Moleskine: A page out of (altered) history

Moleskine's claim that it was the notepad of Picasso et al might not be totally true – but who cares? Some other brands aren't quite what they seem, either.

On Monday in California, Microsoft unveiled its new tablet computer, the Surface, which is the sort of device that threatens to make pen and paper redundant once and for all. And yet, on the same day, back in the Old World, an Italian manufacturer of traditional notebooks announced plans to float on the Milan stock exchange.

In 2010, Moleskine, which markets itself as the "The legendary notebook of Hemingway, Picasso and Chatwin", enjoyed a turnover of €200m (£161m). It has been growing by 25 per cent every year since 2006, expanded from its Milan HQ to offices in New York and Hong Kong, and now sells about 10 million notebooks every year.

Far from threatening its popularity, the digital age has allowed the Moleskine to thrive, with creative types across the globe sharing their experience of the small, stitched black notebook on fansites such as moleskinerie.com, where they exalt its multiple potential applications. For example: writing notes, sketching, or... writing notes. Each Moleskine item comes with a fold-out leaflet, entitled "culture, imagination, memory, travel, personal identity." The brand's "family of notebooks", it claims, "ultimately [become] an integral part of one's personality."

The satirical blog Stuff White People Like has studied the Moleskine's enduring appeal, describing: "the puzzling situation whereby a white person will sit in an independent coffee shop with a Moleskine notebook resting on top of a Apple laptop... if a white person has a great idea, they write it by hand, if they have a good idea, it goes into the computer. Not only does this help them keep their thoughts organised, but it serves as a signal to the other white people in the shop that the owner of both instruments is truly creative. It screams: 'I'm not using my computer to check email and read celebrity gossip, I'm using it to create art. Please ask me about it.'"

However, the illustrious history that gives Moleskine its glamorous sheen is not as straightforward as it sounds. The brand was the brainchild of a teacher from Rome, Maria Sebregondi, who in 1995 read Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines. She came across a passage lamenting the discontinuation, a decade previously, of the travel writer's favourite line of "moleskine" notebooks. "To lose a passport [when travelling] was the least of one's worries," Chatwin wrote, "to lose a notebook was a catastrophe".

Sebregondi's subsequent research took her to the Picasso museum in Paris, where she found the artist's familiar little black sketchbooks. Ernest Hemingway's journals turned out to be remarkably similar, too. In a chapter about the Moleskine brand in his 2011 book, Niche: Why the Market No Longer Favours the Mainstream, James Harkin explains, "It was as if the whole history of the 20th-century avant-garde had revolved around a single hard-cover notebook held together by an elastic band." Sebregondi's boss at the small Milanese publishing company Modo & Modo trademarked the name Moleskine in 1997. The firm found a manufacturer in China, which began producing the notebooks to Sebregondi's specifications, and the first Moleskines went on sale a year later, wearing their inflated historical claims about Chatwin et al on a sleeve.

Moleskine is just one of many brands with hyperbolic back stories. Abercrombie & Fitch, for example, produces outfits carrying the legend "Abercrombie & Fitch, Est. 1892", despite the present-day firm sharing nothing but its name with the late 19th-century sports outfitters. Its spin-off youth brand, Hollister, is named after its fictional founder, John M Hollister, who, "when he graduated from Yale in 1915 at the age of 21... knew he wasn't ready to give in to the Manhattan establishment his father had laid out before him." Hollister was actually launched in 2000.

Other companies trade on the authenticity of their supposed countries of origin: Foster's, apparently "Australian for beer", is these days rarely drunk by Australians, while the Indian-themed Bombay Sapphire is distilled and bottled in Warrington. Another Indian favourite, Cobra, describes itself as "splendidly Indian"; though it was once brewed in Bangalore, Cobra was famously created for Brits to eat with Indian meals, and is now brewed under contract in the UK. But perhaps we should simply accept this wanton romanticism as part of modern branding. As Modo & Modo's co-owner Francesco Franchesci once said of Moleskine's legend, "It's an exaggeration. It's marketing, not science. It's not the absolute truth."

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas