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Reading Pile: Xavier Dupré, typographical itinerary

October 05, 2016 by Yves Peters

I confess – I am a fan of Xavier Dupré’s work and consider him a (geographically distant) friend. Zingha was one of the first typefaces I reviewed back in 2005 when was I writing my Bald Condensed columns for Shortly after that I tracked his output for Typographica as a nice Sunday diversion. Since then he has added many more successful families to that decade-old list. French publisher _Zeug recently published Xavier Dupré, typographical itinerary in its 1×1 series, based on interviews with Julien Gineste. In case you didn’t know – the review below and actually all body copy on the FontShop website is set in Dupré’s FF Yoga® Sans webfont.

Instead of a traditional biography, Xavier Dupré – itinéraire typographique / typographical itinerary is the account of a 4-month long interview, held from January until April 2016 between Paris, Port-de-France and Phnom Penh. Preserving the original exchange between Julien Gineste and Xavier lends the book an amicable, conversational tone that is very enjoyable to read. “Why do we need another typeface?”, the introduction by Rudy Vanderlans, is actually a reprint of his text in the specimen booklet for Malaga, published in 2007 by Emigre. From there on, the book follows a traditional narrative structure, starting with his education at the Scriptorium in Toulouse under Bernard Arin and Rodolphe Giuglardo, who made a big impression on him.

The first chapters focus on the stages in Xavier’s life that influenced him as a typeface designer. His time as an assistant/collaborator to the important but lesser-known French type designer Ladislas Mandel and his subsequent stint producing custom lettering at the ad agency Black and Gold represent two opposites on the spectrum that nevertheless had equal importance. Eventually Xavier published his first typefaces FF Parango™ and FF Reminga™ on the FontFont label in 2001, to which he also submitted the FF Jambono™ and FF Tartine Script® font families, while Zingha was offered to Font Bureau. This would become Xavier’s modus operandi for all of his typefaces – publishing each new type family with the foundry he felt the design ‘fits’ the best with.

2001 was also the moment he relocated to Phnom Penh. I was surprised to learn of his family history with the capital of Cambodia. The move ushered in his travels in South-East Asia that continue to this day. Not only do the names of some of his typefaces like FF Angkoon™ and FF Absara® reflect this, he also ventured into the design of Khmer typefaces. The most important consequence was that Xavier could finally design type without too much financial pressure nor customer demands, which freed him from most constraints and allowed him to develop his signature style.

The turning point in Xavier’s career came with the publication of his first sans serif families Vista Sans, FF Absara® Sans and FF Megano® in 2004 and 2005. Especially the very popular Vista Sans made his sales soar. It was refreshing to read how Xavier admits to concentrating on sans serif designs for the sensible reason that they sell better. This shift in focus enabled him to secure a regular income, and – more importantly – secure his artistic freedom. The remainder of the book highlights his more recent designs. One of them, the FF Sanuk® type family was just expanded with the addition of the companion titling face FF Sanuk Big. Xavier also allows a rare peek into possible extensions of existing type families and tentative new designs.

The book presents both the original French text and the English translation (except for the introduction by Rudy Vanderlans, which is the other way around). Because I’ve had to design so many bilingual publications during my tenure as a graphic designer, I am always interested in what solutions other designers come up with. Each chapter starts with the French text, set in two columns in Malaga, then the English translation, set in FF Sanuk, in a smaller size. I started reading the English text, which – despite the small point size – was perfectly comfortable to read. It may be due to the fact that I speak French myself, but I couldn’t help but notice the occasional French-isms in the otherwise fine English translation. This made me switch to the original French halfway, which was just as pleasant to read. The image captions have French and English version seamlessly connect, without distinction in typeface nor colour. This can be a little confusing at times because it’s hard to see where French ends and English begins.

The abundantly illustrated book is beautifully printed in deep purple and intense orange on matte paper, just two colours. Not only makes this for gorgeous, brightly coloured type specimens, but the reproduction of the photographs is surprisingly crisp and clear. Especially the photographs that were initially in full colour are pretty spectacular – at first sight, they look quite faithful, but then you notice details like tree leaves in pure purple that inject some psychedelia into the imagery. The specimen pages do an excellent job at showing the – sometimes extensive – type families, and on top of that, they are very entertaining micro-stories (that is, if you understand French).

Xavier Dupré – itinéraire typographique / typographical itinerary is a great addition to any type lover’s library. Well written and designed, with a wealth of sketches, photographs and type specimens of both released and unreleased typefaces, it is a fluid and enjoyable read that offers some unique insights into the creative brain of the soft-spoken, gentle typeface designer.

Exclusive: Receive a free copy of ‘Xavier Dupré, typographical itinerary’

The new FF Sanuk® Big family is released in September 2016. It is a full reworking of FF Sanuk for maximum punch when set big. To celebrate the release, we are offering the entire FF Sanuk® Big family for only $/€ 99* through October 12, 2016. The first ten people to order this intro package on FontShop will receive a complimentary copy of Xavier’s new book, Xavier Dupré, typographical itinerary.

Get FF Sanuk® Big for $/€ 99

+ Also read David Sudweek’s interview At Home With Xavier Dupré