A daily bulletin of news & opinion

15 March 2012

About one year ago we moved office, from north to south Marylebone, and by a distance of under one mile. A colleague once taught me that moving is good for you. It shakes up your life, apparently. And it’s true, a fresh proximity of retail and restaurants can result in you eating, spending and drinking differently. Your daily commute can also be transformed. In my case I was able to trade in five stops on London underground for a half-hour walk. 

This new, less abrupt leg of my journey had me patrolling pensively through Mayfair and up Bond street. Professionally, hardly the road less travelled for me. Pre-Monocle, pre-launch and before residency in Marylebone, I had whiled away many lunch hours on the beat in Mayfair. It’s an area rich in typographic splendour, all window displays and signage. Its influence is evident in the design of Monocle. Our black gloss cover, serif logo (serif being fonts with an elegant, rolling stroke on the ends of each letter) and engraved section openers are quiet odes to the shop fronts of Jermyn Street.

Reminiscing about past influences led me to draw up a theoretical question on typography. Has luxury ever really embraced modernity? Or put more plainly, how many luxury goods and fashion brands have adopted a minimal, sans-serif logo? The testing ground was Bond Street and over the course of a week my morning walk became an exercise in addition, counting one side of the street, followed by the opposite.

Modernism’s seeds were planted well before the Second World War, but the harvest came in the aftermath. Europe, intent on rebuilding efficiently and heavily focused on industry, was drawn to the cool, neutral aesthetics of the Swiss International style. Serif was out. Helvetica never had so many doting suitors.

By contrast, traditional serifs had their feet well under the table of the luxury houses of Europe. And serif logos are often accompanied by an additional “established in” dateline. It’s not only a stamp of approval and a mark of success, but also a barrier against change. Most fields of manufacturing, be it automobiles, computing or architecture have pursued the modern – clean, pale and new motifs. But if you’re old, authentic and producing wares to sell at the highest prices then you’re likely be camped in the elegant, decorative serif world. 

The results were – serif: 96, sans-serif: 42. The conclusion – if you want your brand to feel rich and established, accept no substitute. Serif, every time.


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