Typefounding in the 19th century was full of experimentation. Looking through specimen books from various foundries, it seems as though no idea was too crazy for a world which was constantly expanding and an industry that was rapidly growing. It was in this ecosystem that a type founder in Paris made a a typeface full of character, exploration, and resourcefulness which became the catalyst for Essonnes. A typeface which sought to redefine establish paradigms (who says a a lowercase g can’t have serifs?) and solve a myriad of problems which plagued earlier designers. Born of a union between Didot experimentation, late Victorian extravagance, and contemporary pragmatism, Essonnes is a type system which brings both the familiarity and creativity of a Didone together with the situational requirements of the 21st century.
Made up of sixteen individual weights and spread over three different optical sizes, Essonnes is designed to bring utility back to the Didot genre. It’s a common belief among designers that Didones don’t work for text. This wasn’t true in 1819 and it isn’t true today. Like its forebearers, Essonnes is a truely optical family—not just a study in adjusting contrast. The text and display weights have been designed from the ground up for their intended roles. This means that everything from the height of the uppercase & lowercase letters have been specifically tuned for their intended purpose.
One of the most recognizable aspects of the 1819 Didot Type was the unique handling of the lowercase g, s, y, and, in the text weights, the C, G, and S—it was these characters that led to the birth of the Essonnes project. For some reason, the type Essonnes references only included these “devil tail” serifs on the uppercase were only available in the text weights. Now, with the possibilities offered by stylistic sets, the designer has the option to utilize an updated version of Didot’s decidedly different take on the Latin script.
Like many typefaces, Essonnes started after falling in love with a piece of history. In this case, it was the eccentric forms of Pierre Didot’s Type and the evolution of the High contrast Didone throughout the 19th century. It was out of curiosity and love for these forms that led to the first draft of what would become Essonnes back in 2011.
These unique situations—screens, modern printing methods, the previous 200 years of typographic innovation since the original design, my own life experiences—have led to a typeface that, while based on history, is not stuck in it.
Read more about Essonnes over at I Love Typography.