Courtesy Contrast Foundry.

Name: CoFo Cinema1909
Designer: Liza Rasskazova
Foundry: Contrast Foundry
Release Date: Autumn 2020, for exclusive use by Moscow’s Khudozhestvenny Cinema until Autumn 2022

Back Story: Design challenge: create a wordmark for the more than 20-character long name of a cherished cultural institution. In 2019, Anna Kulachek, art director of Moscow’s Strelka Institute, commissioned Contrast Foundry to do just that for the landmark Khudozhestvenny Cinema. The project addressed a reconstruction of architect Fyodor Schechtel’s 1909 facade and signage, partially lost in the Soviet era when elements of neoclassical decor—including elegant bas-relief chariots flanking the theater’s name—were knocked off. The client liked the first sketches of the letterforms so much that they requested an entire typeface to use in developing the brand identity.

Contrast Foundry’s Liza Rasskazova found her design inspiration in the Moscow Metro. She was especially intrigued by the vaguely Art Deco-ish serif letterforms on the signage at the Komsomolskaya station of the Sokolnicheskaya line, as they were noticeably different from the various sans serifs seen at most other stations. Art Deco as a style never really caught on in the Soviet Union but can be glimpsed fleetingly in post-Constructivist buildings such as the Seven Sisters (a midcentury group of skyscrapers in Moscow designed in the Stalinist style), and in other architectural lettering scattered around the city.

“I vividly remembered the letters above the colonnade in the eastern part of the station’s entrance hall,” Rasskazova noted in a blog post on Contrast Foundry’s site. “I was inspired by the elegant letter Я, reminiscent of the R in the New Yorker logo, and the unusual proportions—a very narrow M, a wide A. That’s when I had the idea to try and make a font based on that lettering and the elusive Soviet Art Deco.”

Why’s it called CoFo Cinema1909: The cinema was founded and had its first film screening in 1909. And “CoFo,” short for Contrast Foundry, is attached to all of the foundry’s fonts.

What are its distinguishing characteristics: The letterforms are slightly condensed with a complex structure, in keeping with the early Soviet tradition of architectural lettering. The designer didn’t want to retreat into historicism completely, instead keeping the project balanced on the verge of old and modern. This is most obvious in the thin endings of the terminals У, C, Э, J, S, as well as in the shapes of the numbers. Rasskazova decided to go for very tight character spacing, particularly unusual for Cyrillic, because she liked the rhythm it created and how it allowed the typeface to work in headlines—compactly, densely, and brightly, as she puts it.

What should I use it for? You can start dreaming, but you’ll have to wait until 2022 when the Khudozhestvenny Cinema’s proprietary license on the typeface expires.

What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? When the time comes, try Mr Eaves XL, whose broad sans serif letterforms both contrast with and share some playful characteristics of CoFo Cinema1909—look at the leg of the capital R, for instance. The assertive, Art Deco-inspired yet very modern forms of Cako are another good possibility.