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Louise Fili: Perfetto Pencils

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Nov 10, 2016
Category: Gifts and Gadgets

Louise Fili, whose head seems happily trapped in pre-Mussolini Italy, doesn’t just design pencils and their boxes. She also designs note cards — Quattro Parole Italiane: 12 Note cards and Envelopes — and has written a tasty book, “The Cognoscenti’s Guide to Florence: Shop and Eat like a Florentine.” (To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.] And another: Italianissimo: The Quintessential Guide to What Italians Do Best.

But pencils are her main thing, and she continues to produce new versions. A few years ago, she created Tutti Fruiti — “Perfetto pencils in 6 delicious colors.” And now she’s rolled out Brillante — twelve double-sided pencils in six metallic shades.

What’s the Louise Fili story?

You may not know her name, but there is no way you’ve missed her work — she defines style in logos for restaurants, high-end food products and more. Think Williams-Sonoma, Sarabeth’s, Tiffany & Co., Paperless Post. For a decade, she designed the covers of Pantheon Books. She’s in the Art Directors Hall of Fame.

Her signature is design that updates the classics of an earlier period. At 16, she made her first trip to Italy; the impression never faded. Her Perfetto pencil case and pencils is typical: very clean, very precise, very bold design. And inside a sturdy case: twelve double-sided, two-color pencils. [To buy the Perfetto pencil box and pencils from Amazon, click here.]

Let her explain:

We love our collection of 1930s Italian pencil boxes. The two-color, double-sided pencils, commonly in red and blue, are ideal for teachers to correct homework. (“Errore lieve, segno rosso; errore grave, segno blu”: red for a minor infringement, blue for a serious offense.) When Princeton Architectural Press invited us to come up with a line of gift products, the two-tone pencils seemed perfect — thus the name. Steering clear of blue, our least favorite color, we opted for our signature red and black. No eraser, by the way. Who makes errori?

This is just the sort of present I love. Modest price, high style, actual utility. A gift when there’s no real occasion. A stocking stuffer. An object to display on the mantel. In a world of vulgar design and banal products, a spirit lifter, a friendship enhancer, a thoughtful gesture. They’re just Good Things, and, like all Good Things, they make the owner look good.


The School of Visual Arts has honored Louise Fili with the 28th annual Masters Series Award and Exhibition. “The Masters Series: Louise Fili” is the first comprehensive retrospective of her forty-year career and includes book jacket, branding, food packaging, and restaurant identity work. The exhibition is on view through December 10 at the SVA Gramercy Gallery, 209 E 23rd St. Monday through Friday 9:00am to 7:00pm and Saturday 10:00am to 6:00pm.

The Masters Series: Louise Fili from louise fili on Vimeo.