Back Story: Ever since 1925, when the severely chic Chanel logo designed by Coco Chanel herself modernized the graphic identity of couture brands, geometric sans serif type has ruled the runway for fashion uses when Didones just don’t fit. Typofonderie’s Ysans keeps this tradition intact.
The typeface first debuted in 2010 at ZeCraft, a French studio co-founded by Jean François Porchez that specializes in typographic design. Originally commissioned as a custom font for Yves Saint Laurent Beauté, it was drawn in collaboration with type designer Mathieu Réguer and is still used by the brand today under its original name, Singulier.
For its latest incarnation as Ysans, Porchez redrew the typeface with the help of Joachim Vu to include italics and new features such as small caps, as well as an additional multilayered headline variant, Ysans Mondrian.
In creating the type, Porchez drew inspiration from graphic designer Adolphe Mouron (A.M.) Cassandre’s 1961 design for the iconic Yves Saint Laurent monogram, which is still the company’s logotype.
“There are several approaches to the design of a new geometric sans serif,” says Porchez. “One is to follow Bauhaus philosophy by designing typographic forms in the most rational way, based on simple geometric elements: square, circle, triangle. Another approach is to start a revival based on a historical geometric typeface and optimize the original ideas, to adapt certain details to contemporary needs.”
He points out that his concept for Ysans was a somewhat different, more blended approach, because Singulier began with Cassandre but also incorporated elements of various historical geometric typefaces. A careful observer can spot specific traits seen in Futura, Metro, or Kabel in Ysans, whose letterforms also recall the curves and endings of Eric Gill’s alphabets.
Conceptually, Ysans closely parallels the design vision of Saint Laurent, who constantly revealed multiple references in new collections that always maintained his signature look and style. As the great couturier himself once said: “Fashions pass, style is eternal. Fashion is futile, not style.”
Why’s it called YSans? “Erik Spiekermann recommends very short typeface names—four letters, max,” says Porchez. “The name is built from a simple idea: Y as in Yves Saint Laurent + sans as it’s a sans serif typeface.” Yes, it’s true: Ysans is five letters. Sorry, Erik!
What are its distinguishing characteristics? Ysans’ letterforms are sharp but rounded. Certain aspects of the R, the narrow U, and the pointed apex of the N, as well as details of pointed endings on the lowercase f and t, pay direct homage to the Saint Laurent logo. Each style of Ysans provides two options for punctuation—basic, plus a set of thin punctuation marks particularly suited to headlines.
The cherry on top? Ysans Mondrian features Open Type SVG independent layers, allowing designers to create richly colored type treatments for display uses, and is generously offered as a free version (desktop license only) for that one headline that can’t live without it.
What should I use it for? Let your imagination run wild. “Please surprise us! Why should a typeface designer impose the context for using the typeface?” Porchez says. Gentle suggestion, regardless: this one is fabulous for posters, magazines, and other editorial design uses.
What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? It combines well with any serif typefaces, from Garamond or Sabon Next to Didones like Ambroise. A slab serif such as Produkt can finish off the ensemble quite nicely, too.