Dalton Maag’s Monte Stella typeface celebrates the “imperfect” post-war vernacular lettering of Milan

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It seems a perfect moment for a Milanese designer in London to pay homage to his home city, and Dalton Maag type designer Riccardo De Franceschi has done so by celebrating something he loves – and misses – about the place, its signage. Monte Stella, a new typeface launched by the foundry this week, takes its name from the artificial mountain in the San Siro district, symbolising the city’s renaissance after World War II. It’s this aesthetic era of the city’s history he chose to focus on for his design, looking to the shop signs, print designs and public space graphics of the 1950s-70s and their “imperfect” handmade feel.

“The project originated from a passion for vernacular letter shapes, as my own interpretation of the look and feel of Milan, a visual landscape I grew up in,” Riccardo explains. “In the decades following World War II, a Milanese design elite produced revolutionary advertisements, objects and buildings for progressive brands, by taking advantage of the latest technical and industrial developments. But it also worked elbow-to-elbow with expert local craftsmen, who partook in the development of the city in their own right. These artisans and small family-run businesses tell us another design story of Milan; and it is this which Monte Stella celebrates.”

Hence the typeface is an “ode to the forgotten artisans of yesterday’s Milan,” he says, and a celebration of “informal aesthetics and design found in unexpected places”. This could be shop window stickers, commercial signage or editorial design, such as Compacta by Letraset or Metropol by Nebiolo. “Imagine a shoemaker or car mechanic making their own sign,” Riccardo says. “Typography is not their native territory so they will try to make their own life easy [and] figure out a modular system to build the counters of their round letters. They will push the height of ‘t’ up so that it aligns with the ascenders of ‘b’ and ‘h’. Their fresh point of view on letter design will result in unorthodox construction for the more complex characters such as ‘a’ and ‘g’.” The letterforms of Monte Stella are directly reflect this analysis.

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