The Comédie-Française was founded in 1680 by means of a “lettre de cachet” (declaration of the king’s will) through Louis XIV, the Sun King. In his decree, he merged the two existing theater companies of Paris into one, part of which were formerly known as Molière’s actors, which in turn gave birth to the alternative name, La Maison de Molière (“House of Molière”).
The Comédie-Française is certainly a central pilar in the history of the performing arts in France. Today it is one of six state-financed national theaters, managing three venues, with Salle Richelieu, next to Palais Royal, being the flagship since 1799.
In 2021, the closing of the theater due to the Covid pandemic gave the staff of Comédie-Française the time to rethink how the house as a premise works and eventually led to a redo of the wayfinding system inside the building.
It is the work of cl design, a design studio based in Paris and working nationwide. They have a special fondness for exhibition design, wayfinding systems, and lettering in public spaces.
Éric Ruf, actor and chief administrator of Comédie-Française, had three prerequisites for the redesign. Aesthetically, the new wayfinding system should bring a breath of fresh air to this old institution. On the other hand it had to be highly functional, spectators should get to their seats within twenty minutes. And last but not least, the new visuality should reflect on the core of the business: the stage, or the backstage, respectively.
For the landmark elements of the wayfinding system cl design collaborated with the designer duo FandD. Together they developed light objects in black and white referring to pulleys. Black are the round cases that display the typography as white light from inside. White are ropes of light, adding poetry and playfulness to the overall appearance. Other layers of the wayfinding system display 3D-lettering from metal and foil plot.
The graphic designers chose Production Type’s Sainte Colombe, a serifed roman not refering to a Holy Pigeon but instead to Jean de Sainte-Colombe who was a violist and composer in the 17th century. He is famous for having added a seventh string to the viola da gamba. In that same spirit, the designer of the typeface, Yoann Minet, chose music and innovation as a reference for his typeface, released in 2018.
Sainte Colombe is based on a consistent rhythm and a rather high stroke contrast. But in the details, the drawing displays deliberate inconsistencies along the lines of Renaissance and Classicism – or shall we call it freedoms? – that make it a perfect fit for this project, according to the 17th century as much as to the design brief.