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Louise Fili: Quattro Parole Italiane: 12 Note cards and Envelopes

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Sep 01, 2014
Category: Art

Back to School: The last two weeks in August — did they suck, or what? Great weather here, personal life humming, fingers playing nicely over this keyboard, but every time I turned on the news I didn’t know whether to wince or weep. I return feeling resolute and engaged and very, very happy to be here again, but I’m not foolishly upbeat — I don’t think that turning the page on a calendar changes anything. So on the reasonable assumption that your time away also had moments, if not days, of distress, let’s ease into the new month, let’s start with whimsy, originality, beauty….

The last time I wrote about Louise Fili, you bought so many of her Perfetto Pencils that Amazon sold out and her publisher called me to ask how that happened.

Now she’s produced a box of a dozen note cards and envelopes that are just as distinctive. “Quattro Parole Italiane” is the idea. Four Italian words: ciao (hello), auguri (greetings), grazie (thank you) and prego (with pleasure).

Why are these cards so striking? It’s not the words, which are refreshingly ordinary, but the typography, which is dramatic and different and, at the same time, nostalgic and familiar, taking you back to visits to small towns in Italy or, more likely, period movies like The Conformist. [To buy the “Quattro Parole Italiane” note cards from Amazon, click here.]

Why cards?

Once, when I was in Milan researching a book on Italian art deco, I found myself one stifling afternoon in a magazzino — a warehouse — filled with printers’ proofs of labels and other ephemera from the 1920s. And I found a series of pasticceria papers, all created by hand. They were the most unusual and beautiful graphic work I’d seen in a long time. I brought them back to New York, where they ended up having a great influence on my design voice. Quattro Parole Italiane is a love letter to the anonymous designers who provided me with such unforgettable inspiration.

An Italy lost, an Italy of the imagination — this is Fili territory. In a digital age, her work couldn’t be more analog. And more specific: Her inspiration is an era in Italian design that begins roughly in 1920 and ends with the neonization of signage in Italy around 1960. You get the idea: Louise Fili may live and work in New York, but her head and heart resides in Italy.

But let her explain….

When I was 16, I took my first trip to Italy with my parents, who were both born there; it was their first trip back. I remember taking a flight into Milan, and as we were leaving the airport, the first thing I saw was an ad for Baci Perugina —that was the only type on it. I was immediately fascinated by the billboard, which showed a couple in a passionate embrace. I knew that Baci meant “kisses,” but I didn’t know that it was advertising at all. It didn’t matter; I was smitten. It was a three-way epiphany for me, because that’s when I fell in love with type, food, and Italy all at once.

She started her career as a book designer, and quickly advanced to the top of that field; from 1978 to 1989, she was art director of Pantheon Books, where she designed 2,000 book jackets. When she opened her own studio, she made a sharp turn into restaurant logos and food packaging. You’ve seen her work: Tiffany, Paperless Post, Williams-Sonoma, Sarabeth’s, Tate’s Cookies and many more.

The first office for her design firm was in her home. Now she walks to work, but her office fools visitors — it could almost be an apartment. For Fili, all work spaces are launching pads: “Surrounded by objects that I treasure, I always feel at home, and at the same time I am transported to Europe on a daily basis.”

Fili is prolific. A few years ago, she published a book that made me want to buy a plane ticket: Italianissimo: The Quintessential Guide to What Italians Do Best. Then came Elegantissima: The Design and Typography of Louise Fili. Her latest contribution to visual gorgeousness is “Grafica della Strada: The Signs of Italy.” [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

I’m happy to report that Fili’s work lives not only as an act of imagination but as an exhibition. Elegantissima: The Design and Typography of Louise Fili — an environment that assembles so much of her work that the video makes me feel I’ve tumbled through the looking glass — will be on display from September 8 to the 19th at the Art Directors Club in New York (106 West 29th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues). The opening is Wednesday, September 10th from 6–8:30 PM. I wouldn’t dream of missing it. Can’t be there? Take the tour…..

Short takes

Sunday, September 7: Will I see you there?

Bombino at the Brooklyn Bowl: a thrilling musician in one of New York’s best music halls. Read my rave here. Buy tickets — just $12 — here. And savor this….

What about Jennifer’s Mom?

Richard Lewis had just published Why Hire Jennifer? How to Use Branding and Uncommon Sense to Get Your First Job, Last Job, and Every Job in Between when he was hit with a question he hadn’t considered.

What about Jennifer’s Mom? How do women with miles and years on Jennifer — and just as little recent job experience — market themselves for their next job?

Richard’s response: “Because society has done a great job of making Moms feel crappy about themselves and their ability to return to work after years running a household, parenting kids and often doing all that without a husband, Moms need my message as much as their kids. So, Moms, use the networking skills you developed for family and home to find a meaningful job. (“Hey, Sara, doesn’t your brother run marketing at…?”) Contact firms you want to work for as opposed to just answering ads. Learn the new office etiquette. How to find a mentor. How to avoid the asshole. How to succeed. The good news? Some things have changed in business that help your juggled life; you may even be able to work from home. And there may be others, just like you, who know the ropes. Oh, and when you’re through with the book, you may want to pass it on to your college grad.”

Reader Mail (Advertisements for myself)

From Paul Zengilowski

My children will turn 19 and 21 in a few weeks and the birthday gift choice falls to me. My wife and I bought them books by the bushel when they were young — some they chose, more often though, we exercised our parental prerogative. That stopped as they entered their mid-teens and felt more confident in their choices than in ours.

I’ve not bought them books in years — with two exceptions. The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need, by Andrew Tobias, was a high school graduation gift. Knowing that having the money talk with them would be fruitless, I passed on to them my financial bible. I’d read it when it was first issued and it has served to keep me mostly on the financial straight and narrow over the last 30 years.

The second exception is their birthday present for this year: The 100 Essentials. Should they read only those two books, I’m confident they’ll enter adulthood with important and foundational knowledge that will serve them well.

from Marcie

You recommended Queen’s Gambit to me about six weeks ago when I asked for the most grabable book you could think of. I loved it. It’s difficult to articulate precisely what the dark magic of that book is, but I found it fascinating — the characters, all of them, were like no others I’ve encountered. The relationship between Beth and her adopted mother was so subtle. I love that Tevis never capitulates to cliché or sentimentality. Elegant. Thank you for urging me to read it.

Do not think for a second you will watch this only once

The band is Future Islands. Mesmerizing at the start, eye-popping at the end — watching Sam Herring is like watching the young Brando. So… full screen. Maximum volume.