Nicolas Ouchenir is a self-taught calligrapher whose talent surfaced while he was director of a contemporary art gallery in Paris. Obsessive to detail, he hand-addressed exhibition invitations in typefaces he created based on artists’ signatures. It made a big difference.

Nicolas Ouchenir's 'portraits-signature' on show at Colette, Paris

‘Receiving an invitation with your name beautifully handwritten on the envelope makes you feel desired,’ he explains.

Nicolas Ouchenir's 'portraits-signature' on show at Colette, Paris

Ouchenir began receiving commissions from Carine Roitfeld and Karl Largerfeld to design Fashion Week invitations, and private commissions to handwrite love letters for Russian and Middle Eastern clients.

Nicolas Ouchenir's 'portraits-signature' on show at Colette, Paris

An insatiable bookworm, Ouchenir was reading Michel Tournier when he received a call from his friend, Thomas Erber, curator of the Cabinet de Curiosités. ‘I’d just that moment read Tournier’s phrase, “danser fou de désir en silence, les corps enlacés”, that evoked Thomas to me.’ Erber was ringing to request a portrait, which he needed immediately. Ouchenir took Tournier’s words and wove them into an intricate calligraphic portrait. It became the first of a series of 100 intimate portraits in cipher drawn from literary quotes researched and selected by the artist.

Nicolas Ouchenir's 'portraits-signature' on show at Colette, Paris

Twenty of these are on show in the Colette concept store in Paris. Twenty more portraits will be appearing as a road show in London, New York, Los Angeles and in an as yet unannounced destination in Africa.