Designer Spotlight

At Home With Xavier Dupré

May 28, 2015 by
David Sudweeks
David Sudweeks

Next in our At Home With series, I reached out to type designer Xavier Dupré in his Cambodian home in Phnom Penh. (I rather would have loved to arrive in person, but since Xavier travels quite a lot, he was gracious to let me conduct this interview by mail.)

Tell me about your recent work in the FF Yoga® family.

Xavier Dupré | “In my previous FontFonts like FF Absara® or FF Sanuk®, I draw a wide range of weights because this is a different exercise to draw a hairline and a fat weight and both are really exciting; the line versus the mass. I feel like Botero and Giacometti at the same time.

In FF Yoga, the initial family was basic, a regular and bold with italics, in serif and sans. At that time, I thought that a small family was useful enough. It was primarily to be used in books. Actually, it seems that to reach a maximum number of uses, not only book design but also corporate identity, magazine and packaging work—in a word, to be really versatile—a type family has to span a wide range of weights. That’s the reason I designed lighter cuts as well as a medium one. These new cuts gave me a fresher view on this family and I assume that FF Yoga is now much more interesting to use. I kept some contrast in the hairline, which is not a real hairline, but that gives it a feminine touch and a distinctive sensibility in display use. The regular weight was slightly dark—I’ve prepared now a light weight suitable for short texts.”

The new weights are set in black.
The new weights are set in black.

What initially caused you to travel through Asia? What led to your decision to live there?

Xavier Dupré | “This is the combination of two different things. The first was to try a different life from what we know in developed countries, to stop the monotony of a modern life in a big city like Paris. In French, we call that metro-boulot-dodo, which literally means subway, work, sleep. Initially, life in Cambodia was really full of freedom for me even though salaries are very low, but life was really exciting. Now, many things have changed here. I still like living here and the idea of going back to France full time is a bit difficult for me. The second reason was directly linked to my family since my great grandfather arrived in Indochina in 1904 and my grandmother has lived there about 50 years until the fall of Phnom Penh in 1975. By the way, my grandfather is buried in Phnom Penh. I also have a Cambodian aunt who divides her time between Paris and Phnom Penh. Since I was a kid my parent’s house has been full of Cambodian objects and photos, so Cambodia and my family has a long history. I can say that the purpose of living in this country was the discovery of my father’s country of birth.”

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What do you collect?

Xavier Dupré | “From very young I collected posters, especially movie posters. I have a few hundred huge old French posters from the 1930s and 40s printed in lithography, and also some recent ones from Poland and Japan. Most of my collection is in France. I also took an interest for a few years in illustrated books from the 1920s to 40s with wood engravings or etchings and set in letterpress. The Art deco period is the golden era for the illustrated book. I’m very touched by the work done by these book artists and printers who spent all their energy to produce these masterpieces which represent the best connection between creativity and technique. So, we can say that paper is important for me and I deplore that it’s not the case in Southeast Asian cultures, contrary to western or Japanese civilization.”

How do things such as the local people, culture, or language show up in your work?

Xavier Dupré | “My culture is western and French before all. I like to observe things or people around me but this is difficult to know how it can show up in my work. A long time ago I did some fonts inspired by some shapes I saw here, but I simplified them and I’m not sure they’re any typically Asian marks left in the end result. If one detects some Asian influence in my work, this is not intentional.”

Similarly, how does travel and motion influence your work?

Xavier Dupré | “Traveling is not a good thing for work! It’s best to stay in the same place with all one’s books and things nearby to be efficient and competitive. But it helps me to take a step back, considering my work as not really important since typography doesn’t interest anybody in Cambodia. My daily life is disconnected from my professional-online-life. I almost never talk about typography. It’s rare I work in my real Cambodian life, most of the time the purpose is to help friends. Today, I think most of my influences comes from old books I collect.”

How do you develop new ideas; / Who do you discuss your ideas with?

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Xavier Dupré | “I have a few colleagues in Europe who can be considered advisers and I ask them sometimes for their views on a project. I also ask what they need in term of a font and that may result on a custom project like Vista stencil, a typeface quickly developed just for a friend. I may also add some special glyphs or useful dingbats. Most of the time, I design the shapes I like, trying to reach the needs of the market, but this is not the first motivation. I want to be proud of all my typefaces and consider each one truly my creation. I think there is a link between all my fonts when put in chronological order. A new creation is often a reaction on the previous one. FF Yoga has some roots in Malaga, for example—we can see some similarities—but the idea of FF Yoga was to draw shapes more invisible and useful in body text.”

Malaga for Emigre
Malaga for Emigre

FF Yoga for FontFont
FF Yoga for FontFont

Photography by Xavier Dupré

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