Back Story: Building out from 18th-century European typographic traditions, Epicene is a new Baroque-style typeface and a reconciliation of the work of rival 18th-century Dutch typographers Jacques-François Rosart and Johann Michael Fleischmann. Fleischmann was known for beautiful text typefaces, while Rosart shone as a designer of display type.
Epicene is not a revival, though—the designer is very clear on this point. He says, “It is an experiment in modernizing Baroque letterforms without muzzling their ornamental idiosyncrasy nor falling into the trap of gender codifications. It’s a firm statement that fonts have no gender. Describing things as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ in design and typography is historically and culturally loaded…Gender shouldn’t be used as a metaphor.” Epicene’s letterforms refute the lazy assumption that codes modern, functional or neutral visual forms as “masculine,” while equating anything ornate or decorative with “feminine” traits.
Why’s it called Epicene? Susan Sontag’s infamous 1964 essay, Notes On “Camp,” says that to be epicene means to lack gender distinction and to have aspects of both or neither. Bull’s-eye.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? Epicene is an expressive, functional type family featuring text and display variants over a generous range of weights. Its scalloped serifs, with sharp elegant terminals inspired by Rosart’s fonts, harmonize with deliberate and focused details echoing the balance between exaggeration, style and function seen in Fleischmann’s work. Sowersby worked for ten years on and off synthesizing the best of both worlds to create Epicene. He built in some gorgeous ligatures too; be sure to check out the Open Type features.
What should I use it for? Mix the text and display cuts for distinction in printed work, and try the display variant to add panache to screen-based projects using other neutral typefaces for legibility. The warmth of the text family brings some humanity to the cold, sharp digital screen environment as well.
Bonus round: Check out the wonderful, mysterious, and slightly frightening (in the best possible way) video campaign for the font release, created by Kelvin Soh of New Zealand-based creative agency DDMMYY.