Xavier Monney uses type to weave words into something weird, warped, and wonderful
Gourmet chocolate, swanky timepieces, and an unwavering commitment to total neutrality when it comes to matters of foreign policy: these are just a few of the fabulous things that Switzerland is known for. Here in the creative world, there’s something else, something more important than Velcro, cellophane, or the humble potato peeler, all of which are superb Swiss inventions that each and every single one of us is grateful for.
We’re talking, of course, about Swiss Design, that heady combination of Bauhaus, De Stijl, and Russian Constructivism which bubbled up in all its type-heavy glory in the mid-20th Century and still has the power to influence and inspire here in 2019. Things have moved on in the home of Eduard Hoffmann and Max Miedinger, the men responsible for the now beyond-ubiquitous Helvetica, but the country still seems to know exactly what it’s doing when it comes to producing the sort of designers who other designers look to for inspiration.
“There’s an obsession with quality and precision here,” says in-demand typographic hot-shot Xavier Monney when It’s Nice That asks why he feels the Swiss have such a handle on consistently brilliant design. “The streets are clean, the roads are smooth, and the trains are on time. Our graphic design fits in this environment.”
When we first featured Xavier’s work back in 2017, we’d already found ourselves entranced by his ability to manipulate type in three dimensions, simultaneously referencing the reverberations of the International Typographic Style while keeping an eye firmly on the future. And we weren’t the only ones impressed by his work – the Eracom graduate has already lent his expertise to the likes of Asics, Burberry and Nike. Which, we’re sure you’ll agree, isn’t a bad trio of names to be associated with.
It was Kenzo that was the first fashion house to poach Xavier. “I teamed up with Anthony Velen [a fellow Swiss multi-disciplinary designer] and we did it all at my place while drinking beers and goofing around,” he recalls. The “it” in question, by the way, was the online identity for Season Zero, the multimedia accompaniment to Kenzo’s Fall/Winter 2017 collection. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw their email. I thought it was a fake at first.” Happily, the email was a real one, and Xavier is still walking through the doors it helped open to this day. His highest-profile gig to date has seen the young designer embedded in the team responsible for one of 2018’s biggest rebrands.
“The fact I was absolutely free to do whatever I wanted was motivating"Xavier Monney
It was Peter Saville and Riccardo Tisci who grabbed the headlines when Burberry decided to spring a new look and logo on the world back in August last year, but Xavier played his own part in the repositioning of the iconic British brand. “I was contacted by Highsnobiety for a collaboration with Burberry,” he recalls. He had been assigned the role of digital artist and was given license to “play around with Burberry’s new identity and create animations within my own visual universe.”
Describing it as the project he’s “proudest” to have worked on to date, Xavier used the newly revamped Burberry logo in a way that feels identifiably Monney-like. The orange and white “B”s whirl around 3D space, condensed into curls and curves, falling up and down, over and under. Hypnotic, and oddly haunting, it is a brave thing to do with a brand so traditionally elegant and understated. But that, you sense, is the whole point. “The fact I was absolutely free to do whatever I wanted was motivating,” he says.
“If I had a ‘Eureka moment’ it was when I came up with putting together typography in 3D motion”Xavier Monney
Long before big brands came knocking, however, there was a teenager holed up in his bedroom with a broadband connection and a burgeoning interest in the power of posters. Tumblr, as it was for many designers of a similar age, opened up a young Xavier’s mind to design’s past and present.
It was typographically oriented poster work which he found himself fascinated by, and the image-heavy social media platform offered a plethora of styles and signature approaches. “This included a lot of typographic posters from well established Swiss designers as well as weird textural or 3D visuals that were trending on Tumblr at the time,” Xavier remembers. “I was posting some of the results on Instagram to get live feedback from people who were doing the same. If I had a ‘Eureka moment’ it was when I came up with putting together typography in 3D motion. After that, my Instagram account went crazy so I figured I should continue this way.”
And continue he did, even if Tumblr’s relevance has faded somewhat since the heady days of 2012. “I think Instagram slowly took over Tumblr’s role as a creative platform,” Xavier muses. “It has good and bad sides though; Instagram feels more like a place where ego comes first, whereas Tumblr felt a bit more content-focused.”
When he’s not wrapping his head around mind-bending applications of typographic experimentation, the Zurich resident can often be found gazing at the graffiti-spattered city walls. He has, largely at least, retired from graffing himself, but still admires the way that the medium is, in his words, “basically graphic design without clients and computers”.
There is, you get the impression, no sense of Xavier Monney without computers and, increasingly, clients. This is no bad thing. After all, his movement-focused practice continues to enthral us, exactly because it is so indivisible from the machinations of hardware and the limits of software. It is, in its own way, naturally unnatural.
His tunnels of text, syllabically constructed slinkies, and waves of words, flap, undulate, bob and weave. Whether he’s producing digital posters for Bristol’s best music magazine, Crack, or creating a circular column of moving text for American streetwear label Easy Money Clothing, Xavier’s way with words continues to enthrall, amuse and energise us.
“Graffiti is basically graphic design without clients and computers”Xavier Monney
Firmly focused on the future, he’s now looking forward to working on “cultural events and music-related stuff” with friends. One of his first 2019 projects sees him collaborating with Lobster Theremin’s Swiss wizard Manuel Fischer, who is currently gearing up to release an LP on the London-based record label. Together they are in the midst of working on an animated video to go alongside one of the album’s tracks.
In addition to that, and in news that’s sure to get the majority of It’s Nice That readers reaching for their credit card and hurriedly bashing out an email to HR demanding a last-minute annual leave request, it transpires that Xavier has been asked to bump heads with Studio Dumbar and Koos Breen to create a curatorial super-entity.
DEMO, a “design in motion festival” will take place in Amsterdam Centraal Station in November. “For 24 hours,” Xavier says, “all advertising screens in the train station will be showcasing works from designers from all around the world!” From beers in his bedroom to working with some of the biggest brands around, Xavier Monney’s journey has been an exciting one, and we think it’s only really just beginning.