CHEVAL’s design for bilingual publication Oriental Silk embraces contrast, tactility and subtlety
London-based design practice CHEVAL have worked with publisher Hatje Cantz and artist Xiaowen Zhu on the design of Oriental Silk – a publication documenting the latter’s investigation into the 1970s eponymous Los Angeles’ silk merchant of the same name.
Concerning the material, the people and its place in American history as the country’s first silk purveyor, CHEVAL’s considerations for Oriental Silk were founded in the tactile and tangible. “We wanted the act of holding the book to be a really tactile experience,” Director Michael Mason explains, “so we designed the publication as a hardcover book – clothbound with a coarse linen fabric;” emblazoned with quiet embossing. Matching the heritage of its content, the book itself strives for a sense of nostalgia; particularly in the contextually vital consideration for the book’s own tactility.
Internally the book utilises Munken Pure 300, creating a “subtly warm, almost sun-stained, hue and toothy texture,” as Mason explains. This is partnered with an equally subtle and soft grey for the cover – an interesting choice given the renowned vividity of silk, a plethora of which is found inside the book. Finding inspiration for this in the shop itself, Mason recalls his reaction to the surprisingly unassuming nature of Oriental Silk. “The shop boasts huge windows along the boulevard,” he explains, “but every one of them is completely obscured by nondescript beige curtains,” adding, “void of any window displays or signage.”
In an action subsequential to CHEVAL’s choice of colour, the shop’s choice of beige was “a deliberate one,” made ultimately to “preserve the quality and colour of the silks inside.” Echoing their example, CHEVAL took the opportunity to similarly start off with a paired-back colour before “stepping into a space of colour and eclectism.”
Following suit is CHEVAL’s equally paired back and deliberate typographic decision making; rolling with a dynamic connotation of GT America, Untitled Serif and Noe Display. Committing to a “utilitarian aesthetic” akin to the ephemera and artefacts associated with shop-keeping and imports through the use GT America and Untitled Serif, Mason explains that Noe Display came in towards the latter half of the design process in order to contrast the neutrality of the former via an injection of form and character. “It came in handy,” he adds, “for sections with particularly long-form write-ups.”
Working with both English and Chinese copy, Mason recalls the importance of their collaboration with the artist herself – “I’m not able to read any of the Chinese copy myself – so ensuring that it read well wouldn’t have been possible without on-going collaboration with Xiaowen Zhu.” Originally hailing from Montreal, where there are distinct rules on bilingual communication due to the high French-speaking population, Mason explains he is used to designing in two languages, but found it much more difficult this time around. “This was much trickier,” he recalls, “given that the characters themselves (and available typefaces) can contrast with one another,” adding, “I found that the most interesting challenge was that Chinese and English copy vary pretty dramatically in length.”