Bohemian Baby Boutique: Camelot Cloth Diaper series (Knoxville, TN)
Reviewed by Lindsey Simon-Jones (email@example.com)
At 8 p.m. on Monday, March 7, 2016, Bohemian Baby Boutique released the much anticipated follow-up to their exclusive Blueberry brand Arthur and Gwen cloth diapers: Merlin and Morgan. The series was a smash hit. The most popular style of the Merlin diaper sold out in less than 2 minutes. Both prints sold out in all but training diaper styles in about 10 minutes. Earlier that day, they had released the diaper for in-store sales at their Knoxville, Tennessee store. With a scheduled opening of 10 a.m., a line formed, according to an internet source who attended the sale, around 7 a.m.; Merlin and Morgan were sold out less than an hour after opening.
Cloth diapering is making a comeback, just as companies are leveraging social media and online sales to boost excitement and desire for exclusive (sold in limited quantities and available at only one store/boutique) and limited edition (sold more widely, but in limited supply) prints. One trend in the cloth diaper print craze has been for literary inspired diapers. For example, Abby’s Lane is producing a Smart Bottoms brand “Book Club” series (prints released or announced include Midsummer Night’s Dream, Black Beauty, Moby Dick, and Alice in Wonderland), while Lali’s Fluff Shop released a set of solid colored Smart Bottoms diapers based on the house colors in the Harry Potter series. Cotton Babies has built their entire BumGenius brand on prints reflecting “geniuses” from all walks of life; their literary diaper prints include (Lewis) Carroll, Jules (Verne) and Harper (Lee). Clearly, there is a market for book and author themes in the cloth diaper community.
The market for cloth diapers is complex and varied. Many parents choose cloth diapers because their use significantly reduces the expense of diapering when compared to the lifetime costs of using disposable diapers. However, parents collecting (and using) exclusive prints from high-end diaper companies are likely not doing so solely for the economic advantages. Parents for whom the economic benefit is not a primary motivating factor may choose cloth diapers due to their concern for the environment (cloth diapers are often made from sustainable resources and their use significantly cuts down on landfill waste over the course of a child’s diapering years), hygiene (parents prefer absorbency made from natural, often organic materials over chemically enhanced materials and cloth diapering parents report fewer “blowouts” than disposable diaper users), diaper rash (parents report significantly less diaper rash in cloth diapered children), and convenience (never worrying about running out of diapers or having to stockpile disposables). These families are likely educated, middle- to upper-middle class parents with some modicum of disposable income. They frequently describe themselves as “crunchy” and are likely interested in current trends in childrearing. Some see high-end, exclusive diapers as a kind of investment, given that such diapers often hold their value very well and can be resold when a child has potty-trained for 50%-75% of their original value. In the extreme, diaper “flippers” may collect and store exclusive prints, keeping them in their original packaging, with the intent of selling for higher-than-retail value in the future. The frenzy for exclusive and limited edition prints has made this possible.
With their Camelot series, Bohemian Baby Boutique seems to have hit on a particularly strong desire for medievalia in the larger community. According to the Bohemian Baby Boutique staff, they had only planned two diapers: a generic knight and princess. However, they named the prints Arthur and Gwen after the designs were finalized because they reminded one of the owners of the tales. Arthur and Gwen were released on December 15, 2015, and quickly became their most popular diapers. Due to the surprising and overwhelming popularity of Arthur and Gwen, the team decided to add two diapers to the set. After rereading some Arthurian tales, they settled on Merlin and Morgan (Morgana/Morgan Le Fay) to round out the series they called Camelot.
Demand for these diapers was (and remains) high. Almost immediately after the sale, a lucky few were able to sell their diapers on the secondary market for double or even triple the retail price (the organic Simplex style was the highest priced style, costing $35). And while fervor has died down some in the intervening months, any Camelot diaper offered for sale at a reasonable price (under 100% markup) on the Buy/Sell/Trade boards is almost immediately purchased (in fact, I bought a used Merlin organic Simplex for a bargain $42 just a few weeks ago). The Arthur diaper is still the most sought after, with Merlin a close second. Morgan and Gwen are also popular, but sales suffer because some parents are disinclined to put their male children in a purple or pink diaper featuring a princess or enchantress, while most parents of female children do not have the same reservations about a blue diaper with knights or wizards. Nevertheless, the skillful use of medieval and Arthurian images in this series is likely to generate continued interest in all of the diapers in this series.
With just the right proportion of whimsy and historicism, Bohemian Baby’s Camelot series does an excellent job appropriating popular medieval themes and incorporating imagery from both classic and popular Arthurian legends. The result is a complex representation of medievalism simultaneously appropriate for a child’s diaper and grounded enough in historical medievalism to be desirable to the novice and specialist alike. Each diaper includes three main vignettes, featuring the main character of the diaper: Arthur, Guinevere, Merlin, or Morgan. What follows is a close reading and description of each print’s use of the medievalia and Arthuriana.
This diaper features a pale blue background, a child-like, brunette knight representing Arthur and a horned, blue dragon. Rather than armor, the Arthur character appears to be wearing a not-entirely anachronistic pea coat, with a red belt, hose, and darker gloves and boots. His helmet is in the style of a late-medieval close helm, with a raised visor and two plumes, one green and one blue.
In one vignette, Arthur stands at-the-ready, with a sword to his side and shield in front of his body. In another, he happily rides the fire-breathing dragon, in flight. At first glance, the third vignette appears to show Arthur fighting the dragon; he stands before the beast with sword drawn. On closer inspection, however, the sword turns out to be a three-pronged fork on which the boy-knight is happily toasting marshmallows with the help of the obliging dragon’s fiery breath.
Arthur’s shield appears both as a stand-alone item and with the knight in the standing vignette; it is primarily red, with yellow edging and a yellow crown centered. The crown has three elongated prongs with small pearls at the top. It references a combination of an antique-style crown and a medieval earl’s crown.
Other medievalia fills print: a Norman-style castle with an arched drawbridge, portcullis, and red standard flying above with a centered, yellow crown (the same as on the knight’s shield found throughout the diaper); and a dark and light blue, vertical striped banner, or perhaps gonfalon, with the same yellow crown in its center and a pinked edge are also included. Void spaces are filled with a pair of pale yellow and green fern fronds and a large deciduous tree.
The background on this print is a more vibrant, cyan blue. The Merlin character on this print is patterned after familiar and popular representations of the wizard: he wears dark blue wizard’s robes with white and gold stars and matching pointed hat. He has a long white beard and holds a wizard’s staff with a crystal ball on the end. Merlin is accompanied by a flightless, green (unfortunately, neither red nor white) dragon with white horns and darker green bony plates along its spine (reminiscent of a stegosaurus).
In one vignette, Merlin happily smiles beside a frothing, purple cauldron; the cauldron is adorned with a crescent moon and stars (a similar moon and an assortment of stars fill the void areas throughout). In another, he stands with both arms raised aloft, holding his staff in one hand, appearing to have performed some sort of spell, as indicated by a helix of stars hovering just above the staff. In this set of images, Merlin is accompanied by a surprised looking, purple and white owl on a wooden perch (a nod to Disney’s representation of Merlin with his owl Archimedes, perhaps). In the third, and most whimsical, vignette, Merlin sits astride a sleeping version of the dragon while reading a small, purple book entitled “Dragon Training.” Whether accidental or intentional, the image of Merlin training his dragon picks up on modern representations of Merlin fighting and/or taming dragons both real and imagined.
The Merlin vignettes are interspersed with a gothic-medieval style castle with five towers and blue, pointed roofs. The drawbridge is also blue and is unfortified by a portcullis. Potion bottles appear in a set of three: dark blue, light blue and white; the white bottle also appears near the cauldron.
The Morgan diaper is awash in hues of purple. A lavender background gives way to a smiling Morgan-child, clothed in a tunic, long skirt and cape in a variety of darker purples. Morgan’s wild, pink and purple waves of hair are untamed by a golden diadem, inset with gemstones and adorned with a star centered on her forehead. A golden belt featuring the same dark star cinches the waist of her tunic.
Morgan’s vignettes all center around spell casting. In one, she sits, reading from a green book simply entitled “Spells” to a raven and two cats (one black and one purple/grey). In another, she conjures with a crystal ball held aloft in her left hand. In the other hand, she holds her staff, raised high, upon which the raven is perched; a second raven sits nearby. In the third, Morgan adds a black liquid from a black bottle into a dark blue cauldron accented with white stars; white steam and pink and purple bubbles are rising from the top; the raven, again, sits aloft her staff.
As noted above, the black cat and raven are predominantly featured on this diaper; the raven is featured in all three vignettes, and the black cat and raven have their own small scene, sitting together amongst the same type of ferny flowers seen in the other three prints. The raven may be in reference to Morgan’s sometimes-supposed origins in the Celtic goddess Morrigan, as well as to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s description of her as one who could shapeshift and fly. The cats reproduce the common image of the witch’s familiar. In addition to her animal companions, Morgan has a small, wooden hermit’s hut with a purple roof; its simplicity stands in stark contrast to the towering castles depicted in the other three designs. The rest of the print is filled with potion bottles of varying shapes, sizes, and colors, and star and crescent moon patterns that are very similar to those in the Merlin print.
The Gwen diaper print is set on a soft pink background. In it, Gwen wears a long-sleeved, tea-length, purple dress, with a fitted top and full skirt, and purple flats; her dress is accented by a pink belt and tights. The dress also features three small flowers of orange or white on the right side of the skirt. Her brunette hair is swept into a loose, side ponytail, clasped with a red bow. She has a broad smile and blushing cheeks in each portrait. She wears a golden crown with a flower in the same style as on her dress, centered; her crown features four prongs topped with red jewels.
The Gwen diaper seems to suffer most from its inception as a generic “princess” diaper, and her vignettes have little to do with the legends of the Guinevere characters. In one, she stands, with eyes closed, holding a small bird aloft; one of her legs is lifting up, as she stands in a modified, arabesque position. In another, she leads a dun colored horse with a vibrant purple main, tail, and hooves. The horse is wearing a simple, red noseband for a bridal, and has a matching red bow in its main, near one ear. Rather than a saddle, the horse wears a simple, pink blanket, adorned with the same small flowers that appear on Gwen’s dress (in purple), with red pompon tassels. Like Arthur, she also stands solitary; however, rather than a sword and shield, Gwen stands holding a bouquet of flowers to her nose, smiling as she breathes in their scent.
Gwen’s castle is a blend of the one in the Arthur and Merlin print, with a Norman center featuring purple windows, roofing, and an unfortified drawbridge. The windows are in mirror image of those on the Arthur castle (with the one on the right being placed higher than the one on the left). It flies a purple pennant with a white flower on a red pole. An array of flowers, ferns, hearts and a tree (perhaps a cherry blossom tree in bloom) fill the void spaces; importantly, these are the same fern fronds that appear on each diaper in the series.
Pennsylvania State University, Fayette