Very Elle, Very Cool

With so many photographers and stylists working for both editorial and advertisers, fashion magazines are finding it impossible to create a distinct tone of voice through their imagery. Instead, it is typography that is increasingly being used to separate ‘ed’ from ‘ad’. Joining the likes of David James’ Another and M/M’s Arena Homme Plus is new-look French bi-annual Very Elle, designed by Non-Format’s Jon Forss and Kjell Ekhorn.

With so many photographers and stylists working for both editorial and advertisers, fashion magazines are finding it impossible to create a distinct tone of voice through their imagery. Instead, it is typography that is increasingly being used to separate ‘ed’ from ‘ad’. Joining the likes of David James’ Another and M/M’s Arena Homme Plus is new-look French bi-annual Very Elle, designed by Non-Format’s Jon Forss and Kjell Ekhorn.

Part of the studio’s brief was to use its renowned typographic skills (displayed, for example, in the design of Varoom magazine) to give the magazine a singular voice that would set editorial pages apart from the advertising. “This led us directly to the idea of creating typefaces especially for the magazine,” they say. Forss and Ekhorn created Heroine, an adaptable family of display faces used for headlines and standfirsts. “The magazine aims to celebrate women from very diverse fields so it was important for us to develop a family of typefaces that would not only signal high fashion but one that could span the whole spectrum,” they say. “To begin with we created an ultra-thin version which would be used for the main feature openers in the fashion sections of the magazine. Then we began work on a bolder, much brasher version and then, regular and thin versions.”

They also decided to employ blocks of type with very tight spacing. “To avoid the inevitable problems with clashing ascenders and descenders, we produced alternative versions of each typeface with extended charac­ters,” they explain. “These can be altered to get an offending ascender or descender well out of the way and, as a bonus, they also provide an appealing visual texture within the body of the text.” 

The result is a really beautifully crafted magazine that absolutely succeeds in creating a distinct voice – this is, after all, a mass-market publication, not a niche arts title. There have been other periods when type has come to the fore in magazines – think the three B’s of Brodovitch, Brody and Baron. And no doubt advertisers will soon catch up with editorial’s use of elaborately expressive type – it’s often the same people doing both anyway. But for now, editorial pages like these offer a rare chance for typography to shine.

UPDATE: Further to ‘Action Man’s comment below, I’ve found an image of the cover (below). To me, it doesn’t work anywhere near as well as the inside pages, which can largely be attributed to the fact that the masthead had already been designed before Non-Format started working on the title: “We were brought on-board after the launch issue was published. We were invited to suggest alternative mastheads for the cover of the magazine, but in the end the publishers decided it might be confusing to change it after only one issue.”

Non-Format will be working on the spring issue so perhaps this issue will be resolved better with that one.

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