The Eloquence of Life

“He who has not seen the road, at dawn, between its two rows of trees, all fresh, all alive, does not know what hope is.”

All images: The author

This phrase, translated from French by Georges Bernanos is but one of several accompanying the evocative images in the beautiful and highly sought-after Citroën DS Décapotable brochure. These poem fragments are also virtually the only words to be found in the booklet, which represented a hitherto unseen and fresh way of publicizing a car, thanks to the combined creative genius of artistic manager Robert Delpire and photographer William Klein.

The DS, convertible or otherwise, was of course not just any car (and Citroën not just any carmaker) so the fact that the stars aligned so perfectly to result in this almost mythical creation seems almost predestined. Robert Delpire (1926-2017) was put in charge of both artistic direction and editorship of Le double Chevron, Citroën’s monthly magazine, in the spring of 1960.

Soon after followed the first brochures; for the 2cv, the new Ami 6 and of course the DS Décapotable. Delpire managed Citroën’s global advertising budget and became responsible for all methods of communication: not just brochures but also posters, internal publications, films, exhibitions and so forth.

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The audacious typography and layouts by Delpire made Citroën brochures of the era unmistakeable; what was also unusual is that the same care in design, choice of paper and photography was taken whether it concerned a 2cv or a DS brochure. So revolutionary was Delpire’s work that, for the first time in history, in October of 1965 the prestigious Musée des Arts Décoratifs featured an exhibition dedicated to Citroën’s advertising and graphic arts.

Inspecting the cover of this large 26-page brochure, printed on luxurious glossy laminated stock, the thing that strikes most as unusual is the fact that it is devoid of any text and even the subject of the brochure itself is almost hidden by the lush golden gate dominating the view. Open it up and the contrast between a black and a white page which will appear throughout the catalogue catches the eye. It is on this first spread that the words Citroën DS and ID Convertibles appear; the only mention of the subject being presented.

From then on, we enter the wonderful world of William Klein – born in 1928 and still with us at the time of this writing. “Lovers, happy lovers, do you want to travel?” is Jean de la Fontaine’s seductive accompaniment to Klein’s daringly composed opening photo which creates a fish-eye lens like-effect.

The evocative, atmospheric images keep on coming: no technical details, no dimensions, no performance claims, no praising words on why the reader should want this car; Delpire and Klein let the typography and photos do the talking, with a little help from writers and poets.

Voltaire’s contribution is perhaps the one most fitting to the DS Décapotable and what it represents in all its Frenchness: “The superfluous, a very necessary thing. Luxury is a natural continuation of the progress of the human species“. In honour of the brochure itself, I will now refrain from further descriptions and let the images speak for themselves.

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Should you want to acquire one of these rare items, bear in mind that this is one of the few car catalogues that is not only highly sought after by brochure collectors, but also by owners of a DS Décapotable, photography aficionados and collectors of the graphic arts. Therefore, be prepared to leave for home with a substantially lighter wallet – but I assure you that you will forget all that the first time you sit down and drink in its luxuriant magnificence.

Author: brrrruno

Car brochure collector, Thai food lover, not a morning person before my first cup of coffee

5 thoughts on “The Eloquence of Life”

  1. Another delightful brochure, thank you, Bruno. It is a visual and, I’m sure, tactile pleasure.

    One of the ‘odd jobs’ I acquired during my former city career was writing the copy for a brochure we used to publish annually to promote our area of business. It was fun working with the advertising agency, commissioning photography and deciding on the style, dimensions, paper, typefaces etc. for the brochure. (We happily ignored all the prescriptive corporate standards that should have applied, much to the annoyance of the ‘official’ marketing people.) Whether most of the recipients appreciated the effort and care that went into its production is a moot point!

  2. In one way the brochure is a relic from an age where you could sell a car with poetry and art. That´s easy to do with a DS, of course. In another, the current mode for brochures and ads is for minimal text. Printed ads are especially spare: the name of the brand, the model and a photo of a car in a concrete utupia. In 8 pt print at the bottom is a band of legal text. Can anyone think of a modern car worth some poetry? There might be one or two, probably the ones I personally like though.

  3. 26 Pages and not a single line on the prowess and statistic of the lovely DS. Surely even buyers who couldnt care less about the mechanical package of the car itself would have been wowed by a diagram (and flowing description) of the self levelling suspension. Maybe its because Ive never been one for romance or poetry. However I wholeheartedly agree that the brochure is a captivating one.

  4. Here´s my copy for the Vignale Mondeo. The photos are by Nanna Heitman of Magnum:

    The radiance.

    Comfort lands softly – silence of joy

    Let your mind rise above gravity´s care.

    Let your heart unfold into the innermost calm.

    The curve of the road is rises; the wheels trace landforms, lake margins, mountain crests.

    In the glove box, a map.

    In you mind, the destination that is the way there.

    Vignale. Calm. Comfort. Quality.

    Drive on!

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