“To make a children’s book, you have to cut yourself off from a lot of the bullshit that happens when you’re a grownup,” says Michael Roberts, Vanity Fair’s fashion and style director, and the author and illustrator of a series of popular escapist kiddie tales, most recently Snowman in Africa, a new collaboration with the Gucci Campaign to Benefit UNICEF.
The book, full of Roberts’ trademark vivid, cut-paper style illustrations, follows a sweet, charcoal-smiled New Yorker who skips town for sunnier climes after the holidays. “My snowman doesn’t like the cold,” Roberts says. “He’s very contrary.” In Snowman in Paradise, released in 2004, the snowman goes off for a vacation in the tropics after a magical bluebird gives him life and the freedom to travel. This time, he’s headed for the jungle.
“Find all the things that brightened your childhood, as opposed to all the heavy and unpleasant things that cloud children’s lives nowadays.”
Proceeds from the book—and a spinoff Gucci accessories line inspired by Roberts’ drawings—will go to UNICEF children’s charities in sub-Saharan Africa. All the goods, including a kicky Gucci tote embroidered with an image of the snowman squeezed tight by a friendly looking red-and-yellow snake, are only for sale in Gucci stores.
Roberts, whose own youth was spent trudging through “a hundred million boarding schools,” had to dig deep for inspiration. “You just have to go into yourself and find your inner child, find all the things that brightened your childhood, as opposed to all the heavy and unpleasant things that cloud children’s lives nowadays.”
The first snowman book became a sensation, an appeal Roberts attributes to the snowman’s simplicity. “I think it’s because the snowman is a child, really,” he says. “The attitude of curiosity and always wanting to play around is very indicative of children of a certain age.”
But there’s also something very contemporary about his protagonist—and more than a little evocative of the current adult mood. In the first snowman book, the hero heads to an island very much like Tahiti and flies first class: “He watched a short movie and had a long doze/ While dreaming of feeling warm sand on his toes.” In the new book, he goes on safari, traveling by balloon. It sounds like just the kind of vacation all the upscale “kidults” who flocked to Pixar’s Up and Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are this year might appreciate.
“Time’s kind of caught up with me since the first book,” Roberts says. “Now this kind of thing is becoming fashionable.”