I’ve recently been burning through a book about the widely used but little talked about work of French type designer Roger Excoffon (I guarantee you’ve see at least one of his fonts in use, probably on a weekly basis, Mistral, Banco and Choc are everywhere) That they are less popular with most designers than with the public seems to be down to their sheer distinctive character, they were made for advertisements, packaging and shop fronts and tend to shout out of the page.
Whats interesting to me though is that even the sans serif font Excoffon designed, Antique Olive, seems to find little favor with designers (a sans serif, being more utilitarian, tends to lend itself to clean objective design) and this is because like all Excoffon fonts it refuses to fit in easily, while it might be more difficult to shape into a design, used effectively its so sharp, so outside the norm of ‘Futura, Helvetica, Univers, Gotham’ it almost assures uniqueness.
Which comes to my latest font love, Antique Olive Black (the weights of the font are strangely labeled, black is a bold and the heaviest an Ultra bold is known as Nord and is used in the Air France logo) it has an clean line, and ease of reading found in Swiss and German sans-serif’s without their heaviness and dryness, instead evoking warmth and charm, while this means its not the universal application that those previous mentioned fonts are it has a unique character that those fonts lack.
Don’t sleep on Shintaro Sakamotos debut solo album ‘sleeping with a phantom’, the artwork above is just about a perfect cypher for the music: a strange beast entirely preformed by the man himself in his home studio, music that rides a steady wave of melancholy loping bass lines and slinky guitar riffs drifting from one song to the next, not sad music necessarily, just tired and a confused and although the lyrics are sung in Japanese, the English song titles give the game away ‘my memories fade’ ‘dancing with pain’ , in fact if not in sound than in spirit this album puts me in mind of another favorite of this last while Real Estates ‘Days’.
This must be the season of shitty companies doing smart things, first McDonalds hired Patrick Norguet to design their French flagship and their shockingly cool coffee cups and now Windows has redesigned Hotmail (about 7-10 years too late but…) and its actually really good: clean, functional and so straightforward that it makes Gmail look sad, tired and overstuffed.
This is most likely the work of their new branding managers at Pentagram and if this article in Vanity Fair is to be believed you should not expect any great improvements in the actual Windows product anytime soon. Finally I leave you with the hypothetical greatness in presentation that Microsoft could achieve courtesy of Minimally Minimal here.
There is a great chapter in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s memoir of his walk across Europe as an 18 yr old in 1933 where he describes his nightclubbing outfit as he moves with a crowd of young Hungarians in Budapest:
“Tigers for turnout, they were well-groomed in what used to be thought the English style; but they didn’t give a damn about my rough and ready outfit. The best I could manage was a tweed coat and some grey canvas trousers, which, with a clean shirt and blue tie, looked almost presentable; but the footwear let me down, always gym or tennis shoes, whichever looked cleaner. but it didn’t matter”
This set me wondering if any European companies still made the traditional plimsoll shoes, the search was pretty exhaustive and not promising, a smattering of high end companies made leather & suede versions in Italy, and some in Romania but nothing of a knock-about gym shoe; this is not to say these companies don’t exist but most likely they don’t have modern websites, or English sites (a perennial problem for small European companies)
A few months after giving up on my search, I stumbled across exactly what I was looking for in Sweden’s Spalwart, a classic sneaker/plimsoll company with factories in eastern Europe, the shoes are well presented, thick soled and pleasingly rough looking based on 1950’s era molds, and at €60-70 an affordable alternative to Vans or Converse shoes.
I caught the end of a program on the BBC last night about the use of colors in art, with this particular episode covering white and ending on the Palazzo Della Civiltà Italiana in the EUR suburb of Rome, and though the episode emphasized the buildings role as the blindingly white propagandist monument to Fascism (which it surely was) I couldn’t help be struck by how beautifully alien it looked.
Built from 1938-40 and designed for the world expo of 1942 (which would never materialize after war broke out) it is classicism with all its ornamentation and excess stripped away, built on an enormous scale and heavily drawing on the colosseum, but so contemporary that it looks as though it had been conjured from science fiction, or perhaps a De Chirico painting, it has the effect of looking as though it had been dropped from space, fully formed.
Ugly suits, lots of orange and yellow, chunky design, it can only be the 70’s, combine that with a surely mental science fiction plot and dystopian futurist set design: World on a Wire looks fantastic.
Modernism is not a word I necessarily associate with France, aside from a brief flowering during ‘Les Trente Glorieuses’ of 1945-75 (French New Wave, the Citroen 2CV, Jean Prouve furniture) for better or worse French culture seems invariably bourgeois, concerned with luxury, tradition, classicism and hostile to the conceptual, ideas driven thrust of modernism.
With this in mind I was surprised when the most striking image from a google image search of the word ‘modernism’ was a canvas by the French artist Sonia Delaney: Vibrant, geometric, relentlessly contemporary and to my eyes very un-French, this is possibly explained by the cosmopolitan Jewish background she shared with so many of the great avant-guarde European artists of the early 20th Century (Brassai, Maholy-Nagy, Kafka among many others) Driven by pure impulses of colour and pattern and spread across mediums from textiles, paint through to lithographs her works seem utterly modern.
In recognition of the upcoming London Olympics (and it’s dire branding and design) I’m going to award some highly subjective medals for outstanding Olympic design past:
1. GOLD: Munich 72’ - overshadowed by the massacre of Isreali athletes, the design for the Munich Olympics was impeccable Swiss modernism, Otl Aicher made clean, stunning and functional work, invented the sporting pictographs we take for granted today and heralded the mainstream adaption of modernist ideals.
3. BRONZE: Mexico city 68’ - If Munich was the Olympics where Swiss-style modernism reigned supreme then Mexico is the one that heralded the arrival of pop art, with the the bright, colourful sport icons, printed dresses and most recognizable the Bridget Riley-esque Logo itself with its op-art lines, designer Lance Wyman brought contemporary art into the heart of the games identity.