Veronica Marché Miller's "Fabulous Brown Girls" Christmas cards speak to the yuletide spirit of every woman's inner girly-girl.
The Philadelphia-area fashion illustrator's flirty holiday greetings, also available on wine sleeves and gift bags, show coquettish women of color donning fit-and-flares (with real sequins) and knee-length boots carrying armfuls of perfectly wrapped presents.
She may be dressed in a red, off-the-shoulder dress and poised to place a star on top of a tree. Or, her hair piled high in a killer sock bun, she's toying with a strand of blinking lights.
So merry. So joyful. So The Best Man Holiday. And so different from what else is out there.
"Black Christmas cards can be so earnest," said Miller, a master's candidate in Drexel University's fashion design program, who was referring to the often solemn, religious undertones popular in greeting cards featuring African Americans. "They are not fun. My girlfriends are fun. We like to drink martinis and put on pretty dresses."
Miller, whose coursework includes illustration, designed her first set of Christmas stationery two years ago, and sold them on Red Bubble, a website that prints and ships artists' cards to customers.
The first year, Miller sold about 150 cards. The next year, about 300, enough to pay for most of her Christmas presents.
In February, buyers from T.J. Maxx Corp. asked Miller if she would design a few greeting cards for them; the company was interested in selling more diverse stationery.
She submitted two. The company accepted them and asked her to design two more.
A few dainty touches were added to the illustrations by T.J. Maxx: faux pearl earrings and sparkles along the pleats of the dresses. The company even lined some of the gift bags, which sell for $2, with fake fur. The 15-card boxes retail for about $6.
"It's surreal," Miller said of her cards' being sold at HomeGoods and Marshalls, which are a part of the T.J. Maxx Corp. Already, Miller has received attention from Ebony and Upscale magazines. "I don't have words for it. I'm like 'Oh my God, I did that.' "
You can buy the rest of her collection at redbubble.com.
In a world where public images of black women often teeter between miserable and maudlin, these cheerful holiday greetings seem right on time.
Take a recent episode of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, where Kandi Burruss' mother and a friend had a loud argument in a bridal shop. Or the much publicized recent photo of Michelle Obama looking irritated as the president took a selfie with Denmark Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and British Prime Minister David Cameron at Nelson Mandela's memorial. It turned out the photographer snapped the picture in between the first lady's smiles.
"If you went solely by what you see on TV and in the media, you would think that black women are devoid of joy," Miller said.
Miller, 30, her hair a mass of soft curls, is effervescent as she chats from her Wynnewood garden-style apartment. The artist grew up in Pittsburgh sketching Disney princesses and creating her own multiracial comic-book heroes.
Her dad, Ty Miller, hosts Championship Chase on Pittsburgh Cable News Channel; it's a weekly sports show following the Steelers' football season. Her mom works for a bank.
Having graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism from Howard University in 2005, Miller worked as a producer at National Public Radio for six years in Washington. Then she realized that fashion design and illustration was her passion, and she moved to Philadelphia for school in June 2011.
Miller continues to draw and is negotiating with T.J. Maxx about making more greeting cards. She's not giving details, but perhaps bridal products are in her future? Her portfolio includes sketches of a beautiful blushing brown bride, with retro fascinator.
"The women I know laugh a lot. They love fashion, they work hard, and they are successful," Miller said. "And there is a lot of joy in our lives."