Pelican books Germano Facetti

Pelican books Germano Facetti

This season we were inspired by the 'social sciences' arm of the Penguin book group. Namely Pelican the hard hitting covers an indicator of post war urban renewal and unwittingly at the time commenting on British subcultures.

We've made a woven patch with our version of a Pelican style book cover and a nonsense title 'Nowadays Almanac'. The visual impact of these books were plastered all over the Anglozine studio wall and we picked up copies at bookstores and junk shops.  From album covers, gig posters, and graphics all over the place theres a definite nod to the Pelican blueprint. The person responsible for these strong book covers and changed the face of British publishing overnight was an Italian chap called Germano Facetti.

Anglozine Nowadys Almanac Pelican book patch


Germano Facetti born in Milan in 1926, the then teenager was arrested in 1943 for putting up anti facist posters in his native Milan and sent to Mauthausen in Austria. Prisoners were worked to death.  When the camp was liberated in 1945 Germano had collated photographs, documents and plans of his captors. He had managed to hide personal notes for years in a small box. Years later this box that had originally held photographic paper gave the title to the short film The Yellow box by Anthony West and Victoria Etcetera. 

Facetti Anglozine MauthausenAnglozine Germano Facetti prisoner of war

After the war Germano went back to Milan and joined the important architectural practice: Banfi, Belgiojoso, Peressutti and Rogers (BBPR) to work on technical literature and records.  Ernesto Rogers, the uncle of Richard Rogers was editing the hugely influential magazine Domus.  

Domus magazine and its advertising at this time reflected an optimism for Italy and post second world war economic reconstruction.  In Italy Domus was said to have looked back to 1930's modernist avant-garde. This new found optimism gave a revival in Milans strength within industrial design, giving us cult objects such as; Lambretta, Vespa and Olivetti.  Many years later Facetti would go onto design the London showroom of Olivetti on Kingsway Holborn with a bold photo-mural.

During his time at BBPR he met the English architect Mary Crittall, they married and moved to London in 1950.  When he arrived in London he worked on building sites and also dabbled in design. In the spirit of Bauhaus he was non-specialist, his first published works were a chair and a pair of sandals. 

He designed an exhibition of industrial design for the Italian institute and the poster work spurred him on to become a 'commercial artist' the term graphic design had not then been termed. 

He attended typography classes at the Central School of Arts & Crafts and went onto find an art editors job at Aldus books.  Facetti spent most of his time hanging out with the great and the good of the London artist scene at Cafe Torino on Old Compton Street Soho - just a short walk from the Aldus book office.

This is Tomorrow Anglozine This is Tomorrow 1956 Anglozine Germano FacettiGermano Facetti Anglozine This is tomorrow

Through making contacts while hanging out at Cafe Torino he designed the Poetry bookshop in Soho, stage sets at the Royal Court, and incredibly took part in the 'This is Tomorrow' exhibition at the Whitechapel gallery in 1956 in the programme looking very 'Citizen Smith' in his Sheepskin jacket and Beret.  Facetti was on an absolute role even smashing the 'those that can't -teach' slur by also holding down various teaching roles (years later he would also go onto lecture at Yale university). It was common in the late 1950's and right up until the early 1970's to move jobs and move around but it seems that being liberated from the death camp in Austria gave Facetti a determination to grasp every opportunity.

 La Jetee Chris Marker Anglozine

In 1959 Facetti left London for the French capital to work on in store design projects for Pingouin wools - No not a typo a sign of his future role perhaps?  In London his friends and network were with the likes of artists and architects, in Paris his network was with film makers; Alain Resnais, Agnes Varda and the American Chris Marker.  Both Facetti and Marker collaborated on the film La Jetee, Facetti actually appearing in the film too.

La Jetee film Anglozine

Back in London Allen Lane the founder of the Penguin book group had been so impressed with the Poetry Bookshop design in Soho that he offered Facetti a job.  So in 1960 he was hired as artistic director to bring Penguin and Pelican covers up to date.   Facetti had a strong industrial design background, worked in publishing and had also just done a stint in retail concept over in Paris - all of the boxes had been ticked. 

Anglozine Pelican book covers Anglozine Pelican books Anglozine London Germano Facetti PelicanThe Strange case of pot Anglozine Pelican

Facetti introduced young designers and photographers some of which went onto achieve success in their own right, such as photographer Roger Mayne who shot the cover of Anglozine favourite 'Adolescent Boys of East London' (taken from his Southam street series).  Facetti surrounded himself with likeminded creatives and set about establishing Penguins identity. In the words of Germano Facetti "a visual frame of reference to the work of literature as an additional service to the reader"

 Anglozine Germano Facetti Penguin books

But it wasn't all plain sailing in one instance Facetti wanted to redesign the Penguin classics with a black background.  So confident was the new artistic director that he bet a magnum of Champagne on the sale of these bold book covers.  The disgruntled Penguin directors had to cough up when the bet paid off. Facetti had completely decked out the Blackwells bookshop window in Oxford with his perfectly designed covers and obliterated the sales figures. 

Germano Facetti had now made his mark not only at Penguin but had it is said single handedly modernised British book design. He left Penguin in 1972 and returned to Italy working on various projects and teaching right up until his death in 2006. In a nutshell he: survived a death camp, worked at Domus, contributed to This is Tomorrow, La Jetee, became creative director of Penguin for a decade and turned around British publishing.

Theres a timely exhibition on at the moment at The Photographers Gallery London 'The Partisan coffee house: Radical Soho and the new left' that features early poster work by Facetti and they have a zine down in the book shop too, the photographs are all by Roger Mayne of Southam Street fame. 

Anglozine Partisan Cafe

The Partisan coffee house was opened in 1958-1963 located in Soho on 7 Carlisle Street the description of one of the images in the exhibition reads and I quote:

"The Partisan closed in 1963, a victim of its own success and poor management. The hundreds of coffee drinking leftists who used the building as a daily meeting place didn't spend enough money to make it a going concern"

No change there then.





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