Sleeping Beauties

Mathias Clottu talks us through the ideas behind his design and art direction of the catalogue for the Most Beautiful Swiss Books 2015, which comes to London tonight with the opening of an exhibition at Umlaut Space...

The announcement of the annual Most Beautiful Swiss Books is always an eagerly-anticipated event in the design calendar, and the accompanying catalogue created each year is an equally innovative example of book design in itself. Mathias Clottu, who took on the task for 2015, offers us a unique insight into the concept and process behind the design of Sleeping Beauties—the catalogue he designed for the Most Beautiful Swiss Books 2015, which is launching in London tonight with Have You Ever Kissed A Book, an exhibition of the winning titles...

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Spread from Sleeping Beauties © Photography by Mathilde Agius; Art Direction and Design by Mathias Clottu.

By
When Gilles Gavillet contacted me at the end of 2015, he had just been appointed president of the jury for the Most Beautiful Swiss Books, and I was setting up my own practice. I had moved to London to work for John Morgan in 2011 and had been assisting on various projects, from the identity and publications for the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale (directed by David Chipperfield and with photographer Juergen Teller), to a number of commissions with 6a Architects, the complete redesign of ArtReview magazine in 2013, and the first issue of The Magazine for The Artists’ Institute in 2015.

The Most Beautiful Swiss Books was the ideal commission with which to start my own practice: one book to develop at a time—it felt like a dream.

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Spread from Sleeping Beauties © Photography by Mathilde Agius; Art Direction and Design by Mathias Clottu.

From
The Most Beautiful Swiss Books competition was created by Jan Tschichold in the middle of the last century, and is run by the Swiss Federal Office of Culture. Publishers and designers revived the competition and its specially commissioned catalogues in 1999. Over the years, highly regarded figures in publishing and design have been part of the jury. As for the catalogue, carte-blanche had always been given on form, which enabled designers to create their own manifesto of the state of the art of bookdesign in Switzerland. These catalogues, traditionally listing the complete specifications of each of the awarded books, also worked as reference tools for designers.

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Spread from Sleeping Beauties © Photography by Mathilde Agius; Art Direction and Design by Mathias Clottu.

With
I decided to write a love letter to the books. With the support of Anisha Imhasly, the coordinator of the competition and editor of the catalogues, Swiss author Tan Wachli and I worked on a fictional story in which the character—a spineless book, in search of its spine—encounters the lucky awarded and Most Beautiful Swiss Books. Throughout the pages, the desperate book recalls the stories of each publication it meets.

‘I’m overwhelmed by a powerful spine. An intricately balanced structure makes me sigh. An elegant build excites me. Call me a book lover (…)’

The way in which photographers like Wright Morris or Robert Frank created visual essays in smaller books was an inspiration for this project. With photographer Mathilde Agius (whom I met while studying at ECAL) we worked on little ‘trailers’ for each of the awarded books. We set up a temporary studio in Zurich, from which we travelled through Switzerland and the UK to engage with the context and actors for each book. We walked for five hours in the deepest caves of the Canton of Schwyz; we moved two live bears to the original Bäregraben in the Swiss capital Bern, and directed a family of cockroaches in Lausanne to read a miniature version of one of the award-winning books. In London, models wearing Barbara Casasola dresses looked at awarded publications within a gigantic book, and a group of dogs embraced the whole selection of publications in Richmond Park.

The zoomorphic book started to merge into a magazine.

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Spread from Sleeping Beauties © Photography by Mathilde Agius; Art Direction and Design by Mathias Clottu.

On
The form is an intimate pocketbook size: it can be carried and read anywhere. The paper is bulky and slightly off-white, close to stocks used for mass-produced paperback books. The text is typeset in a revival typeface designed by Charles Mazé and based on an Elzevir, found in the edition Mercure de France, one of the first French gazettes. Illustrator Samuel Nyholm annotated the pages.

Format: 195 × 140 mm
Extent: 224 pages
Binding: Paperback, OTA bound, section sewn, 16 pages
Cover material: Tintoretto Stucco Gesso, 220gsm
Text material: Munken Print White 1.5, 100 gsm
Printing on cover: Foil block, Colorit Kurz 963

Print:
Pages 1-152, CMYK
Pages 153-244, black only
Image changes on pages 47, 69, 93, 131 in the French edition
Image changes on pages 47, 69, 93, 131 in the Italian edition
Image changes on pages 47, 69, 93, 131 in the English edition

Quantity:
1750 english copies, ISBN 9789080270008
750 german copies, ISBN 9783909928330
250 french copies, ISBN 9783909928392
250 italian copies, ISBN 9783909928385
Sale Price: £26.50

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Spread from Sleeping Beauties © Photography by Mathilde Agius; Art Direction and Design by Mathias Clottu.

And
I am now finalising the exhibition in London, which opens this Thursday 1 December. With architects Nicholas Lobo Brennan and Astrid Smitham from Apparata, we have made a place to have a visceral yet secluded moment with a book in a gallery space. The totemic appearance of the installation will be visible from the street. You can get romantic with the books, if you like.

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© The Niche, an installation by Apparata / Nicholas Lobo Brennan and Astrid Smitham for the Most Beautiful Swiss Books exhibition in London, 2016.

The exhibition Have You Ever Kissed A Book is organised by designer Mathias Clottu at the Umlaut Space, 53 Fashion Street, London E1 6PX. The exhibition runs from 1 December 2016 – 14 January 2017. The opening party is tonight, 1 December, from 6.30 – 8.30pm.

An evening of conversations will take place on the 8th December in The Library of the Istituro Marangoni, 30 Fashion Street, London E1 6PX. Speakers include: Laurent Benner, Roland Brauchli, Jenny Jaskey, John Morgan, Christian Marclay, Annebella Pollen and Nicole Udry.

The books will be on display and available to purchase on the e-shop that opens on Thursday 1 December. Swiss cheeses and drinks will be served at the events.

More information about the awards, catalogue and exhibition can be found at themostbeautifulswissbooks.london

mathiasclottu.com
apparata.ch