“Here, it’s like a flea market,” says Nicolas Ouchenir, gesturing around him in his atelier on Rue Royale. Indeed, the infamous French calligrapher’s Parisian workroom is filled with ink bottles lined up like perfumes, clusters of assorted tools (calans, automatic pens, Japanese markers, paintbrushes, quills), taxidermied birds and butterflies, books about decoding symbols and art… Ouchenir is regularly called upon as a scribe for the most demanding international luxury brands, to infuse a sense of playfulness into their invitations and written materials. (On his desk stood seemingly endless stacks white cards, which he was hand-writing for Natacha Ramsay-Levi’s new collection for Chloé; he recently redid the logo of the Ritz.) But work aside, Ouchenir was up until 3am the night before playing with fanciful options to propose for the new Jacques Solovière logo. The elegance of his writing matches the finesse of the Solovière silhouette: a most perfect pairing, conceptually and aestheyically. “A signature made by someone, by hand, inscribed in the shoe itself—it’s a kind of luxury and patrimony,” Ouchenir remarked. “It’s not marketing—it’s poetry.”
How did you and Alexia meet?
We met at a party through a friend, who is very well-brought-up and has very good taste. Alexia is part of her bande de bourgeoises. [laughs] When I saw what she creates, my first sentence was: ‘I want a pair.’ I was immediately an ambassador. I love her universe—there’s a similarity with mine. I love that pleat! It’s a pli Mallarméen. As a calligrapher, it speaks to me directly.
How do you start proposing ideas?
I have a well-stocked imagination! It’s always better to not know ahead of time what I will do. I didn't go to art school—my thing is innate. I look at what was done beforehand, and then do something new, something more fun, something for the future, even if it’s linked to patrimony. It can be ‘Since 2014’ and feel like ‘Since 1914’… you can't lose what came before, but you spruce it up with another direction. You use the memory created by the brand—it’s normal to do that. It’s the story of the life of a brand, which is a living thing. Here it’s a proper noun, so you have to update it.
How much do you have to know about who embodies the brand ahead of time—do you need adjectives? Does persona influence the way you do a signature?
I knew more or less what Jacques Solovière looked like. I knew he was a little rigid, but the idea, instead of doing anything too angular, was do something quite round. It has to be curved, with the pleat. I imposed a bit of roundness; it’s more enjoyable, more gentle.
How do you give new life to a logo?
I need to not be too sure. If it’s too pragmatic, if it’s too comfortable, I won't enjoy it and I won't do it well. I need to be scared, to have the possibility of something giving out under me. It has to be vivant; otherwise it’s not possible. That’s the condition sine qua non. Afterwards—and I would hardly be the only one to say this— how to do you get what you have in your head out into the world? The idea is there! But how do you get it out of your head: that is always the thing. And then you do it, and Oh, that’s cool! Then, boom, you move on to the next thing. Once it’s born from you, it’s done.
How do you play with, or extrapolate on, things you like from the endless spectrum of options?
It’s ‘Oh, I like this,’ and then ‘Oh, I don't like this’… But once it’s done, I don't care about it anymore. And then I find something I like and I pursue it all over again. It’s very rhythmic—it’s like a ballet. Calligraphy has something very similar to dance. It’s a lot of training, and a lot of experimenting. That’s why we’re prolific. You need to do a lot and to see a lot. Everything could work.
Do you hope to translate the way a brand sounds—the sonority—into how it should look?
Yes. There’s something timeless about “Jacques Solovière.” You sense this envol—a sense of flight—with the L and the V, very aerodynamic, and something very sexy with the S at the beginning…
What’s your advice for the future of Solovière?
Who am I to give advice? I’d love for you to make folkloric seven-league boots. For cats. I’d love for you to make shoes for men in rainbow glitter. No but for real? I’d advise you to keep going as you have been, because it’s great. It’s joyous.