Ask ILT: Fashion Fonts

In episode one of my new Ask ILT series, I answered, What’s the difference between Grotesque and Neo-Grotesque? In episode two I tackle, Why do fashion brands and magazines use so much Bodoni & Didot? Collectively these typefaces are known as Didones, a mashup of Didot and Bodoni, the type designing early proponents of the style.

Yesterday, when I posted this thread to Instagram, Laurens Spangenberg asked a very good question:

I just wonder, do you think that the modern correlation of fashion and Didones is more related to its historic usage or to the typographic qualities of Didones? If Harper’s, Elle, and Vogue used Clarendon-style Slabs (for example), would you think it would be as successful as Didones?

Whether another genre of type would have been as successful and long-lived, who knows! Some have suggested that Didones are ideally suited to fashion owing to their relative neutrality and their unfussy details. I think it’s a mistake to imagine that Didones are intrinsically ‘fashion’ typefaces. It is their long association with fashion and our familiarity with this association that makes them fashion typefaces.

Ambroise font family, a classic Didone from Typofonderie

I don’t believe it would take much for this familiar visual shorthand to be modified or changed entirely. If tomorrow, Vogue, Elle, and Harper’s Bazaar changed their mastheads from Didone to, well, anything else, then the idea that Didones are fashion faces would soon fade.


Further reading:
Type in Couture — Elizabeth Carey Smith
Through thick and thin: fashion and type — Eye magazine

Ask ILT:
Have a question you for this series? Then email askILT@[this domain]

Afterword: Craig Eliason, in his excellent art-historical 2018 talk, Didot and Fashion, makes a strong case for “something in Didone letterforms (namely, their intensive idealization of writing), that made them particularly suited at that turning point of fashion journalism in the 1940s.” I’m definitely swayed by his cogency (and his Barthes quotations), but not entirely convinced. Perhaps Craig and I could discuss this topic some day.

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