As lovers of type, we’d thought we’d seen it all when it comes to type specimens. After all, how much is there to play with regarding the representation of a new typeface? Well, we were wrong. Today we present you with the highly original story that is La Perruque, a 1 x 90 centimetre-long magazine publishing nonstandard type specimens printed on the margins of regular documents.
The alternative publication – now in its 21st issue – began back in 2015 as a graduate project for founding designer Olivier Bertrand. With the support of his teachers in Rennes, he established an unspoken agreement with the print shop Media Graphic in the French city. He tells us of the fortuitous arrangement, “They allowed me to use a blank surface in the margins of their regular prints.” And just like that, La Perruque was borne.
Olivier designed an apt viewing experience for the thin strips of the mag. The issues come wound around a piece of wood to tidily hold the type specimen together. And as La Perruque has developed over the years, Olivier further experimented with this no-waste form of printing. “Materials such as unused print surfaces and large scale production techniques such as offset printing have been like playgrounds for me,” he adds. In turn, the production process wholly depends on print shops he is collaborating with. While production time, print run, colour, and choice of paper are usually devised before the printing process with most publications, La Perruque throws all these things up in the air, relying solely on the economy of means.
As Olivier puts it, “I basically hack unused paper surfaces from print shop production so they become carte blanche for type designers instead of waste.” As for the title of this alternative magazine, Olivier refers to a ‘perruque’ translated as a ‘homer’ in English. It’s an artefact that a worker produces using company tools and materials, outside usual production plans but at the workplace and during work hours. Coined by the American professor Michel Anteby in his book Factory ‘Homers’, the text delves into how a perruque can shine a light on a complicity between employees in spite of their hierarchal position.
Besides his work with La Perruque, day-to-day, Olivier mostly designs books for publishers and teaches typography and editorial design at Le 75 art school in Brussels. On top of this, he runs publishing house Surfaces Utiles, publishing regular books through nonstandard production methods. And if that weren’t enough, he also finds the time to fuel a research practice focused on publishing where the designer looks into “appropriation and hacking leftover from industrial production”.
With experimentation at the heart of La Perruque, each minuscule issue offers its viewer a new way to see and experience type manifestos and in-progress fonts. Olivier talks us through the last three issues of the magazine which exemplify exactly that. In the 19th edition, designer Marion Bisserier “proposes an ironic reaction to the underrepresentation of women in typography” by saturating the printing space with her font, Good Girl.
For the 20th issue, Antoine Lefebvre creates a facsimile from a tract by the Situationist International, distributed during the general assembly for the International Association of Art Critics back in April 1958. The document reads: “To the producers of modern art. If you are tired of imitating rubble; if it appears to you that the fragmentary repetitions that are expected of you are outdated before even coming to life, please contact us to organize new powers of transformation of the ambient environment at a higher level. Situationist International, 32 rue de la Montagne-Geneviève, Paris 5e.”
Subsequently, in the 21st and most recent issue of La Perruque, designer Marion Cachon displays her font Gaucherie, described by Olivier as a “troubling and riveting font” examining the pejorative connotations of the adjective ‘gauche’. While this term means unsophisticated and socially awkward according to the English dictionary, in French, the term also means ‘left’. These three designers are just a small sample of the invited collaborators chosen to play with this unique format. When invited by Olivier, he and the contributors work together in a ping-pong game of sorts, the editing process being Olivier's favourite aspect of the project.
It’s just as much a research platform as well as a typography magazine, interrogating the hacks of standard printing not to mention the norms of the publishing industry. La Perruque is in turn both highly experimental, original and full of knowledge. Each issue is accompanied by an online article detailing the design process of the font, furthering the “economy of complicity” school of thought that this magazine rests upon. Designers, print shops and Olivier himself become equal accomplices in this unique project, in turn, inspiring one another not to mention reducing waste and optimising the printing surface. It’s an impressive interdisciplinary enterprise that can be fully explored on La Perruque’s newly launched website. More processes, more designs, more details and ultimately more issues are documented on the new website, so don’t hesitate to find out more about La Perruque and its upcoming issues there.
GalleryLa Perruque (Copyright © Olivier Bertrand, 2020)
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.