What do Ernest Hemingway, Henri Matisse, Lady Gaga, Oscar Wilde, Vincent van Gogh, and Angelina Jolie have in common? Moleskine. What is the only journal to be memorialized in a song? Moleskine. What journal has appeared in two movies? Moleskine.
But let’s start at the beginning.
In their first life, Moleskines were simply called “notebooks.” They were produced by a small French bookbinder and sold in Parisian bookstores and stationery shops, which is where artists and writers bought them: Hemingway, Wilde, Matisse, van Gogh, and Picasso. The little notebooks were valued companions that were privy to the ideas that would become classic works of literature and sketches that are among the world’s greatest art treasures. A lofty calling for a simple black rectangle with rounded corners, an elastic page-holder, and an internal expandable pocket. Then, in the 1980s, they were gone.
In 1995, Maria Sebregondi, a publishing consultant in Milan, was reading Bruce Chatwin’s book, Songlines. Bruce was a highly regarded British travel writer, and Songlines was an account of his experiences among the Australian aborigines. In the book, he grieved for the loss of his oilcloth notebooks: “The pages were squared and the end-papers held in places with an elastic band. I wrote my name and address on the front page, offering a reward to the finder. To lose a passport was the least of one’s worries; to lose a notebook was a catastrophe.” He told of his last visit to Paris. He had wanted to buy 100 notebooks to ensure that he would never run out, and the bookseller told him, “Le vrai moleskine n’est plus.” (“The real moleskine is dead.”) The proprietor of the bookbinding shop had died and the business sold. So now, the notebook that had served so long in anonymity, now had a name, “moleskine.”
Maria thought back to the moleskine she had had years ago. She later discovered the moleskine’s place in the history of the arts. She decided that the world needs moleskines. She proposed the idea to a small Milanese publishing company, Modo & Modo, and thus was born the Moleskine brand journals, designed in Italy and manufactured in China, chosen because of its long and illustrious tradition of processing paper (they did invent it, after all) and bookbinding.
In 1997, Modo & Modo produced 5,000 journals. The next year, 30,000, as sales spread across Europe. Several years later, the journals were exported to Japan and then introduced throughout Asia. By July 2012, Moleskine collections were sold in 22,000 stores in 95 countries. There are now approximately 10 million Moleskine journals sold every year.
Modo & Modo, in the meantime, was sold twice to other companies and then became a joint-stock company. Today, it is Moleskine SpA.
Moleskine is a socially responsible company. Their manufacturers use acid-free paper, are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, and comply with the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. The company also supports lettera27, an organization dedicated to literacy, education, and access to knowledge worldwide, which befits the international allure of the journals.
Moleskine has an intensely loyal and far-reaching community of aficionados with websites, blogs, and Facebook pages, all dedicated to spreading the joy of the journals. Those who sketch or paint in their journals share the images across the Internet. Jay Electronica, the hip hop artist, wrote a song to his “Dear Moleskine.” People from Lady Gaga to Angelina Jolie to John Mayer have been photographed with their Moleskines. Watch the films, The Devil Wears Prada and The Motorcycle Diaries, and see if you can spot the Moleskine.
The journal that was born as a notebook known only to a relatively few devotees has achieved a following throughout the world. Moleskines are again treasured companions for sharing thoughts, feelings, and memories; for jotting down lyrics while on the go; for sketching scenes or people; or, like Bruce Chatwin, recording the unprecedented experiences of travel.
Surely, Bruce would be amazed, and gratified, that his grief at the loss of his moleskines, as documented in Songlines, brought them back to life.