Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Needle and Thread

We are an atelier. We make everything by hand. There are no sewing machines in the workplace. We stitch each seam tighter than a surgeon suturing skin; we lock each pull-through with the strength of the thread pulling against itself, not against the fabric. Our knots would silence a sailor (if he saw them under a microscope) and our hems are optical illusions of perfection—suddenly the fabric just… stops—no one knows exactly how. Leave no footprints; reveal no trace.

With only a few square inches in the average bikini, we are not talking about yards and yards of forgiveness. We are specialists who work on miniature masterpieces.

I only mention this because it makes what I’m about to say seem a little more believable.

Dinner began in the way it always does: some enormous house or estate where each person arrives wanting something from someone else and attempts in their own subtle way to steer the conversation and seating arrangements accordingly. I usually sit this little dance out, but I must confess, this particular night I was playing the game, too.

I needed a new typeface for Serg Riva Designs. I’m not ashamed to admit it when I need some help. I can call out your inseam from across the room even if you are wearing a trench coat over a muumuu, but I am a candle underwater when it comes to designing type.

My solution was to invite (secretly, of course) three of the finest typeface designers to the party hoping that they might get into something of a friendly battle over the idea of fixing up the Serg Riva nameplate. Unfortunately, the battle was neither friendly nor little, and it cost me dearly.

At one point, one of the type designers was hanging from the chandelier, trying to use it to swing across the room and kick another typeface grinder in the teeth. He missed, slipped, and fell through the table, taking out what was left of the salad course and ruining a Louis XVI chair in the process. The chair was old and needed to go—but the salad was divine (heirloom tomatoes flown in from France and sardines caught that morning from my favorite place along the Italian Riviera). The second designer responded with a punch, and the third jumped into the fray calling out a word I did not know but assume was Swiss-German slang for “weak-minded.”

Two of my servers were former high school wrestlers before they became models/waiters, and they were kind enough to put down their trays and subdue the typeface designers, who at this point were locked into some kind of three-way embrace that involved hands shoved in each other’s faces, arms twisted behind each other’s backs and all six of their legs squirming like a calamari right before frying.

The trouble started when the honored hostess, who of course was not really hosting but was merely there to be honored, asked one of the typeface designers about his work. She evidently made the mistake of using the word “font” instead of “typeface” and the trouble escalated from there. The fight was clearly more about egos than actual insults.

Just for the record, a font is a particular size and style of a typeface, such as Courier Bold 18 pt. With the advent of computers, the term font has morphed to replace the word "typeface" as the name of the type, instead of a particular size and weight variant of that style of type. So, on display screens, you no longer hear questions of which typeface to use, but questions of which "font." It is a small distinction, but to dedicated designers of type, it is a significant one—a direct insult to the history of their craft. The hostess got caught in the middle. At one point her dress was torn. Personally, I am fine with the careless use of font to mean typeface as it seems to get the point across. Then again, I'm not a type designer.

Like everyone else, I was at a loss for what to do. I walked over to one of the smaller tables and, like a magician or vaudevillian performer, jerked the tablecloth out from under the place settings with a single flourish, pinning it to the wall with two crab forks. I took a lipstick tube from the purse of the woman standing nearest to me and I traced two simple shapes on the tablecloth. I then cut along the shapes and pulled a sewing needle out of my billfold and whipstitched together the seams. I walked over to the hostess and handed her the tablecloth. She pulled it over her head and slid her arms through the armholes and gasped at the near-perfection of the fit.

I had copied her dress in less than two minutes and had the whole room clapping and laughing.

“Serg! I had no idea you could do anything but thongs!” was a common response.

I turned to the three fighting type designers and explained that I could do a lot of things with Serg Riva Designs, if only I had the right typeface.

Needless to say, I’m expecting their competing rough drafts for a new Serg Riva signature typeface in the next few days. I’ll keep you posted on the results.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

wish i was there! sounds like it must have been quite an amazing scene