Louise Fili is the most elegant woman I know—no exaggeration—so I had to smile when I learned the title of her monograph was Elegantissima (Princeton Architectural Press). She’s also the most Italian Italian-American I know. (She gets Italian cable!) Louise teaches a summer workshop for the School of Visual Arts back in the old country with her spouse, Mr. Steven Heller. And her East 23rd Street office is a celebration of all things Italian: samples of Louise’s food packaging and restaurant identities, as well as shelves of enviable Italian and French flea market finds. “I am surrounded by objects that I treasure,” she says, “and in this environment, I am routinely transported to Europe.”
Surprisingly, with all of that tasty Italian goodness at her fingertips, Louise rejects pastiche as a design crutch. “The distinction may be subtle,“ Heller writes in the foreword to Elegantissima. “But pastiche is about reprising past styles almost verbatim to trigger recognition (and nostalgia). What Louise does instead is build upon things passe to enliven her contemporary graphic statements—even when the result has a vintage resonance.”
Louise is actually a local girl, born in New Jersey. “I can never, ever forgive my parents for having the bad judgment to leave Italy and come to America,” she writes in the introduction to Elegantissima. “My first trip to Italy (at sixteen) was a typographic and gastronomic epiphany—quite simply, everything looked, tasted, and sounded better in Italian.”
On her 25th birthday, Louise was hired as a senior designer by the design and typography legend Herb Lubalin. From there, Louise moved on to Pantheon Books (Random House), where she became a design and typography legend herself. Eleven years and 2,000 book covers later, Louise struck out on her own, shifting gears from the book jackets she loved to focus on the food packaging and restaurant identity design she loved even more.
Louise’s brave move paid off, and Elegantissima is evidence of her success. The monograph is filled with case studies, anecdotes, and luscious spreads from an extraordinary career’s worth of design. Most of the book will make you hungry, or at least move up your plans to go to Europe.
More amazing stuff:
Note: Louise Fili will be interviewed by Paula Scher at the Type Directors Club on September 13th. Bring your euros—she’ll be signing books, too. Click here for info.
Louise Fili is one of the groundbreaking designers interviewed in Armin Vit and Bryony Gomez-Palacio’s Women of Design, available from MyDesignShop.com.