French graphic design has always seemed to me to be particularly idiosyncratic, somehow strangely 'out of key' with northern European design (UK, Holland, Germany) and not what you might expect in the South in say, Spain or Italy.
Nobody doubts that there are key French names in graphic design – Michel Bouvet, Philippe Apeloig, Mathias Augustyniak and Michael Amzalag from M/M Paris, and more recently designers like Catherine Zask, as well as the legendary Pierre Bernard, Gérard Paris-Clavel, Alex Jordan and the work of the well-known 'ateliers' they are (were) associated with – Grapus, L’Atelier de Création Graphique, Ne Pas Plier and Nous Travaillons Ensemble. Even so, most would struggle to name more than 10 French designers, if that.
The French design writer Véronique Vienne colludes with the idea of French idiosyncrasy in relation to graphic design in a text to be found on the AIGA site (although it's worth reading a post in response by David Benqué). She ends up suggesting that in fact French design is ahead of the game, not behind it.
Well I had the opportunity to test or expand my views when I received an invitation from Michel Bouvet to be a jury member on the final year diploma reviews at ESAG Penninghen in Paris (Superior School of Design, Graphic Design and Interior Architecture located in Saint-Germain-des-Près in the premises of the famous Académie Julian).
It was a wonderful 3 days – for a number of reasons. The hospitality was memorable and the food was outstanding – including dinner on a bateau mouche. But the biggest surprise was the freshness of some of the student work. There was mediocre work, as everywhere, but some real quality too. One thing that struck me was the fusion between illustration and graphic design with a number of students who were predominantly illustration centred devoting real creativity to lettering as image. There weren't many typography projects but what there was had interest – David Beloso's type project which developed a series of fonts based on the elements was noteworthy. Katie Fechtmann's book design project in particular was outstanding (don't have any pictures I'm afraid).
Work by 3 ESAG students; from top to bottom – Carole Boréal, Clementine Colombel, and David Beloso.
To top off the stay it was a real pleasure to meet up again with Michel Bouvet (and Marie-Édith Simonneaux, and sadly only very briefly, Phillipe Di Folco) and get a chance to visit Michels' studio situated near La Bastille, right next door to the Galerie Anatome... and another great lunch. Ah, Paris!
Michel Bouvet and his studio