When a resource becomes a hot commodity there’s always a danger that it will meet a tragic end. See: ivory. But vintage signs? Who would have thought authentic old lettering would enjoy such staying power? And oddly enough, it’s the knockoffs from stores like Pottery Barn—the directives to E.A.T. splashed across kitchen walls—and other faux-retro impostors that have likely helped keep designers like Nicolas Flachot and Kidimo in business today.
Letters, or rather the strings of letters we call words, have always been Flachot’s game. As a child he cut the most appealing typography from magazines to make collages. After studying media, he spent 10 years as a TV producer and amateur chineur, or flea market hunter, until the birth of his first daughter, Lou, in 2006. When she was just a few weeks old, Flachot wandered through a market to a basket of old signage letters. There were fifty in there, and he plucked out just three: L, O, and U. Now, of course, he regrets not making off with the lot.
With his close friend, Thierry Bruere, Flachot began to poke around deeper, acquiring new letters in typefaces—Mr. Dafoe, Gneisenauette, Kaufmann, Hellenic—that he hadn’t seen for decades, dismantled from bakeries and gas stations and long-shuttered motels. Sometimes Flachot stored as many as 2,000 in his Paris apartment: squared-off letters in wood, rounded fonts in zinc, Bakelite scrawl. The duo arranged them in fun combinations like “sheriff,” “Babar,” and “ailleurs,” (elsewhere), and restaurateurs and boutique owners snapped them up for their interiors.
When it came time to choose a name for his burgeoning business, Flachot chose Kidimo. “The name comes from the French expression, ‘Qui ne dit mot consens,’ or ‘He who says nothing consents.’ If I ask you a question and you say nothing, that means you agree.
Having harassed enough merchants in the brocantes of Paris, the partners sent out feelers to buyers and antiquiers in Asia, Argentina, and the U.S. and the collection grew. As they acquired more letters, their space has grown, first from “a small studio of 200 square feet, then 500, then 800,” Flachot says. “Step by step.”
Clearly, there’s potential in a business whose market is the world’s 2.6 billion people using a Latin-based alphabet. Hablan español? They’ve got your “amigos” and your “amors.” Kan du Norsk? Sure, they’ve got you covered too. But the brilliance of Kidimo is in Flachot’s jaunty arrangement of those bons mots (Bruere left the partnership but remains “like a frère”). Last year, Flachot began collecting American license plates, cutting out the letters, refining them, and magnetizing them for sale at the popular Bastille concept shop, Merci.
Now Kidimo’s headquarters is a sprawling two-storey loft in the 2nd arrondissement, smack in the center of Paris. His “step by step” approach has taken him one giant leap beyond where he started. And this year little Lou celebrates her 10th birthday—three guesses on where the “1” and “0” for her party will come from.