As an avid disciple of stationery I really should have been to Smythson before. You must understand, even notebooks of the lowest calibre excite me; I become flustered in the pound shop when I see those coloured exercise books stacked up or those pleasingly cheap yet chunky tomes with the pencils strapped to the side. It’s the narrow ruled pages that really get me; even the purchase of a refill pad of fine lined paper constitutes a more than pleasing occurrence in my day. Wide ruled paper makes me extremely and inexplicably angry.
In fact, I would rather write on a sheet of toilet roll. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if this was one of the subliminal reasons I moved to London, my rational mind spouting logical reasons of job, adventure, new possibilities, while my unconscious mind lusted after the stationery department at Liberty (which by the way always leads to me lingering embarrassingly around the shelves, getting in everyone’s way and fondling the crisp pages of an A5 journal. Always).
For me, stationery is the next logical step after fashion. It is an accessory, like an extension of a handbag, a beautiful leather-bound diary or a nice pen. So my first visit to the Smythson flagship store on Bond Street was an almost religious experience as far as I was concerned. Smythson is an inherently British brand, first started in 1887 by Frank Smythson not far from where the flagship is now. Queen Victoria and Winston Churchill used to commission their stationery from the shop, as do the royal family today.
There are now outlets in the US but the streets of London remain the true home of the brand and this is where my love affair began. The smell of leather, the delicious colours, the smartly dressed man in the window engraving initials onto a luggage tag… It was almost too much for me. However, I managed to pull myself together long enough to form an extensive mental wish list, beginning with an iPhone case and, as a matter of fact, not really ending.
Of course Smythson is also inextricably linked to London through the decision to appoint Samantha Cameron as creative director in 2006, a decision that shook up the brand image, resulting in the bright new colour palette and bold new materials and shapes. A quintessentially British figurehead, Sam Cam was criticised heavily for her motives in taking on the role but there is no question she did succeed in marrying old-fashioned craftsmanship and luxury with a very modern aesthetic firmly in touch with fashion; a combination that was calling out to be conquered.
The history and narrative surrounding the brand is a big part of its appeal, reflected in the wording on its notebooks: ‘Travels and Experiences’, ‘Ideas and Inspiration’, ‘Follow your Dreams’, as well as the blog which is a delightful way to make its fascinating archives more accessible, most recently telling the story of how Smythson himself made perfect miniature envelopes and notepaper for a dolls’ house that Sir Neville Wilkinson was crafting for ‘Queen Titania of Fairyland’. Magical.
What a lovely British brand. Reason enough to have a stroll down New Bond Street, I think…
40 New Bond Street
Image copyright of Smythson, courtesy of Atelier Tally