Whether it’s the gorgeous architecture, shops filled with decadent pastries, or spectacular landmarks steeped in centuries of history, there’s something in Paris for everyone to fall in love with. For celebrated graphic designer Louise Fili, it was the city’s dazzling signage that captured her heart over 40 years ago at the age of 20, when she first laid eyes on the unique typography dotting the fronts of hotels, bakeries, and restaurants. Since then, she has returned to the City of Lights time and time again, camera and map in hand as she strolls along the winding cobblestone paths while photographing the beautiful work of generations of sign craftsmen.
Glowing neon marquees, colorful murals, gold-leaf placards, and whimsical pictorial signs in styles like Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Futurism are catalogued in Graphique de la Rue, Fili’s newly published photographic diary of Paris’s signage. An exquisite source of inspiration for designers and travelers alike, the collection of images makes up what Fili calls her “typographic love letter to Paris.” She wrote to us in an email, “Although Italy is my major source of inspiration (both typographic and gastronomic), Paris is a close second. A city of pure enchantment, it draws me there on a regular basis, and never disappoints.”
“For years I had been photographing beautiful signs for nothing more than my own enjoyment and reference,” Fili told us, revealing the major influence that Parisian signs have had on her own esteemed work. “The photos all sat in binders, arranged by city, on a dedicated shelf in my studio. Since I design a lot of restaurant identities (often French), I would refer to the photos frequently.” Now, however, the graphic designer is sad to note that more and more of the city’s iconic signs are being replaced by cheap, mediocre displays. She lamented, “It is like losing an old friend. The beautiful neon scripts for cafs are the most vulnerable, since they are more fragile, and have to be remade every decade or so–rarely for the better. I have a before-and-after section in the back of the book, which says it all. At least the mosaics are more difficult to remove, so I made a conscious effort to seek out as many examples as possible.”
After completing her ode to Paris, as well as Italy in an earlier book titled Grafica della Strada, what’s next for Fili? “Barcelona!” the graphic designer replies, promising even more elegant explorations of design, culture, and beauty yet to come.
My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Louise Fili.