The famous graphic designer Louise Fili talks to Lancia TrendVisions and presents her latest project for the BUR -“Rizzoli Universal Library”, “Romanzi d’Italia” , which involved her in the design of the cover pages for ten 19th-century ‘bestsellers’, about to be released to celebrate 150 years since the unification of Italy.
Of Italian origin, Louise Fili lives and works in New York where, after ten years’ experience as Art Director for Pantheon Books, she set up the famous brand, “Louise Fili Ltd”, in 1989, which specialises in logos for restaurants, food-packaging and book design. Fili has held conferences throughout the world. She returns to Italy every year, to Rome and Venice, to teach a Master’s sponsored by the School of Visual Arts. Her work is exhibited in important collections, such as the Library of Congress (Washington), the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum (New York) and the Bibliothèque National (France). Louise Fili went over her experience as a graphic designer for us, telling us which qualities, namely passion and professionalism, led her to set up her own brand, famous across the globe for her ability to retain a strong sense of tradition, while keeping pace with contemporary modernity. Her love of Italy, a constant source of inspiration, is back in her latest project for the cover pages with which Rizzoli celebrates 150 years since the unification of Italy, but also the career of this extraordinary star of design.
Your research always seems to start from far away. Can you tell us a little bit about your creative process?
My parents were both born in Italy, and I never forgave them for leaving to come to the United States. On my first visit to Italy, as a teenager, I had a dual epiphany—I fell in love with both the country as well as graphic design. Since then, Italy has been my greatest source of inspiration; I travel there often—going to flea markets and book stores, and obsessively photographing shop signs. All of this reference has been an enormous influence on my design work, and has also led to some of my own book projects: “Italian Art Deco”, “A Civilized Shopper’s Guide to Florence”, and “Italianissimo”.
Your long experience in the publishing sector is now evolving in the BUR’s project celebrating the 150th anniversary of Italian Unification that is due to come out in January. Can you tell us about the path of these new creations?
It was a great honor to work on these books for Rizzoli. It was also my personal reflection on over 30 years of designing book covers —and being a great admirer of Italian history and culture. I took everything I have learned over that period of time and used it to create this series.
In which form does the past live in your covers, and what would you say is trait d’union of these ten volumes?
I wanted the books to have an authentic yet timeless look, approximating the feel of a custom letterpressed hardcover book with a cloth spine. The books needed to hold together as a series, yet each one needed to maintain its own distinctive identity. Thus, most of the typography was based on historical wood type and wood ornaments. Red and black were the colors common to the series, and each book had its own unique background color. The covers required a great deal of detail work, which was expertly handled by my assistant John Passafiume.
For the realization of the brand Bedford Post Café you collaborated with Mark Summers. Does collaboration with artists happen very often? Where do art, communication and design merge?
When appropriate, I love to collaborate with illustrators. Because Bedford Post was named after the Post Road (the old mail delivery route for the East Coast), I wanted to design the logo to look like a postage stamp. The client, who is the actor Richard Gere, liked the idea, and when we discussed possible imagery he described a photograph of his grandfather standing in a wheat field. He sent me the photograph, which was not usable in its original form, but I knew it would be good reference for an illustrator like Mark Summers, who works in scratchboard and would be able to bring new life to it as a stamp.
What is the secret to responding to the client’s needs while always maintaining a recognizable style?
Solving the design problem is what is most important. But I have a very personal approach to type and image. I never design anything that conflicts with my aesthetics or interests. So, fortunately, it is easy to maintain a personal signature.
What directions is design taking today?
A lot of people ask that question. Let me just say that there are a lot of different personalities and many styles. There is no single direction.
In your publication “Typology” you dealt with typographic design from the Victorian era to today. What impact has digital technology had on design, in terms of visual aesthetics and of the production process?
The computer is a wonderful tool for designers. One can now design a book jacket in a matter of hours, whereas twenty years ago it would have taken two or three weeks. However, at my studio we make a great effort to make the work look as though it wasn’t created on the computer, in order to achieve a level of authenticity. I also try to have the final product printed in letterpress whenever possible, since it adds a tactile quality that is missing from our hyper-technical lives.
What advice would you give to young designers? And to the recently created brand LanciaTrendVisions?
My advice is simple: follow your heart. Design what you are passionate about.