Introducing Ernst, the party animal
Designed by Léon Hugues, Ernst is a light-hearted and glamorous slab serif rooted in early 20th-century continental Europe. With its fetching details it works well as a display face while its consistent design also makes Ernst suitable for setting texts
Interview by Massimo Gonzato
Léon Hugues is a young Anglo-French typedesigner based in Paris where he works for various international foundries. We reached out to him for a chat on Ernst, his latest ‘quasi-revival’ typeface released by CAST foundry.
How would you define Ernst and what did you have in mind for its use?
Ernst is an elegant but playful slab serif that evokes some peculiar German types of the early 20th-century. It responds to contemporary demands by offering a wide range of applications: from editorial projects to posters.
Where did you get inspiration from?
In German ‘ernst’ means ‘serious’, but Ernst is anything but serious, especially with its whimsical italic that recalls the lettering of early 20th-century Parisian street theatres and silent movies. Ernst blends details from faces such as Ernst Deutsch’s Tango-Antiqua and Tango-Cursiv (1913), and Georg Belwe’s Belwe-Antiqua (1913) and Belwe-Schrägschrift (1914). I was interested in those types and in their distinctive early-20th-century flavour.
Belwe and Deutsch, Cursiv and Antiqua… Let us know more about your sources of inspiration.
Ernst Deutsch/Dryden was an interesting figure of his times, with a multifarious and cosmopolitan career. Son of a Jewish merchant from Szeged in Hungary, he was born in Vienna in 1887 and became a costume designer and commercial artist. He died in Los Angeles in 1938. His name would have been officially changed from Deutsch to Dryden in 1931.
Deutsch probably trained as a guest student at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Vienna (where Gustav Klimt was teaching at the time). In 1911, he left for Berlin. Among other graphic artists attracted by the capital of the German Empire, Deutsch was one of the main representatives of the golden age of poster art. In 1919 he returned to Vienna and started his career as a fashion designer under the pseudonym ‘Dryden’. He worked for the launch and rise of men’s outfitter Kniže & Comp. together with the owner Fritz Wolff and the architect Adolf Loos. Beside this, Deutsch/Dryden founded Hello, his own successful fashion brand. In 1926, he moved to Paris to work for the German magazine Die Dame. He also worked as a fashion designer for Coco Chanel and designed posters and advertisements for brands such as Bugatti, Cinzano and Vogue. In 1933, he relocated to New York and worked for major fashion houses. After a very successful year, in 1934, he moved to Hollywood where he devised costumes for prominent film productions until his premature death in 1938.
It was during the exciting years in Berlin that Deutsch designed his prototypical Tango typeface for silent movies – my first source of inspiration for Ernst.
Deutsch’s Tango-Antiqua is a thin monolinear roman with a big x-height, while its italic companion Tango-Cursiv is a thin monolinear design full of flourishes and with a big x-height too. Deutsch also designed Tango-Cursiv Fett (bold) and Tango-Antiqua HalbFett (semi-bold). According to the Klingspor Museum’s information sheet, these fonts were all released between 1913 and 1916 by Schriftgiesserei Julius Klinkhardt in Leipzig, and later cast and distributed by H. Berthold AG, Berlin (in their specimens the name Tango-Cursiv changed to Tango-Kursiv).
Well, now that we know more about Deutsch/Dryden and his typeface Tango, what about Belwe?
Georg Belwe (1878–1954) is not as glamorous as Deutsch/Dryden, but he too was a man of many talents: typographer, typedesigner and teacher. Georg was the son of Alexander Belwe, a senior official in Berlin, and it was here that he completed his artistic training at the Unterrichtsanstalt des Königlichen Kunstgewerbemuseums (the Royal Museum of Applied Arts). In 1900 with Fritz Helmuth Ehmcke and Friedrich Wilhelm Kleukens he set up the private press Steglitzer Werkstatt. In 1906 he was appointed to the Leipziger Akademie für Graphische Künste und Buchgewerbe (the Leipzig Academy for Graphic Arts and the Book Trade) where for a long time he was head of the typography department.
Among his several designs, the ones that interested me for Ernst were Belwe-Antiqua and its bold version, both released by Schelter & Giesecke in 1913, and the accompanying italic Belwe-Schrägschrift that followed in 1914.
Let’s go back to our Ernst typeface. How did these peculiar sources of inspiration influence your design and how did you harmonise them to build up a contemporary multipurpose typeface?
I kind of fell in love with Deutsch’s shapes straight away, but I didn’t want to limit myself to a revival of his work. I wanted to build a very versatile tool and find a way to dive into his art in a contemporary manner. Most of Deutsch’s work was hand- and custom-made for poster and titling while my aim was to have a typeface for a wider range of uses. So, during my sketching enough for setting texts but without losing character.
Then came Belwe Antiqua. During my research I couldn’t help noticing a common vocabulary between Deutsch’s and Belwe’s work; I wanted to rethink my project and find out how I could express myself through those two giants and discover how one could dance with the other. I tried to be the choreographer of this encounter.
We’ll notice this dialogue through details in Ernst, capitals derived from Deutsch/Dryden’s Tango-Antiqua and the lowercase influenced by Belwe. The italic capitals of Ernst also come from Tango, but this time the lowercase is rooted in Tango-Cursiv. The thin weight reflects the finest of Dryden’s work, where the bold weights have that sturdy text feel inspired by Belwe Antiqua. This whole journey was about finding balance.
How many styles, weights, glyphs, OpenType features etc. does Ernst come with?
Ernst comes with its true italic in a range of seven weights: Thin, ExtraLight, Light, Regular, Medium, Bold, ExtraBold. Ernst features all kinds of figures: proportional lining, tabular lining, proportional old style, tabular old style. There are also small caps, and alternate shapes for capitals M, P, U, Y and lowercase a, g and r.
How long did you take to design and finish Ernst? Did you discuss and improve it together with CAST foundry before its release?
I started drawing Ernst in December 2021 so it took me a year and a half to finalise it. We had many discussions with the CAST team, fine tuning and thrashing out details that today really make a difference. One big discussion was around the italic, its quirky loops made it complex to clip in nicely, it was a puzzle to find out the size and weight of those loops; how could they be spaced and what could be saved with a touch of kerning. Everything had to feel organic within a title or a text. In other moments we just needed time, no drawing, no looking at Ernst, just leaving it aside, thinking about it and looking at it with fresher eyes weeks later.
‘Discussing’, ‘arguing’, ‘rethinking’, ‘compromising’ would be the key words of this project. There have been so many discussions about big and tiny details on Ernst, and I think this project would have not found its final form without such debates.
Finally, what are Ernst’s main features and merits?
Ernst is a joyful, stylish, and charming slab serif. The pronounced and frisky details of both its styles, roman and italic, make it ideal for display purposes, while the big x-height, the rigour of its design and the consistency of its proportions also make it suitable for long texts. Enjoy it!