The Yokohama A5 Notebook Cover and our Design Process

Designing a first product for a new brand is just like having to write the first page of a new novel.

The challenge is to create an object that as many people as possible will find beautiful, well made and practical, while keeping it unique to your brand. Because our own aesthetic is influenced by historical designs and manufacturing techniques, we also want our designs to be timeless, elegant and to last a long time. 

We collect vintage luggage and accessories from the golden age of travel and relevant books or documents. We look to these heirlooms for inspiration and to see which ones have stood the test of time. Once we have decided on the aesthetic and created a first blueprint, we draught the technical specifications (both dimensions and characteristics, such as pockets, etc.) and select materials.

Since the beginning, we decided never to compromise on materials. The leathers we choose are from tanneries that also supply some of the most prestigious brands you will find in Japan and Europe. Craftsmanship is just as important and making our accessories requires many manual steps.

We decided to call our Crafted in Japan notebook covers the Yokohama Notebook Cover as a hommage to the city of Yokohama in Japan. Yokohama was one of the first Japanese cities to open for trade with the Western world in 1859 and was actually the first Japanese foreign trading port.

The Yokohama Notebook Cover was designed in the middle of the second COVID lockdown (2021). We realised that we were rarely using bags, because travel and movements were restricted and many people, including ourselves, were spending more time journaling. 

Designing a notebook cover seemed to be the thing to do and A5 is our most used paper format, still compact but large enough to be practical. Setting up production facilities in Europe at the time was too complicated, so we looked to one of our Japanese partners for a solution. Because we only work with the best tanneries, we selected a specific Japanese vegetable tanned leather and Japanese shell cordovan for this project. This leather has a very fine grained, almost silky look and feel to it. It is also available in an impressive range of colours and has excellent colour saturation.

Shell cordovan is difficult to source and expensive (see the "material" tab on any of our shell cordovan product pages for more information). Most cordovan notebook covers on the market (they are rare) are lined in leather on the inside. We decided not to compromise and to make the cover in cordovan on both the inside and outside. The result is truly exquisite, the cordovan has a glossy, slightly transparent finish and fabulous colour saturation and nuances.

The appearance of the cover is inspired by a vintage piece from our archives and floral shapes. We decided to add a minimum amount of functionality to it without trying to turn it into a personal organiser (that's another project!), which in our case means card slots, a pen loop which is actually sized for fountain pens, a loop to keep it safely closed and room for small documents or extra slim notebooks on the side.

The Yokohama will fit just about any soft covered A5 notebook, including the Hobonichi Cousin, Yamamoto Cosmo Note, Midori MD, Rhodia and many other favourites. The largest one we managed to fit is a Midori MD Codex, we would say that this is slightly over the limit, but it works.

The rounded edges and shape, as well as the silky leather and exquisite shell cordovan make it great to handle and the vegetable tanned leather wears beautifully. Both the leather and shell cordovan natural-coloured versions will darken when exposed regularly to sunlight.

The Yokohama Notebook Cover is designed to last and to be carried on a daily basis for many years (possibly even a lifetime in the case of shell cordovan). Our hope is that it will fit seamlessly in your daily life and slowly, over the years, become less of a tool and more of an heirloom.

Ateliers Phileas Yokohama A5 Notebook Cover