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Friday, March 12, 2004

Celebrity Endorsement #1

I chose the title of this, the first in a series of recurring entries, with my tongue placed firmly in cheek. The mere suggestion that my recommendation might possess the cachet or gravitas of a celebrity endorsement is laugh-out-loud funny. And, the extent to which some product or service might benefit from my support is too minuscule for mathematical computation. However, my endorsement is no less genuine or heartfelt for my lack of any real celebrity.

In my travels, I occasionally stumble across ‘stuff’ that is so magnificent, so completely necessary, and / or so well made that I feel compelled to take upon myself the job of converting those under the sway of my negligible influence to adopt these treasures as their own.

For a product to win my endorsement it has to be more than fleetingly useful. It must become such an integral part of my daily existence that I would suffer from ‘phantom itch’ (the way an amputee feels an itch where the missing limb would have been) should I one day be denied access this profoundly functional item. It has to be so well made as to survive my careless, slovenly lifestyle unscathed (I’m rough on my stuff). It must make me want to take it out and admire it (and even show it off to friends), months or even years after the novelty of newness has worn off. And lastly, it must be produced by a company so fiercely proud of their products that they would do anything…pay anything…move heaven and earth…just to make sure that the item continued to find favor in the eye (and hand) of the lowly end-user.

Without further ado, I’d like to share a few words with you today about Moleskine®.

For the uninitiated among you, I am not talking about the tightly woven cotton flannel material used for outdoor clothing, or those soft adhesive-backed flannel patches one puts on blisters after a hike. That would be moleskin (note, no ‘e’ at the end, and no ‘®’ at the end).

Moleskine® is the name of a wonderful line of notebooks, sketchbooks, and pocket files prepared by the Italian company Modo&Modo. Unlike any notebook or memo pad I have ever encountered, Moleskine® products absolutely scream ‘quality’. These substantial notebooks, diaries and sketchbooks feature an oilcloth-bound hardcover, acid-free thread-bound pages, attached book mark, an inside pocket for receipts / business cards, and an attached elastic strap to hold the whole thing shut while it is rattling around backpack, pocketbook or briefcase.

The overall effect is one of substance. This is true to such an extent that, at first, one might be inclined to be overly careful about writing on its pages. However, like one who is initially unaccustomed to wearing fine clothing, using quality writing instruments, or mingling in good company (I’m going by what I’ve heard here, lacking even a passing acquaintance with any of these experiences), the awkwardness soon passes.

I’ve been using Moleskine® pocket notebooks for years to take notes and keep track of important action-items. I kept my gig schedule in it (my career-at-a-glance) and I kept my travel notes on my various vacations and business trips (the little pocket in the back is great for receipts). In all that time, very few people who have seen my little notebook have been able to resist asking to see it, handle it…and ask where they can get one.

While making final preparations to move to Israel last summer, I went to the Moleskine® web site to see where the Israel distributor for their products was located, and was shocked to find that there was none. No problem...I simply went to the local art shop in Manhattan where I’d been getting them all along and bought enough to last until my next trip to the ‘States.

While starting to get settled (hmmm…maybe not the best choice of words regarding living in Israel) into my new life here, I unwrapped a fresh notebook and went through the familiar ritual (which I’m told is shared by many Moleskine® owners) of numbering the pages, putting my name and contact information inside the front cover, and basically making it my own. When I was finished I hooked a finger under the elastic strap, and with a practiced flourish, pulled it around the notebook.

However, instead of the satisfying ‘thwak’ that usually results from this familiar gesture, I got a decidedly un-satisfying ‘twang’ as one end of the strap pulled loose from its binding. In all my years of using this product nothing even remotely like this had ever happened! After a few minutes of consideration I mixed up a dab of epoxy and glued the end of the strap back into place. The result was a very sound repair…but I was left feeling as though a trusted friend had betrayed me.

I sat down and composed a measured e-mail to Modo&Modo that was somewhere between ‘irate consumer’ and a ‘cuckolded lover’ in tone, and launched it off into cyber-oblivion with the full expectation that I would have to adjust to one of my favorite products having turned out to be a tin god with feet of clay.

Within 24 hours I got a response (in a very polite, perfect English) from a fairly senior person at Moto&Moto. She was very apologetic, and asked some probing questions about the nature of the defect that made it clear this was not a common occurrence.

I wrote back to her that, while I tended to be rough on my things, I had never in all my years of using Moleskines® had anything like this happen.

She responded within minutes to assure me that the fault was not mine…she was simply trying to isolate the point in the process (all of their products are hand made) that the flaw had been introduced. She asked me to forcefully test the straps on the other notebooks I had bought in advance of my trip…and I found that several of them failed in the same way. I was beyond disappointed.

Without my having hinted about a refund or replacement (after all, my little repair job had fixed the problem), this pleasant, polite executive asked for my address and said she was sending a replacement for each of the defective notebooks. She went on to assure me that there must have been a bad batch of glue, and if I had any further problems I should contact her directly.

Now I promise you, these little things aren’t cheap! It had been a real reach for me to buy a year’s supply in one fell swoop, so I was really touched that in this age of corporate indifference, a company was interested in making sure one of it’s small, unimportant customers was completely satisfied.

And I am…so I’m telling you.

Posted by David Bogner on March 12, 2004 | Permalink

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» You Are a Bee. Please Spread the Pollen. from Crossing the Rubicon2
I first heard about moleskines from Treppenwitz. (Hi David! Just look at the influence you have had. The ripples which flow from a blog can reach amazingly far distances.) You can read about the history of these journals here. I [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 1, 2006 5:37:45 AM

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love it- and thanks for the heads up. Modo&Modo sounds like just the thing to inspire my trusty pen-- and i'm always pleased to make the acquaintance of a fellow fine-paper-phile. your site's left me feeling a bit nostalgic too, after having lived in Jerusalem for 6 months. your photos have lit up my memory for the evening- thanks.

Posted by: kari | Jun 29, 2004 11:32:20 PM

Their website now says they have a distributor in Tel Aviv...

Just FYI in case you hadn't checked lately.

Oh, and... do they have any larger sizes? I'd love to get one of their 'graphing-paper-like' ones for keeping my research notes/results/etc., but it'd need to be pretty big - say, at least 8.5/11 paper. Hmm.

Posted by: matlabfreak | Feb 15, 2006 8:22:33 AM

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