Mary Egan Publishing
NZ Book Publishing Specialists

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HOW WE WHIPPED ‘THE DOMINATRIX’ IN TO SHAPE

ANNA’S NOTES ON THE DESIGN OF ONE OF OUR RECENT TITLES

Every now and then a book comes along that seems to have a charmed existence – the kind of book you can really get excited about. The History and Arts of the Dominatrix is one such book. The illustrated treatise on the dominatrix throughout history, written under the pseudonym Anne O Nomis, is the only one of it’s kind in the world. No book has been published on the subject, and that meant there was no precedent for how such a book should or could look.

The author and I both have a background in art history and design so we thoroughly indulged our mutual appreciation of the craft of book design with this project. We threw everything at it.

Early on we began discussions on what sort of treatments and embellishments we would use to make this a covetable object. The first print run (a limited edition run of 2,000) needed to feel special. We decided on a quarter bound, hard cover – a small volume at 150 x 215mm.

For inspiration, we turned to Henry Spencer Ashbee’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books). We thought for a book that reveals the ancient roots of the dominatrix it should have an ‘olde worlde’ feel. The author gifted me with a copy of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (from 1877, no less!) – a beautiful, leather bound version complete with an ex libris, detailed engraved ornaments, generous margins, and highly pleasing use of blackletter type and red ink. The challenge was to make our book look both Victorian and contemporary; and to avoid making it look dated.

I chose Caslon for the body text because it is a classic – it’s metal equivalent was commonly used during the British Arts and Crafts movement – and to use a very modern typeface would have betrayed the content. It was trickier to select the heading font. I started with a traditional blackletter but that looked too antiquated. I knew the heading font needed to be evocative, at the same time being elegant and contemporary. 

After many hours spent trying different type, I finally found Mayer, a typeface created in 2012 but Victorian-inspired, by David Adrian Smith. With its tall narrow letterforms, its curls and curves evoking a whip, it was the perfect fit – for both the format and the material. (I must admit I had a terribly geeky, design-related ‘Eureka!’ moment at this point). With the fonts tied down, the rest of the internal design came together: classical proportions, detailed engravings, scarlet headings and captions, and the most amazing colour plates sourced from museums, art galleries, libraries worldwide and from the private collections of those in the fetish community.

The cover was a delight to design. During the conceptual stage we decided against having an image on the front; the book would only have the title, the author’s name and a Victorian frame. It then came to me to incorporate some ‘tools of the trade’ into the frame. These now adorn the four corners and are so subtle you could easily fail to notice them unless you spend some time inspecting the cover. The frame and author’s name are printed in gold foil. For the word ‘Dominatrix’ I added an extra whip to the end of the ‘R’ and enlarged the ‘X’ making it reminiscent of the St Andrew’s Cross (another piece of fetish equipment). The title was then blocked and printed in the same gold foil.

A full bleed photograph of the author in a Venetian mask graces the back cover. This contemporary image strikes a balance with the ornamental front cover. The endpapers are printed in a rich black, inviting the reader to step into a dark dungeon. The finishing touches were added: a black Arlin spine, printed with gold foil, a scarlet ribbon marker and a burgundy bellyband carrying the barcode, QR code and some extra marketing information. Adding the bellyband meant that the ‘must haves’ on the cover would not detract from the elegant design.

So you can see, a great deal of thought went into creating this small but perfectly formed publication. With fixtures and fittings that are sensitive to the content, we have created a beautiful object that would be equally at home on a book collector’s shelf, in an art shop, a library or a Dominatrix’s dungeon. Now how many books could you say that about?

Sophia Egan-Reid