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An Ode to the Notebook

Jessica Schiffer

The fashion world fixates on the benefits of purchasing so-called investment pieces—items whose meticulous creation and often classic design results in a product that will be endlessly beneficial to a person’s life. A high-quality notebook—its ability to capture precious moments and details from the past—is an unsung investment piece, with added benefits. Its durability is not merely physical but theoretical as well, as a notebook allows our past to endure. The joys that come with recording our daily lives (and reflecting on these notes in the future) are not tied to the fluctuations of trends, but, instead, are always in fashion.

I’ve spent a significant portion of my life journaling, and have developed a bad habit of starting new notebooks only to misplace them (or, frankly, tire of the cover) midway and have to start anew. The ones I’ve held onto are collecting dust—and taking up too much potential shoe space—in boxes placed haphazardly throughout my apartment. It might be nice and nostalgic, but it’s not practical. When friends discovered my problem, they looked at me, astounded, and reminded me that the Internet exists with ample space for documenting inner thoughts. “But it’s not the same!” I would tell them. What I wanted was a truly private notebook—not a curated social media platform or blog, whose inherent expectations of you can occasionally be more self-corruptive than creative.

Luxury lies in a well-made, ethically minded product that lasts—one with endless potential, rather than that of the shallow, fleeting objects our world has grown accustomed to. As I get older, I am drawn to these values. For a long time, I sought out an expert solution and eventually found one in a company whose history and principles infuse both their products and their customers with a rediscovered zest for the daily grind.

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La Compagnie du Kraft journal

Enter La Compagnie du Kraft, a French notebook manufacturer born unassumingly in a small Parisian suburb, which understands the beauty of keeping a never-ending anthology of one’s life. The company has been creating the ultimate indestructible notebook since 1930, and made a point not to change its slow-boiled modus operandi despite the world’s transformation into a place that favors quick and cheap production methods. “Hesitation,” claims the company’s chief mechanic, Nicolas Recoing, “is needed for good ideas to take shape.” Thus, the company aspires to quality rather than quantity, allowing its customers to dictate every step of the notebook’s creation.

This process is called “bar à carnets.” As a customer, I discover a tender vegetable-tanned leather sourced from the Aveyron region, beautifully colored paper (either blond or white pure virgin fiber, au naturl), and expert binding. Ultimately, this will be the notebook of my life, not one of the many that dart in and out, only to be forgotten or thrown away. It’s a notebook “for the bruisers,” as the company says, ready to take all of life’s punches along with its owner—a companion, an aide and a release.

Joan Didion, an avid journaler, would approve. In praise of this hobby, she once wrote, “We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensées; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.”

If, perhaps, I hit a road bump just a little too hard, the company’s after-sales service is there to help revitalize my beloved book. The team works as a hospital for people’s reminiscences and recordings—resuscitating the minutiae we have grown so used to passing over (or leaving behind in the virtual abyss) in our digital age. When the notebook is filled to the brim with observations, the company will provide me with storage for my precious pages and send along fresh paper so that I can quickly start scribbling anew. Le Kraft realizes that our paths are ever expanding, with curveballs often thrown in the way. In light of this, it provides its customers with a rare consistency—a product whose reliability doesn’t falter amidst all the other unavoidable changes.

Le Kraft’s mantra proudly states, “We are a pocket of positive resistance against ultra-consumerism. We’ll prove it to you: Don’t buy any more notebooks. Just buy one. Use it slowly, and fully. Time will make of it a product that not even your rich neighbor will be able to get his hands on, and for good reasons. He wouldn’t have given his notebook the time needed to mature, ripen and get better with age.”

Keeping this notebook is—similar to its creation—a true labor of love. Le Kraft creates a maximum of 50,000 notebooks a year, which is 100 multiples fewer than the production limit of Moleskines made …elsewhere. As a predecessor of that brand, with less pretension and no cultish following, Le Kraft has made the bold choice to keep going its own way. The notebooks don’t speak for themselves, implying exclusivity or the heightened intellectual pursuits that other brands aim to connote. In fact, they don’t speak at all. What the company provides is a blank canvas, ready for me to spill a bit of myself onto in whatever manner I choose: a saying overheard on the subway; a reflection on my third, fourth or fifth love; a recipe for banana bread. No guidelines, no endgame—just the endless room to write.

Jessica Schiffer is founder and writer at Twenties Collective. She has also written for, Harper’s Bazaar, Refinery 29, The Man Repeller, and Into the Gloss