Another good blog, if you’re interested in design, typography, or books and magazines - Fonts in Use. If it sounds geeky, you should know that it really is. Commenters debate arcane matters of kerning and font “openness” as though there were a lot at stake. And that’s why I like it. Anyway, that’s where I learned about this beautiful, very limited (265) Arion edition of Moby Dick, published in 1978/79…

All text in the book was hand-set in metal type (one character at a time) and letterpress printed on custom hand-made paper. To accompany the text throughout, 100 stunning wood engravings were cut by renowned printmaker and illustrator Barry Moser. Due to its high level of craftsmanship, the edition was limited to 265 copies, and is considered a masterpiece of modern bookmaking — named by the Grolier Club as one of the “100 Most Beautiful Books of the 20th Century”.

The typeface used for the main body type — Goudy Modern — has a rustic texture which matches both the story and illustrations perfectly. It also seems fitting that a typeface by such a quintessential American type designer like Frederic Goudy was used to set one of the most quintessential American novels.

To complement the body type, a set of large capitals were designed specifically for the book’s initial caps and titling. The stately face, aptly named Leviathan (not to be confused with H&FJ’sface of the same name), was designed by Charles Bigelow & Kris Holmes, of later Lucida fame. As the name implies, Leviathan was intended for very large sizes, where its sharp details and exaggerated flaring can really shine.

Considering the wide spectrum of writing styles that appear throughout Moby Dick, Hoyem’s typographic restraint is impressive. Using just one weight of one typeface, in only two sizes, he manages to compose most all of the story’s narration, technical documentation, asides, poetry, quotations, etc … not to mention administrative text like captions and folios. With a touch of Leviathan’s stylistic flair, the “just enough is more” typographic palette relies on smart typesetting to communicate the sometimes-complex hierarchy instead of a mess of weights and sizes.

I’m tempted to keep quoting (I’ve already quoted most of it) because, for a bibliophile or anyone with half an interest in design, it’s all really interesting. I encourage you to go and read the rest at the site.

Having the weakness for such things that I do, it’s going to be hard to resist the urge to spring for the newer trade edition of this book, as it will be for the Peter Mendelsund-designed edition of Kafka’s books, whenever it comes out (June or July, apparently). This edition was the subject of another post at Fonts in Use. I might not have noticed the font, or thought twice about it if I had, but it was interesting to hear Mendelsund’s reasons (excuses, some designers might say), for using the down-at-heel “Times” font…

My associations with Times are two-fold, and contradictory. On the one hand, Times puts me in mind of Microsoft, MS Windows, Word (with which Times is distributed and is most people’s intro to the font), which in turn makes me think of nefarious organizations and the powerlessness of the individual in the face of the large, uncaring, politico-corporate entity. On the other hand, as the universal default face, it has an everyman-like humility to it. Kafka, I think, would approve.

The other font, the script, is based on Kafka’s own handwriting. I love those borders, too! Book fetishists, mark your calendars. 

Above are the Virago editions of a couple of Muriel Spark books; right, my penguinification of Loitering with Intent. I know it’s not worth upsetting myself over, but surely Muriel Spark doesn’t deserve this awful chick-lit treatment. I’m not just saying this because I resent having to shield these books when in public. (I could, if I were that insecure, adopt the Japanese custom of wrapping books in paper. I sometimes do that, and I sometimes am that insecure.) I just think Spark’s books are better, less easily defined, and less Bridget Jones, than these covers make them out to be. Or maybe I’m just under the spell of another book I recently read and - mostly - looked at, Penguin by Design, by Phil Baines. If you’re a fan of that 50s - 60s -70s Penguin style, you should station this book on your coffee table sometime soon. Then you’ll find yourself like me, comparing any book cover, including those Penguin produces nowadays, to the exquisitely bland designs of its old J.D. Salinger covers, for example, and asking yourself what cover wouldn’t be improved by penguinification.

Other highlights (for me) include the 60s poetry series and the New Penguin Shakespeare with David Gentleman’s illustrations… 

Kawakubo Rei, Comme des Garçons

"I am not conscious of any intellectual approach as such. My approach is simple. It is nothing other than what I am thinking at the time I make each piece of clothing, whether I think it is strong and beautiful. The result is something that other people decide."

Yeah, I admit it - I’ve been a smalltime fashion follower for the last several years, in as much as looking at pictures of runway shows for a few weeks out of the year is following fashion. It may have started from reading New Yorker style issue profiles of Rick Owens, Marc Jacobs, Alber Elbaz, etc, and then been nurtured watching Project Runway, one of the more talent-based and least cold-blooded reality shows out there. Whatever the origin of my interest was, because I know almost nothing about it, fashion holds the same fascination for me that jazz had when I first heard it and had no idea what was going on, what was good or bad, or what the rules were. One thing I know is that my fascination has nothing to do with clothing. It’s got more to do with, as I said, my remoteness from it, which makes it a mysterious and wonderful thing, with seeing imagination and far-flung craftsmanship find their way through the cracks of business (some people might balk at the idea of fashion being an art form, but is it any different from the film industry?), and with seeing how the shows themselves are sometimes like a kind of sullen, decadent theatre.

Comme des Garçons, Spring 2010.

some details

Among the handful of designers that I’ve been watching over the last several seasons is Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garçons. I guess you’d say her designs are way off in the conceptual corner of the industry. I have yet, anyway, to see anyone wearing anything remotely as alien on the street - and I live in Japan. Her Spring 2009 collection had geometric, architectural forms, and white wigs like down feathers bursting out of these black egg-like shapes; Fall 2009 saw cocoon-like wraps tightened around everything, somewhat constricting, but beautiful, like latter-day kimonos (video, part one here and part two here). The Spring 2010 clothes are hard to describe. Would it be an insult to say that some of the dresses look like aleatoric upholstery? The NY Times’ Cathy Horyn, an obvious fan, does a better job talking about them:

"Some of the collaged jackets and tailcoats consisted of more than 20 pieces of different fabrics: gray pinstripes, dotted velvet, brocades, black sequined scraps. And many of the pieces were shaped like a tailored shoulder, as if Ms. Kawakubo had collected the discarded shoulders in her studio. If you’ve ever seen such pieces lying around in a studio, you will know what I mean when I say they seem to possess their own energy."

Comme des Garçons, Fall 2009.

Comme des Garçons, Spring 2009.

Here is a short interview with Kawakubo, from which the quote at the top is taken, in Interview magazine. And here, if you can be bothered reading it in a flickr set, is a 2005 New Yorker article. Equally difficult to read, a big jpeg of a little interview in Vogue from 1987. She has a way of striking a tone at once modest and self-effacing and curtly haughty in interviews - and why shouldn’t she, I guess; a self-made bottom-up success, knows where she started and how she got where she is. A couple more little bits from the interviews:

"It’s not personality. It’s hard work. When Estée Lauder accepted her achievement award at the Fashion Group last fall she said she didn’t get where she got by chance. She worked. It’s the same with me. I worked hard every day. That’s all it is - a lot of hard work."

"It would have more meaning for me to hear what critics have to say if their values and their ways of living were deeper and more serious."

"There is surely worth in making simple things, and there is worth when utility is the concept. But art need not be bourgeois, necessarily. There is nothing bourgeois, for example, about hair artist Julien d’Ys great creation for this collection, where hair, hat, and makeup become one."

"Comme des Garçons has always traveled at its own pace and will continue to do so. In good times and bad times the company is more or less the same."

Saint Passionate


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