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Glitzy Greetings Are in the Cards for the Wealthy

They’re the Rolls-Royces of holiday greeting cards, missives that say “Merry Christmas” with panache and a snooty price tag.

Some sport imported French ribbon. Some a string of silver bells. Some a stream of glittering Mylar. And some a family picture taken by Orange County’s photographer to the (social) stars, Greg Figge of Newport Beach.

All sell for a minimum of $12 apiece, several for as much as $30. It’s not unusual, says Figge--whose clients include L.A. Rams Coach John Robinson, Forbes 400 developer George Argyros and Allergan’s top gun, Gavin Herbert--for the rich to spend from $5,000 to $10,000 for a holiday mailing. Eileen Saul of William Ernest Brown stationers in Costa Mesa agrees.

“There’s no limit to what a client can spend on a custom card,” she says.

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Why spend a fortune on an item that will probably be glanced at, then tossed into the circular file? Image, of course. And tradition.

“People keep my Christmas cards,” says Deeann Baldwin of Emerald Bay. Deeann and her husband, developer Al Baldwin, have been sending out family photographs taken by Figge for 15 years.

“I put a lot of work into it,” says Deeann Baldwin. “It’s one of my passions, a special way of keeping in touch. Every year, I try to come up with something different, surprise family and friends with a new theme. People have really enjoyed watching our children grow up.”

Sittings have included a formal portrait--the Baldwins in black tie--taken in the couple’s living room. A casual portrait--the Baldwins in blue jeans--was taken on the beach. Last year, the couple sent out a photograph taken by a fellow tourist during a visit to Rwanda (yes, there was a gorilla in the background). Then there was the time the Baldwins flew Figge to their ranch in Wyoming for a sitting.

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“It may have been extravagant,” says Figge, “but we sure got some great shots. Deeann doesn’t hold back on quality or imagination. Even I can’t wait to get her card each year.”

There was also the time the Baldwins wanted everybody to think their holiday photograph was shot in Colorado. “We couldn’t get everybody to Aspen,” says Deeann Baldwin, laughing. So, they did the next best thing--posed next to a Newport Beach restaurant that looked like it was located in the village at the popular ski resort.

“It was hysterical,” she says. “Figge brought Styrofoam for snow and we brought our ski clothes. There I was in leather and a fur coat and it’s 90 degrees and Balboa is packed. We’re posing and people are beginning to look at us like we’re nuts. One of my sons was so embarrassed he told them: ‘This is an ad for GQ; we don’t even know each other!’ ” But the trick photography worked. “It really looked like we were in Aspen in December. Nobody believes me when I tell them it was California in October.”

The Baldwins aren’t alone when it comes to snowing friends with Styrofoam. This year, Figge says, a woman spent about $1,000 on snowmen balloons and trees at a local florist, then posed with them in a storm of the faux snow. Another couple hauled their family to the parking lot near Figge’s studio and posed in crushed Styrofoam next to a brick building trailing with ivy. A nearby tree blazed with crimson leaves the size of saucers, Figge says. Who’s to know the photograph was taken in a mall parking lot and not next to some Ivy League enclave?

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Gary Hunt, right arm to billionaire Donald Bren, recently posed with his family in a hammock for his holiday greeting card. Figge scouted the Hunt residence for the perfect spot, found the oversize hammock and told Hunt to hop in with family. During the $400 sitting ($150 if a client comes to the studio) the hammock flipped and the Hunts found themselves face-down on the lawn. That shot won’t be mailed, of course. But the comedy of it won’t be lost. While Figge was shooting, one of his co-workers was taking a video of the Hunts.

“I get such a kick out of that. People posing for pictures and videos at the same time,” says Saul of William Ernest Brown stationers, who, with partner Cindy Van Zandt, dreams up the cards that set off Figge’s popular photographs.

Videos have become another hot item to send during the holidays, Figge says. “We do some clever editing and add a little music. Usually, they’re sent as gifts, not cards.”

When Gavin Herbert and his family posed for Figge recently, they stood, knee-deep in the tulips that dot Herbert’s famous garden at his Casa Pacifica mansion. Last year, Judie and George Argyros posed for Figge on their boat wearing floppy reindeer-antler hats. The year before, the Argyroses sent out large cards from William Ernest Brown that were custom-painted, each with a different abstract design.

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This year, the Baldwin family will be in “red” but the locale and theme of the 400 cards they will mail are under wraps. “The theme is top secret until Dec. 10,” Deeann says.

We’ll be waiting.


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