First Italy, now France—celebrated graphic designer Louise Fili’s second stop on her grand tour of Europe’s finest signs is none other than Paris. If your coffee table is already graced with her previous book, Grafica Della Strada: the Signs of Italy, you’ll be familiar with her general itinerary in Graphique de la Rue (Princeton Architectural Press), even if the sightseeing is somewhat different this time around.
For this trip, Fili returned to the Paris that first enchanted her as a 20-year-old designer, only to find that many of her “favorite neon scripts, which [she] had expected to outlive [her] were replaced by lackluster, formulaic typography—including the cardinal sin of typesetting: apostrophes incorrectly set.” Still, what’s left is not only marvelous but now marvelously documented, thanks to both Fili’s determination to leave no sign unphotographed and the help of a three-foot-long telescoping camera pole that allowed her to shoot her typographic prey with even greater accuracy.
Another technological advancement that came to her aid? Google Maps, which let her to zip through old Parisian haunts from her home in New York City and then hit the ground running upon arrival—“armed with custom maps prepared by arrondissement.” What follows is a “typographic love letter to Paris,” organized into 10 categories with quick intros that act as fun mini-history lessons.
In the fist “Classique” section, we learn that verre églomisé is the name for the gold leaf on glass typically used to advertise the freshly made offerings from pâtisseries and boulangeries. In the “Les écritures” section we get a glimpse of the lovely French script that was “born of the social handwriting of the 19th century.” There’s just something lovely about knowing there was once a special script people reserved for writing letters and leaving cards.
Then we move onto Art Deco, or Arts Décoratifs, and Les Mosaïques, which make up a sizable part of both the book and the city itself. Though if Italian artisan Giandomenico Fracchia hadn’t brought his revolutionary yet so simple, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that technique of creating mosaics on backing paper first and then transporting them (as opposed to painstakingly created them piece by piece onsite), Paris probably wouldn’t be covered in the lovely little tiles—everywhere from shopping centers to public bathrooms.
We also see oddball éclectique signs, les monogrammes (and les faux monogrammes), Metro signs, street signs, and plenty of neon. And if you can’t get enough in the book, you can buy one of Fili’s many spin-off products—notecards (below), pencils, and the like—which are as beautiful as anything you’d expect from the influential designer. And if you’re in NYC on October 3, stop by the Designers & Books Fair at FIT at 3pm and pick up a signed copy.