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Alexis Taieb found his love for typography and design as a young graffiti artist on the streets of Paris

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During a recent Ligue 1 match, Zlatan Ibrahimovic ceremoniously removed his shirt after scoring a goal, revealing a torso that appeared to have undergone something of a tattoo transformation. The PSG striker’s body was adorned with 50 individual works of art, each depicting the name of a different person fighting hunger on a day-to-day basis. The not-so-typical celebration was a semi-orchestrated move to launch the World Food Programme’s “805 Million Names” campaign, an initiative to raise awareness for global hunger.

When Zlatan removed his shirt on the pitch in Paris, Alexis Taieb, one of two artists tapped to design the temporary tattoos, sat at his home in awe of what he was seeing—and what he had helped to create.

Taieb found his love for typography and design as a young graffiti artist on his hometown streets of Paris. After graduating from art school in France, he soon found himself working as a freelancer—his client roster now includes the likes of Carhartt, McDonalds, Moet, Nike, and Uniqlo, among others. Taieb’s affinity for football often intersects with his work; he was commissioned by Nike to work on several campaigns for the French Football Federation in the lead up to the 2014 World Cup, and by French magazine BlackRainbow, for whom he beautifully re-interpreted logos of popular football clubs.

We sat down with Taieb to speak about his previous football related projects, how he became involved in the “805 Million Names” campaign, and what it was like to meet Zlatan.

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Are you a big football fan or a casual supporter?  Which club do you support?

I’m more a casual supporter, but have been since I was young. I used to watch matches at the Parc des Princes with my uncle—I support PSG obviously!  I was born in Paris, and that’s the only club I could support!

Do you approach football-related projects any differently than your other commissioned work?

I guess, I know that with football I really need to add spontaneity and dynamism in my types. I do a lot of illustrations— sometimes I spend 1 full week to make one—but for this kind of job, it needs to be more spontaneous.

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You’ve worked with Nike on a number of projects for the French Football Federation. What did you enjoy most about working on those projects?

I’m proud to be French, and I’m proud of my national football team. I was 14 when we won the ’98 World Cup; it was an historical moment and it’s now part of my culture. So when Nike asked me to be involved in the french campaign, it was fantastic to me!

The re-interpreted logos of popular football clubs that you created for Black Rainbow were fantastic. What was your inspiration for those?

I’ve always loved old blazons and old monograms, like coat of arms. I also really like sport logos, but I thought they sometimes need more elegance and refinement. My work is a mix between traditional typography and modern typography, so the project was an obvious match.

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How did the “805 Million Names” project come about?  What was the brief?

One year ago I worked with the director Gustav Johansson on a Nike film. We really appreciated each other, so we stayed connected. A few month ago he called me to ask me to be part of this project; he was already working on it with the agency Forsman & Bodenfors. I was really excited to be involved because Zlatan is one of my favorite players… and he plays for PSG!

What was the creative process between Martin Schmetzer and yourself? What was the inspiration behind the various typefaces?

They gave us a list of 25 names to design. We were very free to do whatever we wanted. We had no feedback, so it was pretty fun. We were each doing our thing, Martin in Sweden, me in Paris.

Martin was the first to send three or four logos, and it was so sick! Then I started, and I had that positive pressure to try to make something as good! I naturally used my own references, old traditional type, tattoos, U.S. sport logos, old Parisian signs—all my references are in these logos.

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How did you feel when Zlatan removed his shirt and revealed your work?

I watched the game at home with my girlfriend— poor dear, she doesn’t like football! In the second minute Zlatan scored, and I screamed like every time when PSG score, but I never thought he would remove his shirt. It wasn’t the plan. He was supposed to do it at the end of the game.

I saw it… and damn it was so good! I felt like I was seeing something historical, and, wow, I was part of it!

What was the most difficult part of this project?

Nothing was difficult, it was only fun. Doing my types without any intentions or any brief, I could do whatever I wanted, whatever I liked. It just had to be readable.

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Did you have any interaction with Zlatan himself?

Yes, during the shooting, the director [Gustav Johansson] introduced me and Martin to Zlatan. He was topless, and the make up artists was putting the tattoos on him. Gustav said that we are the ones that made the type, and he congratulated us, saying that he really liked our work. He was very surprised by the time we spent on all these design!

Anything else you’d like to add?

A lot of people hate Zlatan because they think he is arrogant, but the guy I’ve met was such a great person. He came back after his dinner to finish the film, because he really wanted to do it well and finish the shoot— he finished the day really, really late. He was really involved in this campaign, and I saw that it was something really important for him, much more than any other commercials he has made.

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