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The joy of stylish stationery, by the seven British brands doing it best

Why it’s time to reacquaint yourself with the enduring pleasure of beautiful desk supplies

Before Breakfast notepads
Before Breakfast

Forget emails, instant messages and digital overload – clear and precise thinking starts with great stationery. Here, the founders and figureheads of our favourite British brands guide us through its renaissance and explain why well-designed supplies deserve a place on every desk.


Luc Goidadin Creative Director of Smythson
Alun Callender

Smythson

Creative director Luc Goidadin reflects on the enduring appeal of beautiful bespoke stationery

Frank Smythson, a silversmith, founded the house in 1887, and by the 1890s he was producing stationery for Queen Victoria.

Personalised stationery is a thing of beauty in itself. It’s not about battling digital communication, but rediscovering the intention, the ceremonial and the ultimate luxury bespoke stationery represents.

Our three royal warrants are dependent on high environmental standards, so the sustainable mind-set is well established.

Customers share a strong attachment to the brand. The personal nature of documenting your life and ideas on those blue pages, the intimacy and meaning of a hand-written note… these things create a unique bond.

The craftspeople in our factories are unique. Some of the machines that produce the engraving and embossing which is so characteristic of the Smythson touch that are over 100 years old – their expertise will always be central to what we do.

For autumn, we looked to the archive. We zoomed in on the Edwardian patterns we found to create some very bold graphics, which look great against our more timeless designs.

We’re building on our unique legacy to make luxury goods utterly relevant to the world of today. smythson.com

Smythson notebooks
Smythson

Alex Cain Mount Street Printers
Alex Cain

Mount Street Printers

This family business offers endless possibilities in print. Alex Cain, director and son of the founders, explains

The brand was born in 1981, the year my parents, Peter and Fridette, discovered the shop on Mount Street. The Queen’s stationers Henningham & Hollis had previously occupied the premises, so the building has been a printers since it was built.

Our business was founded on the principles of value and quality; traditional print methods, hand craftsmanship and the personalised attention we offer each customer.

We combine traditional methods with the latest print technology. We’ve invested in a new digital printer, but at the same time we’re slowly restoring vintage die stamping presses.

Our customers are tired of commercialisation. They appreciate one-of-a-kind, handmade products.

Being a Royal Warrant Holder invokes a sense of responsibility. We feel very fortunate to have been recognised by the Royal Family and to be part of a select group of suppliers protecting the craft for future generations.

Our most interesting order was a wedding invitation for a very high-profile client. I can’t share any specific details, but we were truly honoured to play a small part in a historic event. mountstreetprinters.com

Mount Street Printers Shopfront
Mount Street Printers

Katy Goutefangea Ola founder
Katy Goutefangea

Ola

Frustrated by notebooks on the market, Katy Goutefangea, a printmaker, launched her own brand

I wanted to produce an alternative to poor-quality notebooks that prescribe what should fill their pages: Hope & Dreams or This Year’s Goals.

Our signature product is the Layflat notebook. Months of research and multiple prototypes were behind its 2014 launch – we wanted a beautifully crafted tool with a simple aesthetic but a beauty and tactility that lent itself to contemplation.

The beauty of a notepad is that it can be used to sketch and write simultaneously, rotated, torn, dropped and spilt on. It needs no powering up to record a passing thought and can be carried anywhere. You can’t say that for a digital device.

We’ve been collaborating with establishments at the forefront of contemporary art and design. We’ve produced exclusive collections for the Royal Opera House, Barbican, Tate and have worked with the Eames Office.

Producing high quality yet affordable items with as little environmental impact as possible is our greatest challenge, which involves a great deal of research and investment.

At Christmas, we will be launching our first textile product, organic cotton wraps – a sustainable alternative to wrapping paper. olastudio.co.uk

Ola Studio notebooks
Ola Studio

Taymoor Atighetchi Papier founder
Taymoor Atighetchi

Papier

Ex-antiques dealer Taymoor Atighetchi on the global expansion of this stationery superstar

Art and design have always been a big part of my life. I come from six generations of antiques dealers – my surname means ‘art dealer’ – and started off selling antiques on the Portobello Road.

Putting pen to paper will always be a more thoughtful way of communicating. It’s great to see younger generations returning to analogue.

Papier is unique because we're doing something no one else is – offering consumers a highly curated collection of design-led products that are fully customisable and produced on-demand.

We have print operations across three continents and use state-of-the-art digital printing on the finest quality Mohawk paper, which is made with non-polluting, wind-generated energy. We also use centuries-old foil stamping techniques and found ourselves recommissioning two tonne foiling machines that were consigned to scrap.

We’ve come a long way since our wonky Camden townhouse, when there was just three of us working in the business. Launching in New York felt like a real ‘made it’ moment, but we’re always striving for more – I hope that we have a few more of those moments to look forward to in the future. papier.com

Papier colourful marbled notebooks
Papier

Eleanor Tattersfield founder of Marby & Elm
Eleanor Tattersfield / Marby & Elm

Marby & Elm

Founder Eleanor Tattersfield discusses the art and joy of working with letterpress

The business was born from a personal quest for letterpress stationery. I found an old printer online and began designing stationery in my shed. The demand increased month on month with requests from friends, then friends of friends...

People love letterpress for its idiosyncratic nature. The indentation of the type in the paper and the one-off nature of each print make it so markedly different from digital print.

Our while-you-wait service is very popular. We developed the idea from a Liberty pop-up, and it’s unique; we have an unusual letterpress printer that offers us a faster type-setting technique, which can be employed for a single print, rather than a run of 100.

Sometimes clients are dumbfounded by choice. We help them choose something personal that will resonate with the card recipient – perhaps a word or a catchphrase they say. Some are so good they join our permanent collection.

We favour GF Smith and Fabriano papers for our products. Both are sustainably sourced and soft enough to take the impression. We also print on vintage papers: maps, music sheets and old letters. marbyandelm.com

Marby & Elm Clerkenwell Blue Ink
Marby & Elm

Nicki Chen Before Breakfast founder
Before Breakfast

Before Breakfast

Nicki Shen talks about her studio, which specialises in eco-friendly Japanese Riso soy ink

Our name is a homage to Lewis Carroll’s quote in Through the Looking-Glass: ‘Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast‘. It’s a loose interpretation, but these words remind us to create stationery that makes everyday tasks a little easier.

Sustainability means everything to us. We create by hand using sustainable methods of printing and traditional hot-foil blocking.

The most testing part of the business is creating our largest orders by hand. But we do what we do out of our passion for stationery, so no complaints!

We recently visited Japan in collaboration with Tokyo lifestyle store Think of Things, recreating the ’Sketch Book’ by Kokuyo 60 years after its original release. We printed it with Risograph ink and used traditional bookbinding techniques for the hardcovers. We also created a limited edition ‘Think of Things To Do’ notepad to commemorate the collaboration.

Our next plan is to open a shop – by appointment only – in our Highbury studio this year, to give our customers a more in-depth look into our making process. We’d love to host regular workshops too. beforebreakfast.london

Before Breakfast sketchbook
Before Breakfast

Amy Cooper-Wright Mark + Fold founder
Amy Cooper-Wright / Mark + Fold

Mark + Fold

Designer Amy Cooper-Wright describes how she creates products with supply chain transparency

I’ve been obsessed with stationery since I was a child – my parents are architects so there was always fun paper and pens in the house.

Having worked as a graphic designer for 10 years, I wanted to develop a notebook that was beautifully made, which would lay flat (thanks to proper binding) and use good-quality papers. I knew the aesthetic had to be gender-neutral and understated, but with a quality you can feel.

Our materials are sourced mostly in Britain and occasionally from Japan and Germany. We pass on the story of how each item is made, working closely with and regularly visiting each factory.

We produce small batches and as each sells out, create new products and expand the range. Our aim is that nothing goes to waste and we price products fairly, according to the cost price.

2020 is such a great number to play around with from a typographic point of view, so it’s an exciting year to be a graphic designer! We’ll be working with an organisation called Provenance to produce a special diary. They track every step, from the tree in the FSC-certified forest to the end product, using blockchain technology. markandfold.com

Mark + Fold weekly planners
Amy Sarah Wright

This is the extended version of a feature that first appeared in Elle Decoration October 2019 issue.

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