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The Grandest Hoax of All Time (or of this week)

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Well this writer has been successfully had. From a post the other day, “A Typographer’s Biography,” which we’d written as a tribute to learning about a typographer we’d never heard of, doesn’t so much exist. An astute reader dropped us a line to say that Chalet, the typographer in question, is a complete fabrication of House Industries, who created the font. Had we scrolled down a bit beyond the first few congraluatory comments, and a batch that clearly also fell for the ruse, we would have discovered the error. But hey, we love the tricks as much as the next batch of design editors. Plus it lead us back over to House, which, of course, does some amazing work and whose catalog, when it arrives in the studio, is always immediately flipped through and oogled. And also back to this review in Speak Up about House’s beautiful hardcover book, which also mentions the hoax and turns this writer’s face a blushing red. Here’s that section:

I’m not always enamored with their packaging and promotional efforts, and the contexts they create for their typefaces are sometimes downright dubious. For Chalet, a modern sans serif similar to Helvetica and Futura, House created a fictional character named Rene Albert Chalet, a supposedly unknown and forgotten designer from the 40s. The idea was to show how ignorant most graphic designers are about the history and activity of type design. The hoax was pulled off so convincingly, with the type specimens containing quotes about Chalet by some of the world’s leading contemporary type designers, that most people believed the story, and some design magazines even printed articles about the font and its inspiration without ever realizing that Rene Albert Chalet was a fictional character.

I never quite understood what purpose this prank served. It doesn’t take much to pull off a hoax like this since typeface design already suffers from a great deal of anonymity and lack of understanding. You can tell people just about anything about the origins of a font and they couldn’t care less. This was made obvious by the fact that no one ever challenged or questioned the existence of Rene Albert Chalet and House’s claims that the design of Chalet preceded Helvetica by 13 years. Obviously Chalet owes much to Max Miedinger’s Helvetica and Paul Renner’s Futura. I would have loved to see House give these two giants the same kind of treatment they gave Big Daddy Roth and Benguiat.

How did we miss all of this?!

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