Illuminated by the dazzling spotlight at fashion shows, there are many people behind it. One of them is Nicola Ouchenir, who is French luxury brands’ favorite calligrapher. He started his career 17 years ago with entirely self-taught and invented alphabets, and played an active role as the one and only person in the industry. From well-known brands to young designers, it’s hard to find a brand from Paris Fashion Week that he has never worked with. Not only he is a talented calligrapher, but his warmth and generosity make people want to be around him. I talked to him in his atelier about his career as a calligrapher and the pandemic-changing fashion industry.
――Do you like writing and drawing since you are a child?
Nicola Ouchenir：Absolutely! My oldest memory was at the hospital. It was hard for me to see a doctor when I was a child. I distract myself from it, focused on the prescriptions that doctors wrote: the ink coming out of his fountain pen, the illegible letters. I loved the certain air of mystery and historicity in his handwriting.
――How did your career kick off?
Nicolas：It all started when I worked in an art gallery. There I began handwriting invitations to buyers and found that they were a lot more effective. We noticed that people were coming to openings with their invitations which usually you don’t bring it with you, it’s just there to give you the information you need.
Then I started to make seating cards for dinners with different lettering for each guest. Again, I realized that everyone was taking the cards with them when they left. It was awesome. I became more and more interested in writing, and I could not help writing it. But it just never occurred to me I could make a living from it.
――How did you get to make a living?
Nicolas：Everything was almost a coincidence. An acquaintance I met at an art gallery asked me to do a calligraphy job, and that person introduced me to another person … That’s how the connection was connected. In the early days of my career, I met Miuccia Prada and Rick Owens, creating logos and writing invitations, which took me to get involved in the fashion industry.
――What do you value at work?
Nicolas：I think it’s about building constructive relationships with the people I work with. I don’t do the assembly line of reading the requested materials and sending the work. It is important to understand the brand’s philosophy, know the people who work there, and face each other as a person. From there, it starts building the desired image of the event or product in people’s mind before they’re even acquainted with it. For example, in the past “Cartier” collaboration, I stayed in India for 3 months, shared time with the team, and worked on the production. After inputting the necessary information, start the output work while listening to music and drinking vodka. On weekends, I often leave Paris for inspiration or spend my time relaxing in my second house in Biarritz. I bring my notebook everywhere and never stop writing.
――What do you do exactly as a calligrapher?
Nicolas：I handwrite addresses and names on invitations for shows, events, parties, collaborate with brands, and even create individual customers’ works. Basically, it is written on paper, but it varies depending on the request, such as jewelry sculpture, tattoo design, and writing on the building’s entire wall. For fashion show invitations, there are endless materials such as leather and glass. There are various collaborations, and in addition to prints such as T-shirts, “Prada” produced a fountain pen set containing several types of perfume scented ink. A collaboration with the Japanese luxury bag brand “Duren” is currently underway, and the logo I designed will be drawn not only on the bag but also on the surfboard. I’m hoping you could look forward to the release next year!
――How many invitations do you write at Fashion Week?
Nicolas：About 2000 a day, 60,000 in total. I work forever if necessary without going home. Often times the sofa in my atelier turns into a bed.
――Spring / Summer 2021 Paris Fashion Week was held on both digital and physical, so there were very few invitations.
Niclas：Not only shows but most events weren’t held, and the workload was incredibly reduced.
――Did you have any concerns about the future during the pandemic?
Nicolas：I don’t think that people are just clients who have worked with me for many years, they are like family members. It is important to help each other; increasing or decreasing the amount of work does not cause anxiety. Look around, calligraphy is everywhere, including products, advertisements, and shops. With more and more collaboration with hotels and museums, wine makers, architects, and interior decorators, my working range is not limited to the fashion industry. I think this means that calligraphy pervades the culture of art. I have recently done handwritten works for posting on SNS, and the new experience of fusion of physical and digital is interesting and exciting.
――Are you familiar with Japanese calligraphy?
Nicolas：I’m not deeply familiar with it, but I love calligraphy works and ukiyoe, and these are really beautiful. A film called “The Pillow Book” was impressed by the beauty of the calligraphy. I wouldn’t have been a calligrapher without this film.
――What’s your impression of Japan?
Nicolas：I visit Japan at least once a year. Not only art, but also the city, architecture, and interior all inspire me. I am also attracted to the clothing culture such as kimono, and I use Haori made from kimono fabric as my work uniforms. Junko, the designer of Junko Shimada, has been a longtime friend of mine. She has invited me to her villa in Tateyama many times, making it my favorite place as well as Tokyo and Kyoto. One thing I must do when I’m in Japan is to buy a lot of brush pens. The brush pen, which is between the ink and the pen, is a wonderful invention with a unique finish that cannot be replaced. I miss Japan very much because I couldn’t travel this year…