Newer Is Better

(This is a repost from the original back in January. Dan Blanchette is on vacation.)

Why does a company introduce a new package for a seemingly ordinary line? Can’t they use an existing brand and indicate that it‘s new?

Well, yes (sorry) they could. But it wouldn’t have the impact that a brand new line would. Remember, good design has impact. And in packaging, impact is almost everything. Without it, a package will die on the store shelf.

And there‘s nothing like a brand new package for a brand new line in a food company‘s pantheon of products. They can make it whatever they want to be: new graphics, new photography, new colors, new copy, new name. They can make the PDP, the primary display panel, anything they want. In this case, that front of the can, it can be anything they need it to be, that endangered 40% of the label.

Campbell‘s new line of soups has a catchy name. Well Yes, of course, refers to “wellness”, one of those words I feel is kind of dumb, like “tiredness”. But no matter. It works here, and the semi-freeform design of the name works, also. Especially sitting as it does on the label. And the flavor SKU sits right below it, and the photo of the main ingredients sits right below that. 1, 2, 3. Easy and direct.

And this new label treats the consumer like he/she has a brain: there’s no “beauty” shot of a bowl of soup on the front. Don’t need it. Everyone knows what a bowl of soup looks like. It’s the ingredients that count. And the label has plenty of areas denoting what the health information is, mostly in a large and easy-to-read panel on the back.

They have fourteen SKUs in this new line (so far), all without artificial colors or flavors. Campbell’s says each has “purposeful” ingredients. And that, of course, is in line with the relatively recent wave of consumer-minded things like “organic” and “non-GMO” tags you see on food packaging. But in this new line, not all are non-GMO ad none are organic. Some are delineated as vegetarian or vegan, according to their ingredients. If you’re looking for protein or fiber, they have those, too.

So it’s new. And it’s different (part of what Campbell’s calls the Sage Project). And Campbell’s knows that if it’s new and has that impact they need, consumers will see it, pick it up, and read the label. And because the design is friendly and informative, and having all those friendly ingredients pictured right there, people will buy it. Yes, partly because it’s Campbell’s—a name we trust. But the design really carries it.

And the large “Yes!” in the name is instantly inviting. It has an intrinsic, positive vibe. Everything in the design (and ingredients) is positive. It’s no wonder that Campbell’s decided it had to be a new line. It was such a fun thing to do.

 

 

 

 

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Art is Always Design

Last week, I reposted an article from months ago, entitled “When Design is Art”, citing examples of design so eloquent in their movement of shapes and color that they became art. Today I‘m flopping that mindset.

Ever think of art as design? It is, always. Painters paint with motion of the brushstroke and movement of the paint on canvas, but also from emotion. That emotion is evident in the shapes they create and the color they use. But it‘s all design: shapes and color, dark and light. The painting doesn‘t have to depict a realistic form. In abstract art, it doesn‘t depict anything other than itself. It‘s pure design.

In art school, we learned two-dimensional design using abstract shapes as subject matter. Those exercises taught us how shapes relate to each other as well as organization of those shapes in a design. In another course we learned color and how to manipulate it to create tonal flow in a composition.

But in those respective classes we skipped something. Although we were taught how to design using shapes and how to modulate color within a composition, we did not touch on emotion, the passion of the painter and the reactive element of the viewer.

And that‘s been in the back of my mind for weeks. You know, there‘s been a lot of talk about AI lately—artificial intelligence—and how our lives will be impacted by its use and replacement of human input in mechanical, or repetitive, situations. But what struck me about it was a few things I‘d read that told me how it could be taught to recognize emotion.

According to psychtastic.com, abstract art contains shapes and color that create feelings in the viewer‘s eye and mind immediately: negative feelings brought about by dark and irregular shapes, and positive feelings brought about by bright colors and simple or regular shapes. This is no real surprise.

How often do you sense foreboding in a movie whereby we follow the camera moving through a dark and dingy house (The Silence of the Lambs)? Or the sense of joy when we see Julie Andrews atop a bright meadowed hill (The Sound of Music)? This is easy.

So I kept searching for connections between AI and emotion and hit on a study by the University of Trento (in Italy). In that study, computers were fed the reactions of 100 people looking at abstract paintings of various colorations. Afterward, the same computers were fed scans of new paintings not from the original focus group. The computers were able to predict, with roughly 80% accuracy, the reactions of the same group of people.

And answers began to appear as to why a dark blue blob of paint evokes sadness, whereas red squiggles evoke anxiety.

Not totally revolutionary, but it certainly looks like AI will eventually get there.

The thing about shapes and color is this: it‘s all based on associative experience. As human beings, we learn from our surroundings, our falls and injuries, our taste of sweet or bitter food, our hearing of music or screams. Happenings can be pleasant or jarring. And all of those experiences are felt as colors and shapes within the mind‘s memory, socked away in our subconsciousness. This is why all of us, when shown an abstract piece of art or design, either like it or dislike it.

It can be a painting or just a simple doodle. It has things in it that remind us of something buried in our experience, no matter how simple.

I‘m not a psychologist, but what else would explain it? If you were doing an abstract painting, how would you depict serenity on a canvas? Would you choose pastel colors with smooth brushstrokes? What about violence? Would you use bold dark colors applied with slashing brushwork, maybe thrown paint?

This is art, designed for emotion.

 

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When Design Is Art

(This is a repost originally from January 26. Dan Blanchette is taking the week off.)

I was watching some of the events leading up to the 2018 Winter Olympics the other night, and observed the beautiful forms made while the skaters performed their ice dancing. And if you’d ever watched ice dancing, you know that it is not like other olympic endeavors. It takes immense skill and strength, no doubt, and supreme discipline—after years of effort and practice. But that’s just one facet of it. The other is the art it makes.

That’s right: it makes art. Right there in front of you, a performance like ballet. The forms, the shapes and colors, all done in performing just in that one occasion. Like watching a watercolor move across the paper in the succeeding brushwork, creating a picture.

Design can be art as well. Thing is, there’s just so much out there that is not art. Take consumer packages: most are merely functioning as information on the shelf, with little or no beauty to them. But every now and then you see a package that approaches a certain essence of perfection, letting your brain, through your eyes, see the art in it.

Like those ice dancers who show things like repetitive shapes and synchronized movements and lines, you’ll see the same things happen in the artful packages. The Microsoft folding mouse packaging above shows that. It’s so simple: it takes a simple shape and repeats it, inverted below, as a semi-revealing window. It shows how the mouse folds. Charles Eames couldn’t have done much better in designing his forms in furniture. The elegant lines of the mouse itself almost demanded a good design here, and the package designer did not disappoint.

Zealong’s tea packaging is a good example of using the name to inspire a shape: a diagonal in its dieline to emulate the “Z”. How simple and yet elegant this is. And the colors—just black and lime green—bring out the contrast to enhance that dieline.

Maybe some companies need to look elsewhere for design inspiration the next time they want to redo their packaging. Maybe nature provides some input, like the shapes of leaves or flowers. Maybe it can come to a designer in the shapes of industrial items, like automobiles or furniture. Typography can be a source. Or maybe it can come from watching sports.

You can’t say those things of all packaging out there. Only a small percentage show it. That elegance, that shape, those lines. That art.

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What Makes for an Upscale Food Label?

Food labeling is an area I’ve been around for a long period of time, design-wise. But that experience, even though it has given me a lot of insight into the business of selecting imagery, directing photography, and working with marketing teams, seldom melds with the abstract clarity of academic design.

And that clarity is usually what is sacrificed in most companies’ obsession with cramming information onto the primary display panel (PDP) of the label, that which faces shoppers at the store shelf.

We’ll use the above images of pasta sauce for this rant today. Simplicity is something that design students (should) learn early on to achieve beauty and clarity in their design assignments. And once they learn that, and then go out into the real world, they also learn quickly how fast that simplicity disappears.

Getting right down to the essence of this is the marketing department falling in love with the graphics on that PDP instead of letting the colorful beauty of their food, showing through the glass jar, speak for itself.

What isn’t necessary is the over-colorful descriptive information beyond that. Yes, tell us what it is; no, the added photography is not a requirement (unless the packaging is opaque, such as a box); and further, the colorful panels behind the type (including the background) can easily be way too intrusive. In a word: cluttered.

The label at left has that cluttered feel, and it’s heavy. The colors tend to choke together because they’re close to the same density, value-wise, except for the light blue. But the black behind that panel, although it unifies the panel elements, ties it all way down. Even the cap, echoing the black color, adds to the weight of the colors.

Then there’s the choice of typography, which is too “everyday”. The semi-primitive font is OK, and it might work much better against a lighter background, but here, because of the heavy colored panels, becomes a tad clumsy. The label has an ’80s feel overall, and that period had a lot of bad labels.

The label at right has a much cleaner feel. The white of the label tells you right away how uncluttered it is, how simple it is, how honest it makes what’s inside the jar look. The label has fewer colors and needs no photo. Its straight up-and-down orthographic alignment’s only real embellishments are the decorative panels left and right, not too light or dark, but echoing the color of “parmesan pomodoro”, and the small but centered script G in a circle, letting you know the quality of the food from Giada de Laurentiis, marketed by Williams Sonoma, like a small but important fingerprint.

All that makes for an understated, yet well-thought-out assembly of design. The gold cap adds a feel of quality, and the security tape is a further premium touch.

The problem most all marketing departments have is not letting go of their dear promotional ideals, that selling to the customer at the store shelf. If they’d allow their focus groups the latitude of comparing what their product actually looks like against premium competition, they might learn something.

And looking like premium doesn’t cost anything.

 

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Stylization and Primitive Artwork: What’s the Difference?

Above are two examples of illustration we see these days. One is an example of stylized artwork, the other an example of primitive artwork.

First, let’s turn the clock back to, say, 1985. The artwork on the left would be regarded as stylized. It would’ve worked back then as a serio-comic solution to a depiction of “Eve”, and would’ve been accepted as having been done by a professional artist. The artwork on the right wouldn’t have been accepted for print at all.

Now let’s vault ahead to present day. The artwork at left is still viable as a professionally done piece of artwork, but the one on the right is also acceptable as having been done by a professional. Why is that? What changed?

You tell me.

Stylization has been recognized in illustration for many decades as a way to add whimsy to otherwise realistic drawing. The proportions in stylized artwork are exaggerated to a point where everything—such as features on a face, or hands and feet on a figure— still has recognizability and familiarity of the basic forms of, in this particular case, anatomy. Stylization has uniformity of style: the curves and lines of all the forms look and feel natural to the characterization of the total figure.

On the other hand, primitive art has no such cohesive properties. All of the above descriptive issues are missing in primitive art. The artwork at right looks and feels as if it were done by a 5-year-old. And yet, readers, it was used in a recent issue of a well-known publication, The New York Times Magazine.

Stylization in illustration requires an understanding of basic forms in nature, man-made objects, and yes—anatomy. Anatomy of all creatures, animals, birds, and humans. That basic structure is what makes stylization possible, what makes the departure from that basic anatomy work.

Jazz musicians, even rock musicians, understand that improvisation—stylization in their discipline—has to have the basic form, the basic structure of melody in any tune or song, in order for it to exist. That basic melody is underlying everything they do, maintaining a cohesive unifying theme.

So it is with stylization in artwork, in illustration. And yet, here we are, watching primitive artwork, as done by what are now referred to as “professionals”, get published in reputable publications.

I don’t know when the departure from realism or stylization to primitive artwork began to take place in print. Using childlike depictions of people in serious thought-provoking articles is baffling to me, to people with any intellect. Children don’t read these articles, nor would they comprehend their meanings.

We celebrate—as a society—accomplishment in any discipline, be it playing a musical instrument well, cultivating a beautiful garden, making a delicious meal. We don’t reward clumsy or awkward endeavors. But here we have a well-known national publication using—and paying for—crude artwork.

That example at right does not reflect—to any degree—a professional’s hand in its creation. And yet by using it in a magazine like The New York Times, the publishers were actually celebrating its primitive appearance—its crudeness—as being a style.

And that, readers, is the real difference. Because, whether it was done by a “professional” or a 5-year-old, it doesn’t matter. It looks like it was done by a 5-year-old, and a 5-year-old doesn’t know what style is.

Does The New York Times Magazine know?

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(I recently wrote to the president of a well-known art and design school, to ask if anatomy and realistic figure drawing were being taught at that school. It’s been several days since I sent that email and I have a strong feeling I won’t get a response.)

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This Is Ridiculous

My wife and I were watching television several weeks ago when we saw the above ad for Schick’s Hydro Silk TrimStyle razor for women, which is made for those women who wear bikini swimwear.

We couldn’t believe our eyes. “Are you kidding?” we said almost simultaneously.

Television has come a long way in its permissiveness. I can remember watching shows back in the late ’50s and early ’60s where Ozzie and Harriet and all the other married TV couples slept in twin beds, because studios weren’t allowed to show them sharing the same bed.

That was part of an era in Hollywood governed by The Motion Picture Production Code, a period of time between 1930 and 1968. Often called the “Hays Code”, it deemed what was morally acceptable for public audiences to see in movie theaters. Will H. Hays was the president of the Motion Picture Association of America, and under his leadership, the MPAA began its strict enforcement of that code starting in 1934.

Hollywood, in its early days of making silent pictures, had its share of scandal with the murder of a famous director (William Desmond Taylor) and the alleged rape of a starlet by the famous actor Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle. Religious and political organizations were appalled at the apparent “wild west” atmosphere of the fledging motion picture industry, and with the Black Sox scandal in Major League Baseball (having of course nothing to do with Hollywood), and the rise of bootlegging and gangsters in the 1920s, the Hays group felt it necessary to impose its moral rules and keep Hollywood “clean”.

After World War 2, television came into its golden period. (Television was actually invented in 1925 by Philo Farnsworth; Philco, Westinghouse and RCA developed their machines in the ’30s, but the formative television business didn’t get off the ground until after the war ended.) Hollywood wanted to get into television for two reasons: one, as a hedge from the upstart TV business—couples were staying home and raising families and not spending the time going out to movies; and two, since they already had the production facilities, why not make TV shows and cash in by having advertisers run commercials just like the radio industry?

Of course, with the Hays Code already in place, the same rules applied. Anything morally suspect was not allowed. A long list of items was spelled out, such as illegal trafficking and use of drugs, inference of sexual perversion (subject to interpretation by a committee), vulgar language, miscegenation (sex between black and white races), any depiction of venereal disease, and a man and a woman in the same bed. The list was way longer than that and included showing white slavery, rape, branding of people or animals, surgical operations, and gratuitous brutality of children or animals.

It took many years for Hollywood—whose star system faded in the 1960s—to loosen its grip on the code. Morals were changing, and the public (and younger directors) wanted realism on the screen. European movies had long reflected an open and less restrictive genre, so the American studios began to relent. By the 1970s, TV shows came of age.

There was, however, one last vestige of the Hollywood code: the Family Viewing Hour, the first hour of prime time TV each night, that enforced similar rules. Established by the FCC in 1975, it felt it had to enforce “family-friendly” programming from 8 to 9 PM EST. But it didn’t last long. The Writers Guild sued, citing violations of the First Amendment, and won.

But what about censorship in TV commercials? I mean, the commercial above is not crude pictorially, but it is suggestive and more than repugnant to some viewers. Look what we have today in TV ads: erectile dysfunction, condoms, birth control devices, bladder control, IUD issues, catheters, etc. The medical industry loves all this. I hate seeing it, but there they are.

I know the Schick ad is about beauty and/or hygiene, but the way it’s depicted is a little out-of-bounds.

Apparently there are no rules. Advertisers are censoring themselves, keeping what they individually feel are within—or just barely within—moral guidelines.

I wonder what the commercials along this line will be like in another twenty years.

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The New Illustration

I subscribe to The Atlantic, one of the oldest publications in the history of this country. It has thought-provoking articles written by really good journalists. And it has what might be labelled fair art accompanying those articles.

Other publications have good artwork as well, like The New York Times Magazine.

Tim Tomkinson created the image on the left for The Atlantic. It’s a more traditional style of illustration, requiring some actual draftsmanship. The artwork on the right, created by Ryan Snook for The New York Times Magazine, has a much different style.

What’s the difference? And why are they so different? And how do they affect the viewer?

Sure, Tomkinson’s piece accompanies an article about an actual person, Abigail Allwood, a scientist with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, while Snook’s accompanies an article called “Crying at Movies”. But the art director at The Atlantic must’ve felt strongly about using an illustrator whose style was toward realism, whereas the person calling the shots at The New York Times Magazine probably said something like “anything goes”.

Weeks ago, I wrote about the decline of teaching actual drawing and illustration in art schools, which, when you think about it, doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. I mean, things like anatomy and perspective were taught alongside figure drawing when I was in art school. Those things weren’t absolutely necessary for painting disciplines, but they were for commercial illustration.

So I’m open to discussion about why drawing is no longer considered a necessary attribute when it comes to creating qualitative commercial illustration, although I have my own theory why that is.

You see it all the time these days, the newer styles: much more like expressionism than realism. Expressionism plays to emotional reaction. As history will tell us, expressionism in painting came about after the impressionist period in the last portion of the nineteenth century. Impressionists taught the world (or those who visited art galleries and went to art openings) a new way of seeing. And that way of seeing was with your inner eye—meaning your brain—and not so much with your logical, or outer, eye.

Expressionistic art was also done in a time of upheaval in the world: the breakdown of the gilded age of kings and queens, the revolutions in Europe, the world wars. If you’re at all a student of art history, you know of art imitating life. Broad brush strokes (often with a lot of contrast in color), faces with garish angularity, and almost primitive proportions were characteristic of the form.

Snook’s illustration is very cartoony. But you don’t have to look far to see some work done that is not quite so funny in depicting emotion, and much more emoting tension—even anger.

My theory of why this is all prominent now in publicized artwork is that we live in a very changing world. A global economy (with several nations having proprietary resources), tensions around the world (knowing that now many nations have nuclear capability), strong climate changes, immediate news on TV and the Internet. Twitter and Facebook promote reactive activity. Maybe I’m wrong. But something has spurred things along to where commercial illustration is now, to where it reflects all that noise.

There are other factors possible: younger generations have different ideas of seeing the world in art; and for everyone, using computer apps and plug-ins can easily take a photo and transform it into an illustration or even a painting, with textures and warping the perspective. Why would you need to actually draw it first? Is that why we no longer need to teach it?

Because when you think about it, how would you teach a student to think in expressionistic terms? Maybe to them, realism is just too superficial.

 

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This Pink Thing

I write about design and how it encompasses our lives, everything around us. I try to inform those of us who are non-designers how to see it and how to recognize just how it impacts our thinking and sways us in different areas of the marketplace.

This past Sunday was Mother’s Day, a day of a different kind of recognition. A day of celebration and thanks to our mothers for raising us and showing us the way in our young and formative years.

A long time ago, a woman named Ann Reeves Jarvis started Mother’s Day Work Clubs in West Virginia as a way to teach women the proper way to raise children, make them aware of sanitary conditions around their homes, and how to help them with treating colds and influenza. That was before the Civil War. Eventually other noted women took up the cause for championing mothers, among them Julia Ward Howe, a suffragette.

A few years before the Great War, Ann’s daughter Anna Jarvis petitioned for making a holiday to recognize all mothers for their unique contributions to families everywhere. After much campaigning and speaking and getting ears in Congress to listen, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation making Mother’s Day a national celebration on the second Sunday in May starting in 1914. Anna later protested the eventual commercialization of the occasion, including the greeting cards that followed.

In 1982, the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation was formed by Nancy Goodman Brinker, the sister of Susan G. Komen. Susan had died two years previously from breast cancer at the age of 36, and Nancy was moved to do something in Susan’s honor to make women and everyone around aware of and to contribute to fighting breast cancer. That movement launched meetings, rallies, and events such as marathons, eventually getting a symbol in the form of a folded pink ribbon.

Just how those two things—Mother’s Day and the fight against breast cancer—came together is something that I’m not totally certain will not become blurred in the public eye of history. In 2006, Major League Baseball issued pink bats to be used in the games being played on Mother’s Day. Since that 2006 introduction of pink bats, the color has been extended to uniforms and equipment, including baseballs with pink stitching.

Then other sports got involved. The PGA Tour showed the color this past Sunday with the golfers wearing various shades of pink. Major League Baseball was in full bloom as well.

Which brings me to marketing. I’m not sure just which organization started using pink first, but as far as marketing and promoting with that color, it’s now a contest. And that contest has raised a few barbs in the past ten or so years.

The Komen Foundation has litigated to use the color exclusively, if not also the ribbon. Even the wording “for the Cure” is a sticking point. The organization Uniting Against Lung Cancer was warned by Komen to not use the above wording and not to use the color pink. Over 100 charities have received similar warnings.

The PGA Tour has no affiliation with the Komen Foundation. It gives its charitable donations to the Donna Foundation, which “raises funds for ground-breaking breast cancer research at Mayo Clinic and women living with breast cancer”. The Donna Foundation is also the “charity of the day” at the Players Championship near Jacksonville, Florida.

This apparent confluence of charities and a long-time national celebration is relatively new. The idea of stealing promotional material is not.

And just how did Mother’s Day get paired with these charities? I don’t know. Wearing pink at these events promotes getting money, yes. But it also promotes a certain inclusive clubbiness, like it or not. Because of social media these days, if you’re not wearing the color, you’re a pariah.

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It Must Be the Art Form

I could’ve entitled this entry “More Less Is More”, but I decided to draw a parallel from last week’s article to this one. Less is more will bob to the surface anyway.

Theater in design is not one of the things promoted as a subject in design school. Some people might think of “performance art” in this vein, and I suppose that would lend a theme to the thought process in runway display in fashion design, but what about other areas of the theater aspect in life? Sure, there are concerts, Cirque du Soleil sorts of things, and plays.

But in thinking about last week’s theme, I saw a television show the other day that immediately brought to mind another aspect of theater. The show was about cooking, but more about presenting a meal in a fine restaurant. And there it was.

In selling and merchandising cosmetics, I mentioned the mystique that industry has—all they have—and what propels it along. There’s a Giorgio Armani ad that shows a muscular male model diving into water, then tanning himself and standing in a tree. It’s all a fantasy sequence done in sepia tones, that other-worldly dream-like presentation. The theater of owning, of experiencing, this product.

There isn’t anything in the ad so banal as putting the cologne on in getting ready for an evening out on the town. That’s too ordinary a presentation. Too common stock. This isn’t showering with body wash or even using a premium shaving gel. Those are not transcendent.

And so, in watching the show and viewing the presentation of the food on fine china, I saw the same thing. Sure the food is cooked to perfection. But you can’t see that. Expecting you to love the taste of the food isn’t what the dining experience is all about. That’s a given: if the food didn’t taste good, you wouldn’t be here in the first place.

Five-star restaurants aim for a higher experience, an augmented atmosphere to enhance, to go beyond mere eating. And so the theater aspect comes into play. The ambience: the owners will stage the restaurant with the best appointments in interior design, fine linens on the table, candlelit spaciousness. The staff: well trained, dressed in slacks and vests, quietly taking orders from the customers without writing anything down.

And then there’s the presentation, brought on with a parade of servers. A piece of art on a wide, white plate: food stacked in the center, the entreé built according to the chef’s designs, maybe adorned with a smear or drizzle of sauces to spark the palate.

And in receiving this dish, this enticement, this gift, you’re getting the theater of it all. Could the food just be placed on a plate the way your mom did? No. Could the plate be smaller? No. Does this presentation add to the taste of the food? No. But now you’re thinking differently.

Now that you have it before you, sitting in this resplendent setting, you feel differently, too. It isn’t about just eating the food. It’s about the experience.

And the theater of it is different than that of selling cosmetics. It’s actually more fleeting. Once you’ve consumed the meal and left the restaurant, it’s over. You’ll remember it and may very well return on another evening, but that theater has ended for a while.

In fashion and cosmetics, the allure will remain with you. Because the dress or suit is still in your closet, the cologne is still on your dresser.

Maybe to wear to that restaurant next time.

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