Olympe by A is for

Name: Olympe
Designer: Émilie Rigaud
Foundry: A is for
Release Date: February 2022

Back Story: French type designer Émilie Rigaud founded the A is for type foundry in 2010, and since then the platform has shown its prowess in, and predilection for, typefaces that marry expressive visual concepts, technical precision, and unusually concept-driven approaches. Olympe is no different: Rigaud first started working on the font around a decade ago, initially intending it to be a revival of the original typeface installed on Olympia typewriters — the 1970s Traveller Deluxe models, to be precise.

In the early stages, the designs were based entirely on a “very poor scan” of a lettering sample Rigaud had found. “The point was not to make a perfect revival, but more to be inspired by the overall shapes and produce my own version,” she said. “I redrew the letters by hand on top of this terrible scan, added the shapes that were missing and finally digitized the whole set.

Some years passed before she decided to start making a light version; then a few more went by with Olympe still sitting unreleased. Finally in 2021 Rigaud finished these two weights — light and regular — and released the font earlier this year. Sometimes, a long time is needed to design a font, so that it has time to mature,” Rigaud said. I am pretty sure that the Greek gods on top of Olympe were drinking very old Bordeaux and not Beaujolais nouveau produced two months before… Still, I would not recommend letting a decade go by before finishing a font.

Whys it called Olympe?

While the name clearly draws on the Olympia Traveller de Luxe typewriter that proved the inspiration for the font, Rigaud opted to use the French version. “It sounds good: it is a beautiful female name in French, and has this mythological touch that I like,” she explained. “Olympe is the highest mountain in Greece, supposedly the home of all Greek gods. They would gather there, on the very top of the mountain, hidden from human beings, enjoying good food and good drinks.”

This Greek reference also makes a nice connection between Olympe and another A is for font, David, whose name references the mythological shepherd who defeated Goliath the giant. It also acts as a precursor of sorts for another font in the works at the foundry, which Rigaud said will also have a mythological name, “so maybe all my teenage time spent drawing family trees of Greek mythological characters still lingers somewhere in my head.”

Olympe by A is for

What are its distinguishing characteristics? 

Olympe is a monospaced font billed as being “clumsy and charming” thanks to the fact that the flow of its cursive forms is occasionally broken, giving it a sense of liveliness because of the way it stretches itself out across the page. The characters’ shapes are mostly drawn from written lettering, while some are found in “some script fonts,” said the designer, pointing out the fact that “the design of ‘s’ or ‘f’ have nothing typographic… The fact that the letters are somehow forced to connect sometimes gives an irregular aspect that I find charming.” These irregularities include the extended ends on ‘e’ and ‘r’, which offer a striking contrast to shapes like ‘b’ and ‘d’ which have more abrupt finishing points. 

Rigaud added: “The capitals have been a real challenge because they have to flow, they are really curvy, but you want to avoid this ‘cold noodle stuck in the bottom of the colander’ effect and keep their curves tensed.”

The letterforms are unusually wide for a font with comparatively small ascenders and descenders, “which creates an impression of very well defined lines and a feeling of horizontal movement,” said Rigaud. Olympe Light is so light as to be almost a hairline version; though as ever, there’s a twist: it bears “chunky big dots” to reference those created on old typewriters, which firmly punch punctuation onto the page.  

What should I use it for?

Despite its frequent quirks and the fact Olympe is only available in two weights, it’s surprisingly versatile: it could work as captions in its regular form and as larger titles in Light. It expands and contracts in size beautifully; making it as well-suited to posters and billboards as more delicate applications.

“As long as it doesn’t go against the ethical line of the A is for fonts type foundry, people are free to use the font as they want!” says Rigaud. “I would very much like to see Olympe Light on a bus — these big panoramic advertisement posters we see in American movies.”

Olympe by A is for

What other fonts should I pair it with?

Thanks to its distinctly scripty, cursive forms, Olympe would be best paired with a more solid sans serif font that would further accentuate its sense of liveliness and motion. Rigaud suggests putting it alongside an all caps sans serif would create an interesting contrast, and proposes that fellow A is for fonts David or Naoko would work well, “otherwise, why not pair it with a good old Helvetica or a good old Akkurat?”