Michelin & Bibendum: an enduring love affair
I came across my first Michelin Guide as a girl, somewhere in my father’s collection of books- I don’t remember exactly where or when I saw it, but I have that sense that childhood memories often give you, of the bookcase in which it was, and the house, too: I can’t be exact, as it’s hazy, but I know the connection was there. What I am absolutely sure of however is when my first introduction to Bibendum, or The Michelin Man, as he is more commonly known, was. We were avid and obsessed Asterix and Tintin readers in our house- and it was in my Asterix years that I remember meeting Bibendum. I adored Asterix and Obelix, of course (actually, as I’ve mentioned before, Cacofonix held a special place in my heart) and I clearly remember the arrival of this strange new chap, someone who didn’t really look the same as the others, and when he appeared (unofficially I might add) as the chariot wheel dealer, I liked him, I liked the way he stood out from the others, and there he was: stuck in my mind for good. Which, I suppose, is why the logo of the Michelin company has stood the test of time and has won numerous awards and been voted one of the most recognizable logos on many occasions: it has brilliant resonance with people, for a variety of reasons.
Bibendum, the logo, is a combination of two concepts. Edouard and André Michelin had an idea that a stack of tyres was rather representative of a man, and they combined this with French cartoonist Marius Rossillon’s image previously created for a Munich brewery, which depicted a regal figure and the quote (originally from Horace’s Odes) “Nunc est bibendum”- "Now is the time to drink". André suggested replacing Rossillon’s figure with tyres, and the logo was born: a 1898 poster by O’Galop (Rossillon) shows the character offering up a toast to his competitors- with the quote “Le pneu Michelin boit l’obstacle”- inferring that Michelin tyres will “absorb” obstacles on the road.
The logo has developed and changed throughout the years: Bibendum has gone through colour changes and shape changes, he's adopted local dress, worn a pince-nez and smoked a cigar, been depicted as a diplomat, an educator, a speedy racer: but my favourite depictions of him come from the vintage Michelin Guides themselves, and the maps. In the vintage red guides, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, he is seen engaging in local dialect, serving up local delicacies, and smoking and drinking happily. In the maps, he cavorts in the palest of blue oceans, riding miniature friendly-looking sea monsters, and using his vast ballast just to lie back and enjoy the view. He has, for me, embodied an exploratory and relaxed attitude towards life: carefree, but with parameters: he’s the map and guide man, of course! The implication with Bibendum, is that one can soak up the sun in Spain, partake of pastis in Paris, and indulge decadently wherever one may travel to, but it will all be ok. Everything will be ok, because Michelin have done the risk assessment.
Love affairs in childhood often begin with representations and depictions of people- and they don’t have to be generically perfect or bland or accepted stereotypes to be role models. They can be “robust”, made of white tyres, drink, smoke, and foolishly swim alone in The English Channel, and still have a positive and endearing effect on people.
Nunc est bibendum. Cheers, and here’s to you, Bib.
Le pneu Michelin boit d'obstacle
Absolute beauty of the Michelin Map
Michelin did it before Sat Nav
Bib engages in a bit of watersport activity
Float On, Bib (with apologies to Modest Mouse)
*All photographs taken by me, from my personal vintage Michelin collection. Find out more about the brand and logo here.
Please, if you can, purchase any Michelin ephemera wherever you can find it. The design is so beautiful, and your treasures will give you hours of joy.