn't enough, was also allegedly unfaithful to Frank.
Green was a horrible employer and was said to have put chains and locks on the door as he heard that one employee had left work 10 minutes early. One employee described Green as "He was a very angry man… a pompous jerk."
The official word on the street is that Frank was a harsh boss and that Lisa Frank Inc. was a terrible place to work. Despite its colorful trappings and bright facade, "gulag" was the term used by employees and former employees to describe a place where strict rules and rigidity reigned supreme, and where monthly morale-popping meetings were held to reinforce the rules.
Violators were rewarded with screaming, name-calling, and firings. The atmosphere was one of fear and paranoia — an ice-cold mentality, as some described it.
Lisa Frank has let her larger-than-life designs speak loudly in her physical stead: the woman has nearly no public photos even in the wide searchable expanse of the internet. When Urban Outfitters licensed her designs and started carrying a Lisa Frank line in 2014, the company got permission to film a short documentary about the brand and even a rare interview with Frank, but under her request she was shot entirely in silhouette, leaving her enigmatic presence intact.
It's hard to believe now, considering she's the queen of rainbows and unicorns, Frank admits she initially didn't want to do commercial art and incorporate things like that into her work. Before delving into the world of brightly colored stickers that would adorn a generation of binders and trapper keepers, Frank had a line of plastic jewelry that she made during her sophomore and senior years of high school.
The brand was called Sticky Fingers and it was mostly comprised of fruit pendants and cartoon characters like Betty Boop. But they she realized she could really capitalize on it, and ended up going from small sales and shows to selling her wares at huge department stores like Bloomingdale's and Neiman Marcus. Not bad for a high school student!