Back Story: Classy serif revival font Romain 20, by independent type designer and researcher Alice Savoie, has been in the works for eight years now and has finally launched through type foundry 205TF. The idea for the font was sparked in 2011 when Savoie was working on her PhD thesis, using the collections at the Printing Museum in Lyon, for which she also worked on some exhibition projects. “This was a great opportunity to get to browse their collections and come across little-known gems,” says Savoie. One such gem was a metal typeface she discovered in a 1902 edition of the journal La Fonderie Typographique named Romain Vingtième Siècle, which was distributed by the French type foundry Fonderie Allainguillaume at the very beginning of the 20th Century.
Savoie was inspired to make a contemporary adaptation of this metal typeface having been “immediately seduced by its texture on the page,” according to 205TF. “I had previously developed an interest in French typefaces of that period,” adds the designer, “I was drawn to their Art Nouveau feel, and there are so many designs and foundries from the period that have been forgotten and deserve attention. Romain 20 was created initially as a revival of the roman and italic styles, but the designer went on to create an additional bold and bold italic to the family for greater versatility.
“There are so many designs and foundries from the period that have been forgotten and deserve attention.”
Her process involved studying high-res scans of the various text sizes, and from those she developed the regular and the italic forms. She then designed the digital versions using Robofont. Savoie worked with Lyon-based Mexican type designer Fátima Lazaro in the development and completion of the font, which was mastered by Roxane Gataud on behalf of 205TF.
Why’s it called Romain 20? Being based on Romain Vingtième Siècle, Savoie wanted the font name to maintain a reference to the original but be simplified for contemporary purposes, such as naming digital files (and she wanted it to be easier to pronounce in English). “I also liked the fact that it referred to 2020, the year of release for this first digital interpretation,” she says.
What should I use it for? The typeface was designed predominantly for editorial projects across books and magazines in both digital and print. “I would like to think that Romain 20 has some strong narrative qualities—that its design can contribute to some kind of storytelling and to transporting readers to different eras, different countries (early-20th Century France being one of them, but hopefully not the only one!),” says Savoie.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? The letterforms are typical of French typefaces created around the turn of the century and the organic, exuberant shapes that are associated with the aesthetics of the Art Nouveau movement. As such, Romain 20 has a subtle “friendliness,” as Savoie puts it. In Romain Vingtième Siècle, these more curvy, nature-inspired forms are shown in more subtle ways so as to not impair its functionality. “I liked its subtle roundness, its generous proportions and the vibration it created at text size,” says Savoie. She adds that the typeface has many attributes you’d see in “French publishing and jobbing work of the period,” such as soft bowl terminals that are balanced by sharp bracketed serifs.
“The typeface features a unique combination of flavors—it combines a certain idea of French elegance with a hint of Art Nouveau frivolity,” says the designer. “The generous and sturdy proportions of the regular and italic styles have been fine-tuned to be optimal at text size, while the bold variant can prove particularly efficient in display. The italic retains generous proportions, making it fairly comfortable to read in continuous settings. The bold is particularly dark.”
What other typefaces do you like to pair it with?
To connect Romain 20 with other typefaces that reference historical French typography, references, the Romain 20 combines perfectly with Molitor Display by Matthieu Cortat, Salmanazar by Juliette Collin, Kelvin Sans by Thomas Bouville, or Plaax by Damien Gautier.