[Tom Biederbeck] The designer Louise Fili and her husband Steven Heller are a publishing enterprise on their own. Among the books they’ve published (trust us; there are many) are a classic series of volumes on the history of graphic design. Their latest, Scripts: Elegant Lettering From Design’s Golden Age, is an indispensable guide to those letterforms that evoke handwriting — fluid strokes that seem to have captured contemporary imaginations starved for expression and typographic warmth. We asked Fili for a quick tour of her latest tour de force.
[Louise Fili] In the 28 years that Steve Heller and I have been married, we have travelled regularly to Europe to forage for graphic design specimens from flea markets, antiquarian book shops, street vendors and private dealers. We’ve always timed our trips to coincide with flea market schedules. For an even longer time, I have been photographing Italian and French shop signs. Whenever I go to Italy, I make a point of going to a town I have never been before, just to document the signage.
A couple of years ago, Steve and I were invited to contribute to Un Sedicesimo, a booklet published bimonthly by Edizioni Corraini in Mantova. The subject matter was our choice — 16 pages of anything we wanted. We decided to focus on French and Italian scripts, since we have so many beautiful examples, in so many different forms, in our collection. Once our contribution was published, I realized that if we could produce 16 pages, we could do a few hundred more. We proposed the book to Thames and Hudson (to include French, Italian, American, English and German scripts), and we were off.
We started gathering materials for the book by just going through the shelves of my studio: the stunningly timeless black, white and red St. Raphael enamel sign, French button cards, type specimen books and of course my albums of sign photos. While many of the selections were obvious, some were serendipitous: For example, while teaching a summer masters workshop in Venice, two of my students gave me a composition book they had unearthed from a recycling bin on the Grand Canal. It was from 1923 with verses written in perfect Italian school children’s penmanship.
Putting the book together was laborious for my staff, and involved a great deal of Photoshop work. Jessica Hische initiated work on the project, and it was completed by John Passafiume and Dana Tanamachi. Once the book was sent to press, every time I opened a drawer I would find yet another great specimen I had overlooked. Volume 2? Never!
Purchase Scripts: Elegant Lettering From Design’s Golden Age, from publisher Thames & Hudson or from your favorite bookseller.
Louise Fili Ltd, founded in 1989, specializes in logo, package, restaurant and book design. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum and the Biliothéque Nationale. She is the co-author, with Steven Heller, of Italian Art Deco, British Modern, Dutch Moderne, Streamline, French Modern, Design Connoisseur, Stylepedia, and Euro Deco. Fili has also written The Civilized Shopper’s Guide to Florence and co-authored Italianissimo. In 2004 she was inducted into the Art Directors Hall of Fame.