MA History of Design and Material Culture student Sarah-Mary Geissler investigates a book from the collection of designer FHK Henrion
When looking at an object, it is vital to understand its context. Who owned it and where does it come from? Where is it now and why? Belongings often illuminate much about who used them. Sometimes the real story of an object is actually the story of the owner.This was the case with Ein lustiges ABC der Moden, Trachten und Kostüme (or A merry ABC of fashion, folk dress and costume) by Fritz Kredel.[Image 1] This charming book teaches the alphabet through the history of dress; from 1700 BC to 1956 AD, from Eton boys to Vikings. Each page depicts the interaction of two characters dressed in historic garb, their frolics described through rhyming couplets. The sheets are discoloured at the edges, but clean; as though they were turned with care. The book belonged to German designer FHK Henrion, an internationally renowned graphic designer. The book now resides in the FHK Henrion Archive within the University of Brighton Design Archives, whose staff provided me with the information necessary to investigate further.
It is worth noting that Henrion’s collection of books were given to the Design Archives, and kept in the order that Henrion himself had at his home library. As archivist Sue Breakell informed me, his personal collection was comprised of many hundreds of books, a mix of German and English and covering many subjects.So why would such an esteemed professional designer hang onto this book in particular? The ABC format seems juvenile, though the translated text comes across somewhat saucy, such as P’s “the damsel in the Peplos seems scolding, The gentleman in Pyjamas to charm”[Image 2]. We can’t be certain whether the book was his own purchase or a gift. However, as historians we can link what we see in the object to what we’ve read to come up with our speculations.
His parents, concerned with the rise of National Socialism in Germany, sent him in 1933 to live with relatives in Paris. It was here that he took up a design apprenticeship for a textile manufacturer, and attended many life drawing classes while in the city.This was the beginning of an illustrious design career, going on to design logos for Dutch airline KLM amongst other corporate ventures such as Shell, Phillips, and the Post Office.Though his interest in graphics for the fashion industry endured through his career. During the 1940s Henrion designed covers for fashion magazines Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, he also conceived the ad campaign for Harella ladies clothing.This is but my own speculation, that FHK Henrion was charmed by a colourful little book illustrated with forms and textiles in a quirky, contemporary way which recalled to him his many brushes with fashion, though this may be my over-sentimentalised deduction.[Image 3] In fact, there could be any number of reasons why he held onto the book. The typography, rather than the illustrations, could have been inspiring, or perhaps he enjoyed the witty wordplay. Or it could have just been a gag gift that he left on the shelf and never read; it seems we know the ending, just not the beginning of the story of the book.