"Cirque du Soleil... Wallpaper?"
Text by: Keith Johnson | March 2002
Fascination! Newsletter, Issue #7
Wallpaper is not something that immediately springs to mind
when one thinks of Cirque du Soleil. But that hasn't stopped
Seabrook Wallcoverings, Inc. from creating wallcovering designs
"mystic and unique, inspired by the movements and grace of the
human body" under the name of Cirque du Soleil.
Well, that's not really the total truth. Seabook only
distributes the Cirque book, they didn't create or manufacture
it. The credit actually goes to a Toronto Canada firm, Blue
Mountain Wallcovering, who employed a designer who goes under the
moniker of Tzaddi!, Llc. ("Tzaddi" actually means "fish hook" in
Hebrew, and is an important term in Tantric yoga, being the path
leading between the second (Ego/Territorial) and the fourth
(Sexual) brain circuits. For what it's worth. Anyway...)
This was just one revelation from a recent conversation with Mr.
Pierre Cousineau (pronounced Coo-zee-no), Vice President of
Distribution for Montreal, Quebec, Canada's Beauport Wallcovering
Company. We were very surprised to learn that there was a previous
edition of Cirque wallcovering designs. And that the idea didn't come
from Cirque in-house. But even more surprising was Mr. Cousineau's
explanation of how the wallcovering book(s) came to be!
The story actually starts in Montreal (Cirques' "home town"), on a
wintery evening during the 1994 Christmas season. Mr. Cousineau was
working for Ontario wallcovering producer International Wallpaper at
the time. While on a walk one evening he happened to notice a Cirque
pamphlet advertising a local engagement of "Saltimbanco." With its
bright colors and strong visual design sense, it caught his attention.
"I wish I had a wallpaper book with that sense of design," he thought.
At the time, after its '94 Tokyo tour and prior to its '95 European
tour, Cirque had rented a local warehouse where it set up
"Saltimbanco" to play for the Christmas season. (This is also a new
revelation, as such an engagement has never been listed in Cirque's
tour histories.) It was after seeing the show with it's grand design
and spectacle that Mr. Cousineau was convinced the power of the
imagery could be translated into wallcovering form. The following
Monday he was on the phone to Cirque's home offices, who referred him
to a New York agency.
But he had to fight the battle on two fronts. Not only was Cirque
unsure about whether their imagery could be translated to a wall, no
one at International Wallcovering wanted to take on the design task.
So he contacted a free-lance designer who had done other wallcovering
books for him - Ms. Vicki Butler, who designs under the name Tzaddi!
LLC. Intrigued by his idea, the Philadelphia-based designer met Mr.
Cousineau for a New York City performance of "Alegría" in the Spring
of 1995. That was all it took - Ms. Butler was inspired to come up
with several initial designs. They were designed to be unique and
upscale. "They had to be very different," comments Mr. Cousineau.
"If not Cirque wouldn't have approved the concept."
But by late Spring of 1996, after months of Mr. Cousineau trying to
get an appointment to present the initial designs, Cirque still wasn't
sure. As he learned later, there was a meeting at Cirque headquarters
at which the topic of wallcovering was brought up. For long moments,
no one at the meeting spoke. Finally a woman at the table suggested,
"He's been bugging us for six months, let him come and show us some
designs. What can it hurt?" Mr. Cousineau made an appointment almost
immediately and presented the drawings, but the final OK rested with
company founder Guy Laliberté, who was out of town at the time. So
Mr. Cousineau left Cirque headquarters not knowing if his ideas would
fly or not.
The day Mr. Laliberté returned, the drawings were spread out on a
table in his office. For 10 minutes he carefully examined them
without speaking, "which is a world record" according to Mr.
Cousineau's contact. Finally Mr. Laliberté broke his silence.
"These guys understand."
Mr. Laliberté grasped what Ms. Butler and Mr. Cousineau were trying to
accomplish, taking the emotions and color and energy of Cirque du
Soleil and translating them in graphic terms to wallcovering. He
could "see the concept," said Mr. Cousineau, "and if they like the
concept they let you go."
The next two years they were "tortured by the direction, struggling"
with the assignment. Slowly, the initial drawings were turned into
bold, original, full-color finished designs, different from "regular"
wallpaper. The International Wallcovering book was distributed in
June, 1998 and was discontinued in June of 2001. (Wallcoverings
generally have a shelf life of two to three years because as, Mr.
Cousineau says, "tastes change.") The book was successful but took
awhile to catch on. "Vicki's books do better the second year than the
first," he suggests, "because her designs are somewhat ahead of their
time. It takes the public a bit of time to catch up to her."
One interesting story Mr. Cousineau tells about his attempts to get
the book into designers' hands involves Hollywood. Normally,
wallcovering books are just sent to the designers at the various
studios (who keep copies in their design libraries) with little
fanfare - a "non event." But Mr. Cousineau had a different plan, to
make more of an "event" out of the Cirque wallpaper, showcasing Ms.
Butlers' unique designs.
So he sent one of the books to a distributor friend in Los Angeles,
Mr. Aaron Kirsch, who facilitated set designers at the Hollywood
studios. "Just do me a favor," Mr. Cousineau requested. "Tell them
there's this weirdo who wants to fly all the way down from Montreal
just to show them a book of wallpaper from Cirque du Soleil. If you
don't get any appointments, fine." By the next day, Mr. Kirsch had
appointments with nearly all of the people he called! The wallcovering
later appeared on the sets of "Friends," "Mad About You," "3rd Rock
From The Sun," and "The Nanny" to name a few.
Later on Mr. Cousineau switched companies, becoming Vice President of
Distribution for Beauport Wallcovering. But he took his relationship
with Cirque with him, and suggested another book of designs be created
to be produced by his new company. Vicki Butler was again the
designer, and in June, 2001 the "Cirque du Soleil Collection Volume A:
A Fantastic Journey" book was sent to 6,500 decorators, designers and
retailers by American distributor Seabrook Wallcoverings
(www.seabrookwallcoverings.com) immediately after the previous book
The new designs are also making inroads into Hollywood, having just
been extensively incorporated into the Casino set for the NBC daytime
drama "Days of our Lives." And Mr. Cousineau is still working hard to
get the idea of Cirque wallpaper out to the public. One idea he'd
like to see is having the wallpaper books sent to local papers in
cities where Cirque appears. Perhaps then more people will become
aware of this fascinating product of Cirque du Soleil.
This first book, entitled "Cirque du Soleil: A Feast of Colors and
Passions" was published in June 1998 under the Vintage First Edition
Collections banner by The International Group Ltd., with the
wallcoverings distributed by Decorlux in Canada and Brewster
Wallcoverings in the USA. (UPC # for the book 7-73391-01592-1). The
papers were available until June 2001.
As with the current book the stuff was pricey, available in rolls
20.3" wide by 23.8 feet total and retailed for between USD $34-38.
Five-yard-long borders sold for between $32-36 per roll. Fabrics were
also available, with a yard of the 54" wide fabric selling for $50.00.
The cover is a montage of images. While the Cirque name and logo mark
are at the top in yellow, the main image is that of the ceiling of the
Mystère stage. Surrounding it are images from the four shows
represented within - Mystère, Saltimbanco, Alegría, and Quidam.
There are eight "series" or "groups" of designs in the book, two for
each of the four shows. Each series has between 3 and 8 sets of
"coordinates" each (a coordinate is two or more wallpapers that
coordinate with each other in color or design). While its impossible
to properly convey what the designs look like, here's a quick summary:
MYSTERE, ACT I - 6 coordinates - Here is a tribute to Cirque acrobats,
as trapeze and Chinese pole artists are depicted on the borders and
wallpaper. In addition to hearts and stars, the words "Cirque du
Soleil", "Mystère du temps", and "les artists" are scribbled
throughout. The designs are presented in shades of red, green, blue
green, and ivory.
MYSTERE, ACT II - 4 coordinates - Evocative of the Las Vegas desert,
these earth-colored papers contain no words, but have hieroglyphics
and images of Mystère characters perched on rocky landscapes. The
papers come in brown, gray, light blue and rust red.
SALTIMBANCO, ACT I - 5 coordinates - This would look great in a
breakfast room. While not containing Cirque-specific images, it does
have images of flowers, fleur de lis and sun-like circles. It is
presented in yellow, green, and two very striking sets in vivid reds
and yellows, and vivid blues and greens.
SALTIMBANCO, ACT II - 8 coordinates - Childish and playful, with
scribbled hearts and designs and caricatures of the silver and
black-caped character. The words "Ego!" and "Cirque du Soleil" make
an appearance, as do various letters. The paper is in tones of yellow
ALEGRIA, ACT I - 6 coordinates - The flowery and fleur de lis-based
designs of Saltimbanco Act I make another appearance here.
Interestingly, the borders are die cut and very striking. Presented
in blue green, yellow and orange.
ALEGRIA, ACT II - 3 coordinates - The same fleur de lis and flower
designs as above, again with the striking die cut borders, but in deep
blue and light orange.
QUIDAM, ACT I - 3 coordinates - Reminiscent of theater curtains, with
the banners looking like gathered top curtains, and the wallpaper
having the vertical fold lines of closed curtains. Presented in
yellow, blue, and red.
QUIDAM, ACT II - 3 coordinates - Similar to the playful style of
Saltimbanco Act II, this has images of a sun face, scribbling and lots
of other writing. One of the phrases I can make out is "joy in the
creative and artistic." Available in gray, brown, and blue.
In these earlier designs the concepts are bold, colorful, using Cirque images
and words very distinctly. In my opinion these designs are better
than in the second volume. They break more new ground and are more
striking than the newer book, which seems to evoke a Cirque feeling
without as much direct reference.
The book "Cirque du Soleil Collection, Volume A; A
Fantastic Journey" is distributed by Seabook to accounts and
designers nationwide. I was able to find a copy in my local Home
Depot in their "Contemporary" section. It's 250 pages (originally
released June 2001, and available until approx. June 2003) are an
interesting experiment in graphically presenting some of the
feeling and emotions of Cirque.
The front cover is impressive, a Cirque performer in full
regalia, and proclaims enigmatically "spirit and body, shadow and
light, between earth and sky I tumble, spinning arabesques,
kaleidoscope fantasy." All of the samples inside are pre-pasted,
washable, peelable paper-backed vinyl. The book is being marketed
and promoted mostly to upscale designers, for use in homes of
people who might have a bit more money to spend than, well, me.
There are seven "series" or "groups" of designs in the book,
with each series having between 4 and 7 sets of "coordinates"
each (a coordinate is two or more wallpapers that coordinate with
each other in color or design). While its impossible to properly
convey what the designs look like, here's a quick summary:
KINETIC - 8 coordinates - A mélange of lines with no
real shapes or shadows. The words "Invoke" and "Provoke" are
incorporated within. The paper comes in gold, green, or
blue/gold. The picture on the introductory frontplate features
performers from "O."
FUSION - 4 coordinates - Done with Japanese-style
brush strokes, with the strokes depicting human figures such as
dancers and acrobats. The words "Fusion" and "Cirque", appear
throughout. Very oriental looking. Available in
silver/gold/white, dark green, gold, and dark red.
FREEDOM - 5 coordinates - Swirling circular images.
Available in orange, red/green, blue green, green/purple, and
TRANQUILITY - 5 coordinates - This has an aquatic
feel, looking like light filtered through water. It has a thick
wavy line zig-zagging through the pattern and borders. The
frontplate picture also features performers from "O." Available
in blue/green/gold, dark blue, and rust red.
NOBLESSE - 7 coordinates - Has a cloud-like feel,
with a tree-like squiggle throughout the pattern. The frontpiece
features the Sprites from "Alegría." Available in red/purple,
yellow/purple, and blue/rust red.
WISDOM - 4 coordinates - Here is imagery reminiscent
of cave paintings. The borders have leaping and posing character
likenesses. The frontpiece features "Mystère." Available in
reddish brown and yellow gold.
EUPHORIA - 5 coordinates - Features flower images, it
has some small figures in the border, and in variations on the
wallpaper itself. Available in blue/purple, green/gold and
You can see how my attempts at description can't possibly
do the designs justice. Like Cirque itself, seeing them is the
best way to appreciate this unique product. In addition to
multiple colors of wallpaper and borders within each design, the
designs also feature upholstery-style fabric! This way an entire
room, including the furniture, can be coordinated together.
As you might guess, this stuff doesn't come cheap. The
wallpaper itself comes in rolls 27" wide by 9 yards long,
covering 60 square feet, and with a list price of $68.00 per
double roll (you can only buy them in sets of two rolls). The
borders vary in width, but cost $34.00 for a 5-yard spool. The
fabrics are 72% polyester, 28% cotton blends, 56" wide, and cost
$50.00 per yard. Decidedly upscale. (Though the clerk at Home
Depot told me that their sale price was, on average, half of the
"list price" shown in the catalog. Hmm, that makes it a bit more
Unfortunately, these papers are no longer available.
Ah well. Thanks again to Mr. Cousineau, we've
had a fascinating glimpse into a rare curio of Cirque-licensed
Our thanks go to Mr. Cousineau for graciously sharing his time with
us, and Sabrina Levine of Lizzie Grubman Public Relations in NYC for
putting us in touch.