Back Story: Immortel, the first retail typeface by Paris-based typographer and graphic designer Clément Le Tulle-Neyret, is a type family divided not into weights, but four “variants” that each align with one of the physiological “humors” as laid out in Hippocratic theory. Essentially, these humors are bodily fluids that were once believed to cause certain character traits: As Le Tulle-Neyret explains it, “phlegm represents a lymphatic, sluggish, slow character (Immortel Infra); yellow bile, an angry and prideful character (Immortel Colera); blood, a jovial and warm character (Immortel Vena); and black bile provokes hopelessness and melancholy (Immortel Acedia).”
Le Tulle-Neyret’s fascination with the theory of humors stems from his longstanding love of the 1514 engraving Melencolia I by Albrecht Dürer. “I like the beauty and the rationality of this theory that considers the human body as a receptacle of liquids that give birth to different temperaments,” he says. “I wanted to see if this theory can be embodied in a type design project.”
In practice, this means that the designs of four variants that make up the Immortel family are each inspired by a different humor and look to represent its characteristics; they’re also each inspired by a different engraver or type designer from throughout history. Immortel Infra is “associated with a phlegmatic temperament” and draws on the work of 16th century typeface engraver Robert Granjon; Immortel Colera has “a choleric temperament” and is inspired by the work of Jean Jannon, an engraver from the 17th century; Immortel Vena has “a sanguine temperament” and draws influence from 18th century engraver Jacques-François Rosart. Finally, Immortel Acedia is associated with “melancholy” and is inspired by the aforementioned Melencolia I by Albrecht Dürer, while also attempting to synthesize the look and feel created by 16th century tools and today’s narrow point type design instruments, giving it a more modern aesthetic.
The designer began thinking about the type family back in October 2016, when he was carrying out some research in the Atelier National de Recherche Typographique in Nancy, France). His work there, in relation to the development of Immortel, “centered around a number of questions,” he explains, “starting from the principle that [if] a text is seen before it is read, how can the form of the letters serve the words? How can one visually re-transcribe a content, not only in terms of page layout? How can a typeface embody a text?”
Soon, more questions emerged, namely about italics and their potential to take on different forms to serve their different editorial roles. “This led to a much broader consideration: how can one rethink the architecture of a type family, and what connections can be established between the fonts?” says Le Tulle-Neyret. As such, instead of creating different weights, the different variants of Immortel are each attributed to their different “editorial roles.”
Why is it called Immortel?
Firstly, the name is a nod to a steeply sloped italic font engraved by French printer and punch-cutter Robert Granjon called Immortelle, which directly informed Immortel Infra. Secondly, the name refers to “the influence of Granjon’s Cicéro on the history of typography, a little like a gesture that cannot belong to any one individual but that is available to everyone, with each individual embodying it in a different way,” the designer explains, hunting that those oft-repeated design flourishes are, in a way, immortal.
What are its distinguishing characteristics?
All four variants are quite different in form, but share the same width, meaning that different typefaces from within the Immortel family can be used and changed without the designer having to make drastic modifications to the rest of the text. “Apart from that, the relationship between ascenders/descenders and x-height is quite small, which allows typesetting with a tight leading to save space where necessary,” Le Tulle-Neyret explains. Immortel Infra and Immortel Vena come with two “grades” that mean users can vary the darkness of the text color.
What uses do you think it would be suited to?
Since it comes with many variations of numerals and ligatures, as well as a small caps version, “this family is designed for serious typesetting,” says Le Tulle-Neyret. He adds he had two main usages in mind when designing the type family: Immortel Infra and Immortel Vena are best for “running text because they are discreet, robust and functional,” while Immortel Colera and Immortel Acedia are more suited to titles and more showy uses thanks to their more ostentatious, sharper forms. One of the key ideas behind Immortel is that the whole family can be used for a single magazine layout, since the variants provide options for everything from body copy to abstracts, titles, mastheads and more. Outside of editorial, the confident, statuesque look of Immortel means it could also be a good option for applications like posters and visual identities.
What typefaces do you like to pair it with?
Le Tulle-Neyret used Immortel Infra alongside Basel Grotesk by Chi-Long Trieu in a book he designed last year, called Identités du transitoire. He reckons the rather contrasting fonts work well together despite their surface-level differences since they share the same x-height. “Generally speaking, I like to have two very different typefaces together so they can live without been erased by the other,” he adds.