Among the highlights of this weekend’s inaugural Designers and Books Fair was Debbie Millman’s on-stage conversation with Steven Heller and Louise Fili. Perched on a Florence Knoll two-seater in an auditorium at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the pair discussed everything from the difference between a logo and a brand (“about $500,000,” according to Fili) to the joys of miniature mannequins (“I love these things,” enthused Heller, who credits the couple’s 2002 book on the subject with nearly pricing him out of the mini-mannequin market. “These are sculptures of commerce, raw commercial art.”). Millman’s well-constructed questions touched on many aspects of their nearly 30-year union, including Heller’s marriage proposal. It will come as no suprise that books played a critical role in his popping the question.
Picture it: summertime, Italy, the early ’80s. Fili and Heller were staying in Tuscany, and kept bumping into two of their design-savvy friends, Paula Scher and Henrietta Condak, who were staying nearby. “It became this game, because we were all on a search, out to get the best stuff in Italy–the best books–before anyone else did,” explained Fili. One day, she and Heller arrived at Florence’s Centro Di with just 30 minutes to spare before the bookshop closed for lunch. They noticed that Scher and Condak had also just walked in. “I saw the look on Steve’s face, because he knows this is not a good thing, when he has competition,” said Fili. “So he had to get away from them as fast as possible and get to the books.” A bit of small talk ensued: How’s the trip? What’s new? Heller saw an exit strategy. “Oh, we’re getting married,” he told Scher and Condak, before making a beeline for the books. “He left me to explain,” said Fili. “I didn’t even know what I had to say about it yet, because I didn’t really have any details.” But all’s well that ends well. Added a grinning Heller after Fili had told the tale, “I got the books and I got the dame.”