Paris has inspired legions of artists throughout the ages, but all that history can be a creative burden for a young designer. Many strike out with fiery rebellion—the design equivalent of a Daft Punk track or a Zadig & Voltaire T-shirt. Elodie Mandray and Caroline Aufort aren’t joining that revolution. Young partners in the small graphic design studio Acmé, with no other colleagues in their chic loft-office save for their mascotte, a little terrier called Kiki, they have embraced the classic style Paris is famous for, merely tweaking them for a new generation of savvy, fashionable clientele.
The two met by chance as Aufort, now 25, was completing her Master’s degree at École de Communication Visuelle in Paris, while Mandray, now 29, had completed her studies a few years earlier at the tongue-twisting École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Appliqués et des Métiers d’Art Olivier de Serres. Simply put, they admired each other’s style. After working for a former professor, Aufort scored a project for Le Coq Sportif and the two collaborated on a newspaper-style brochure for the brand in celebration of its 40-year partnership with the Tour de France.
They’ve been together ever since. “We became friends, and I didn’t want to work alone,” says Mandray. “[Caroline] is very relaxed and I’m super-stressed—we’re complementary that way.”
The name Acmé was formed by their initials, though it does have a double meaning that the women strive to achieve with their rather un-Parisian work ethic. A portion of their website is dedicated to “Insomnies,” designs they labor on, mostly in pencil, after hours. “About 10 percent of the work we do is for our personal satisfaction,” says Mandray.
They’ve designed a subtle, sophisticated identity for the fashion brand Lacoste that includes publications, invitations, lookbooks, and a web presence. But their timeless approach comes through especially in their typeface designs. They have an almost lyrical movement influenced by a succession of Parisian eras, from Cubism, to Deco, to Art Nouveau, to New Wave. Their eponymous font Acmé, developed in 2013, draws from 100 years of French design, while Tropique harks back to disco and swing echoes of wartime horns. Sure, the duo get more excited by the look of a “g” or an “s” than is perhaps normal. But perhaps it’s that level of attention that will slowly, quietly, help French design infiltrate our words and our worlds.
“Things are too manufactured today,” says Elodie. “We try to give our design a little personality, and for that we go into the rich history of Paris.” Lovers of furniture and industrial design, they’ve become regulars at the brocantes, or markets, collecting designs from the Belle Epoque into the space age. The upshot is a distinctive style they describe as “sobriety, balance, and elegance, but a bit jokey, a bit ridiculous. That just comes naturally with us.”
Regarding current projects, they can only tease with a few words. There’s an identity for a restaurant coming to Rue du Temple in the Marais section of Paris—the architect is envisioning a lot of neon light, they say. And there’s a book in the works for which they will, possibly, create a new font—if they can get the “s” right.