[Alyson Kuhn] We’ve previously showcased several of Louise Fili’s projects on Felt & Wire. Today we are writing about the brand-new book she has just written about her own work. She considered titling it Squisito, Italian for both exquisite and delicious, but found that people had a difficult time with it. Nonetheless, Elegantissima is squisito in both form and content.
After savoring every illustration and anecdote, chatting with the author/designer about her monograph was the gelato on the cake.
The cover is so evocative of your style.
Thank you. It’s an amalgam of Italian, French and American design elements. The cover lettering of Elegantissima is based on an early 1900s typeface called Molé foliate — a display typeface with floral decoration on the face of 3D letters. The letters were redrawn in Illustrator.
Is elegantissima an actual Italian word?
I just wanted the longest, most unpronounceable word I could think of! I’m joking — and yes, elegantissima is an actual Italian word. My last book was Italianissimo. Several months before Elegantissima was published, I did a Google search for elegantissima, just to see who might be using the word. I was surprised and delighted to find two blogs in Italian that both used it in talking about my work!
Have you ever run a title across a spread before?
Oh, yes. I love nothing more than to do a double-page title page. Merle Armitage, a renaissance man whose talents included book design, always did double-page title pages. You can see one here. The typeface I chose for Elegantissima is Serlio.
And how did you decide on your shapes for the copyright page?
Actually, I was kind of flummoxed. I considered not doing a shape at all, but every time I read the book over and got to the copyright section text, I felt like a hypocrite. I tried a whole place setting, with two spoons to accommodate Princeton Architectural Press’ standard acknowledgments, but I had issues with it, so I placed that information, in plain text, between the fork and knife. If we get to do a second edition, I may revisit the spoons.
Was it your idea or your husband’s to begin his foreword with his original correspondence to you?
It was his idea to include the text of that note. He wrote his foreword before I wrote the introduction. He had simply put the text into the body of the foreword. I decided it would be nice to recreate his note. I keep the framed original on my desk, right next to me.
Was it difficult for you to write the introduction?
I didn’t start it until I had written everything else, just as I never approach the cover until the end of the design process. The format of the book is based on the slide lectures I have been giving for many years, so the layout and writing were rather straightforward. The book proposal I had sent around to publishers was the entire layout of the book, using dummy text. Fortunately, the introduction was fairly easy to write. The one-page introductions to each of the chapters were more challenging, perhaps because when I give a lecture, there is no need to do an overview of each discipline I’ve embraced.
In your introduction to the Books chapter, you talk about cover designs needing to have “a mnemonic allure and instant recognition, as though they were logos.” Can you talk a bit about your logocentric approach to cover design?
When I worked at Pantheon, I would sit down with a pencil and draw a 5½ x 8½ in. rectangle, which I could do with my eyes closed. I would write the title over and over and over again, letting the words speak to me — ending up with a letterform that didn’t exist, so I would have to find a way to create it. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that process prepared me for logo design. A logo is a typographic portrait — the face of a business.
SVA (School of Visual Arts) Subway Poster: Fili subtitled this case study “Miles of tiles”