Friday, August 10, 2012
If you visit Milligram (formerly NoteMaker) and happen to scroll to the bottom of the page, you can Shop by Country! You can see all of our design stationery that is Made in France, or Germany, or Korea, or Japan or even the USA. You can even see some Australian Designed local products too. We travel to pretty much all of these places pretty much every year.
We have this for a reason. I mean, we like idle distraction as much as the next workplace, but this is no idle distraction. After spending so many years plundering these countries of their finest stationery, it takes only a modicum of attentiveness to see that each has its own culture and that therefore, the stationery itself is like a window into the broader culture. The reason we go back every year to each is so we can watch that culture change, to see how alive it is.
Some of them don't change very much and some change a lot. We were talking recently about how Napoleon used to use J Herbin Ink. I guess one should expect little else of a country like France, more stubborn culturally than every proverbial mule combined, but that little Emperor could probably come back today and have his stationery cupboard stocked exactly as it was 200 years ago. Others, like Korea, change a lot...you can track this interesting interplay between a rich heritage of paper and stationery with a modern design aesthetic that insists on re-interpretation, like a Maverick that nevertheless returns to stable every night.
Out of all these little systems of stationery, these mores and taboos that find their way into the stationers of each country, I probably find the most comfort in the Japanese way of seeing and doing things. There are all of these physical traits to each piece, a Tombow pen or a Delfonics notebook, that just make me so enthusiastic! Such attention to detail. It's hard to create something beautiful through little more than dedication to utility, but these Japanese brands do it with such aplomb!
And with beauty, I don't just mean that something looks nice...i would probably call that cuteness. Cute stuff is great but it's too ephemeral to win any long term affection. Beauty, as an example, is the ruling in the Delfonics Rollbahn. It's not a firm line, it's dotted, so lightly that it can be hard to pick up it is dotted at all. It's light grey, not black, and it sits on ivory. The perforation happens a nanometre to the left of the grid ruling so that when you remove a sheet there is no harm done to that beautifully organised matrix of dots. The whole piece taken together is so humble, so deferential to your ideas...utility breeds beauty which only further encourages use. So i guess the appeal to me with Japanese stationery is the consummate design and execution. As a model of customer service, Japanese stationery designers are without peer. They're thinking about you and only you every step of the way and in such depth that they're thinking about you years from now, when your notebook is full and sitting on your shelf, better than ever. If they had your phone number, they would probably call you and ask if there is anything else you would like...
Anyway, to finally reach the topic of today's post, we come to Midori. Midori, you will have guessed by now, to me is this endless source of harmony because when i look at the traveller's notebook or when I thumb through their MD paper stock, i just marvel at how thorough the execution is.
MD Paper is Japan's first writing paper. Midori was established in 1950 and created MD Paper in 1960. The simple, noble goal is for the most comfortable writing experience (see? most comfortable!) and whilst I cannot say that it stands alone as the very best paper stock in the world, I can certainly vouch for the comfort of writing on it. It's thin, smooth and balanced, handles a Broad nib Kaweco pen with ease and is so enjoyable that I am writing random lyrics from The Human League that pop into my head. Beauty which only further encourages use...
But it's not just the moment of use which is enjoyable with Midori. Beyond that, the after-care one could say, they excel with typically Japanese perfection. The materials used - leather, brass, acid-free paper - not only last with time but improve! And here is where the Japanese cosmology of stationery really gets me, here is the hook. With this permanence, this graceful ageing, I can't help but fall for the noble, poetic, romantic connotations that made me a stationery fan in the first place. The Traveler's notebook declares itself as made for the Traveler's with a Free Spirit, it creates a strong presence through sensitivity and it will turn everyday that you carry it with you into a day of travel.
A trip to your local cafe is no longer the same long mac that you have every day, it's a sojourn in which you may just reflect on something that never occurred to you before and record it. The idea isn't to take the Traveler's notebook with you when you head overseas, it's to use it as a window into that mindset of travel and appreciation of the things that otherwise pass us by. Now, take that mindset with you every day! To me, that is some consummately beautiful attention to detail.
Shop Midori at Milligram (formerly NoteMaker).
Wednesday, August 8, 2012
I should probably send a warning out to any Accountants, Auditors or other folks who like things to reconcile neatly. In fact, if you don't like the uncomfortable paradox of an oxymoron, you should probably stop reading now. Obviously the political scientists presently reading will gladly continue, so thanks to them...
I say this because I've realised this past week or so that I'm a romantic pragmatist and to me, that just doesn't sound right! As with most revelations about the self, I came to this one through the use of stationery, in this case a Monsieur Notebook. These are leather journals that arrived in our warehouse about a week or so ago and which have been creating all kinds of existential havoc ever since.
Quickly about Monsieur Notebooks. They are hand made in India under the auspices of UK-based Hide Stationery Company. An interesting venture that is committed to providing fair wages and working conditions for the makers of its notebooks as well as to providing an excellent notebook to you, me and anyone else with enough sense to pick one up.
The romantic in me loves that these are genuine leather, for all kinds of reasons, and the pragmatist loves that these are actually just really, really nice notebooks. In fact, even if the cover was not genuine leather, if it was leatherette, or bonded leather, or linen, cloth, book board or any other material, the paper inside and binding method would still get these over the line as entirely capable notebooks. But it is real leather, and we all know the difference that makes!
Aesthetically, pretty much everyone appreciates how genuine leather wears and improves with time. That feeling...it kind of goes beyond what I'm capable of describing with any concision at all, but I actually don't need to even try. Louis Armstrong put it perfectly in reply to the question 'What is Jazz?' "If you gotta ask, you'll never know"...
Functionally, leather is basically indestructible, certainly in terms of what can reasonably be expected to happen to a notebook in its daily travels. So the pragmatist is happy. Idealistically, leather has this special aura about it, so the romantic is very happy indeed!
Giving the floor to the pragmatist, I can say that Monsieur notebooks have stitched signatures of paper that are then glued onto the leather cover. You can be pretty rough with it and we're all encouraged to bend the notebook around on itself fully the first time it is opened. This means that the next time it is opened it will sit flat. A well trained notebook. The paper in the notebooks is fountain pen friendly for a fine nib but not perfect for a heavy ink or broader nib. The answer is the fountain pen journal, which has extra special paper to deal with pretty much any pen and ink in your armamentarium. I tested a broad nib Kaweco pen on it with blue black ink and report no issues. To be fair, it's no Rhodia Webnotebook in this regard, but what is?
The sketchbooks have 140gsm cartridge paper. Slightly textured, kind of rough, proper art paper. All of the notebooks have a ribbon page marker and elastic closure, a cute title page and a winking monsieur debossed on the back cover.
The romantic likes all of that, sure, but is struggling to see the forest for the leather bound trees. That feeling of real leather - dynamic, close to alive - we almost have a relationship with it. It changes with us, with use, wherever we go. It softens, conforms, yields and is forever giving our hands some sort of tactile interpretation of puppy dog eyes, ever endearing...
Almost to the point of distraction. Every time i've loosened the elastic closure on this thing I can't help but think of Antonia Pigafetta on board L'Armada de Molucca, under the command of Ferdinand Magellan, recording for posterity sights never before seen and sounds never before heard. Sometimes not even by him, as we read of 10ft giants, Cyclopses and all kinds of deep sea dangers... Anyway, what i mean is that there is a connection to an incredibly rich tradition that is only ever made through the medium of real leather. This is the real deal, used since forever for stuff that is important.
And i think this is the big appeal of Monsieur Notebooks. Leather lasts. It lasts a long time. People like thumbing through leather journals, inhaling this sense of majesty and of permanence. Perhaps it is the smell, or the touch, or just the fact that more than one sense is being engaged when going through a leather bound book, but for me, the imagination starts to run, to empathise with the words it is reading.
The idea I like, implicit with an affordable genuine leather notebook that is made for daily use, is that whenever i start to write there is some kind of acknowledgement that I might just turn out a classic. What starts as a glib observation whilst watching my dog chase a bird, or as simply a way to pass the time waiting for a train, can turn into something worthy of posterity. It's in a leather notebook after all, it will make it to Posterity looking and sounding better than ever. Fingers crossed that the lightning strikes, hey...?
So whether pragmatist, romantic or political scientist, you should really have a look at Monsieur Notebooks over at Notemaker. Luxury for your daily doodles, they say, but so much more to me.