JEAN-BAPTISTE LEVEE — Interview
Hello Jean-Baptiste how are you?
Doing just fine. Released a new type family last week, enjoying the weekend now.
Can you introduce yourself?
Jean-Baptiste Levée, type designer. I run the foundry Production Type, I teach, I am an ATypI board member.
Where does your interest in graphic and type design come from?
I am not so sure it « came from » somewhere. I painted & sculpted as a kid, drew in high school, did layouts for the school journal, things like that. I wanted to be a layout artist back then.
Who are your mentors? How did you learn how to work?
Those are two very different questions. I currently take a lot of work philosophy and advice from Christian Schwartz and Yorgo Tloupas. Earlier, Christophe Badani & Frank Jalleau taught me a great deal about the practice, the work ethics, the humanity. Jean François Porchez showed me the business.
How did you come to start up Production Type?
The French type scene had become moribund once again, I did not see in the landscape the kind of design I wanted to foster. I felt it was time to scale up from a single-person business, build something lasting as an output pipe for my work and the work of other designers.
Can you tell us more about the Vanity Fair project?
Art director Yorgo Tloupas showed me a set of 1930s postcards along with sketches of the look-and-feel he wanted to achieve for this French edition of VF. The magazine was meant to be more than a simple translation of the US edition. Something much more specific, with some « French flair ». He thought of adding that in delicate touches, type was the best option.
I took the sketches and turned it into a typeface with many alternates, ligatures & logotypes so that the art department could have fun with the typefaces long after the initial euphoria of the launch. The shapes mostly come from a study of French & Italian 1920s-1930s.
You designed a typeface for the Louis Vuitton Magazine. Can you tell us more about the style’s choices for the LV Clémence and the LV Loys Sans Condensed?
There was a quick exploratory phase that Yorgo Tloupas led in the Louis Vuitton archives, which narrowed the sketches to one or two options. I knew the typefaces were in my archives also, so I had a lot of fun « hunting » for some of the designs across several books. That is what the design info tells about, on our website. On one hand, Yorgo has always a very clear idea of what he wants for his designs, the « look and feel ». On the other hand, there is a complete freedom in the ways to achieve a specific voice. I take advantage of that.
With Studio FEED you designed the Air Inuit Sans typeface which includes Inuktitut language. How was working on such a project?
There was also an outside consultant, Marvin Harder. Inuktitut is not specifically difficult to draw, as the script is rather synthetic and modular. The context of a branding application is something I’m confortable with. There were a few surprises, but in the end it’s not such an uncharted territory to explore.
Are there any projects or experiences that you have done and that you enjoyed more than others?
The past projects make me proud. The newest project always gets me excited. Also because I always try to find the fun in commissioned work, so that pleasure never wears out.
Working in type means also that once your job is done, other people’s job begins. A new cycle of excitement starts when the type gets used in much better ways that I could have thought of.
A designer that you admire?
Only one? That would be… restrictive. Ladislas Mandel has a pretty impressive record. Jan Van Krimpen, Pierre-Simon Fournier, Thomas Cottrell, Guillaume Le Bé.
And many other designers, living or dead, named or unnamed, have or have had an artistic influence on me, whether as a reaction pro or against. The latter is equally as important. This is also valid for creators outside of type. For instance, industrial designer Roger Tallon or artist James Turrell are true influences.
Which books are on your bedside table?
I read the Internet in the bed. But, yeah, I just received « The Eternal Letter » and a Visual Graphics Corporation specimen. These are on the reading list now.
Interview : Dennis Moya & Tiffany Bähler — 05.15
Images @Jean-Baptiste Levée, ©Production Type.