W is turning 40 this year, which prompted me to take a closer look at the magazine. I’m glad I did. Perhaps it is part of their anniversary celebration, or the fact that it’s the “Big Fashion Issue”, but September was particularly typographically rich — filled with interesting type choices that reach beyond the usual grasp of “mainstream” fashion glossies. Of course, it’s probably owed to the direction of Anton Ioukhnovets, who was always playing with type in his designs for GQ.The cover isn’t groundbreaking, but the towering ‘W’, aligned left, already sets it apart from other mags. The logo is echoed by the magazine’s core typeface, Benton Modern. Along with the standard text and Display variants, W uses even narrower, higher contrast versions specifically for extra large settings. The styles were commissioned by former Design Director Joseph Logan in 2010 and 2011, and drawn by Font Bureau’s Richard Lipton. Benton Modern Titling is designed to be used from 30–150 pt. and Banner is reserved for anything larger (or more delicate). Thanks, in part, to the grand canvas of the W’s oversize format, the magazine design staff really does make good use of the typeface’s big custom sizes.
Besides Benton Modern, the only staple typeface used throughout the issue is Graphik, a fairly rigid Grotesk that has the necessary, unadorned plainness to contrast with Benton Modern’s spike-heeled glamour. Together, the two expansive font families offer enough variety, weights, and widths to facilitate text-heavy pages like those of W’s departments, where multiple short articles need to be distinct, readable, and attractive.
Each of the features in the September issue showcases its own typeface that suits its subject perfectly. Let’s start with the cover story…
Penelope Cruz wears FF Pitu, a strikingly sharp and assertive number that not only fits her well, but also happens to be a nice pairing with the thick-thins of Benton Modern. It’s a showy accessory, the well-placed hat or scarf that caps a thoughtfully assembled outfit. The W designers set it unabashedly huge for the opening page, letting it break in a way that emphasizes the rhyming title.
For a delightfully dreary fashion shoot set in the Dark Ages, an English Blackletter like LTC Goudy Text is an obvious choice. But some of the shapes of this particular Textura even have the same wilting posture as the models, who stand slack, as if held up by marionette strings. The whole look is inspired, I suppose, by the nodding heads and lifeless bodies of medieval folk art.
Fast forward to modern times where the hard edges of retro-futuristic ensembles are introduced by P22 Bifur. The design originates in the ’20s, a digital interpretation of A.M. Cassandre’s first typeface, but for today’s audiences it is a flashback to the mechanical geometry of the techno 1980s.
One more feature that is worth a mention opens with Neutraface Slab and a typographic illustration (spelling out “Large”) that immediately reminded me of Stefan Kjartansson’s absurd and amusing Cumulus and Foam. Whoever drew this strange and lovely lettering for W (likely Ioukhnovets himself), with its hairline slab serif letters ballooning into abstract amoebas, could have been inspired by C&F. The fashion is strikingly reminiscent of the typeface, too. So much so, that I felt compelled to add my own comparison (below).