Moleskine and the Commodification of Cool

Some time at the end of the last century, I discovered the classic Moleskine notebook. I think my brother introduced me to them. I was charmed by its origins (or, at least its origin myth), and used them loyally for five or six years.

But, like so many things in life, Moleskine went from being something I thought of as a little secret to something everybody knew about. Of course, it was probably never actually a secret, but perception is reality and all that. Thinking of myself as a special snowflake, I shunned the mainstreamed Moleskines and turned to other notebooks.

I usually lose notebooks before I finish them. That was the case with my latest one, and I found myself downtown at Chapters in earnest need of a new notebook. Chapters has become a gift store with some books and magazines instead of an actual bookstore, so I approached the large ‘Journals’ section with confidence. Maybe, I though, I’ll try a Moleskine again.

Here’s what I saw:

Moleskine brand extension

Three big shelf units full of Moleskine notebooks. There must be 50 different varieties–soft cover, travel journals, address books, pink, royal blue, baby blue, azure, on and on and on. Visit their online store–they have categories within categories. Need an 18-month weekly horizontal planner in red? They’ve got it. I wonder, what would Bruce Chatwin think?

That, dear readers, is the face of brand extension run rampant.

Ironically, I couldn’t actually find the original model that I wanted. I asked, and a helpful clerk found one for me in the, uh, discount rack.

I know this is one of those ‘you kids get off my lawn, things were better when’ blog posts. But I always feel offended kind of commodification and exploitation of a narrative. But then, that’s how little companies get big. See also Vera’s Burgers. Sadly, apparently the shack on the West Vancouver beach where that franchise got it’s start is gone.


  1. I like to joke about Moleskine, but my concern is that they’ll overextend themselves like Crocs did, when they ended up making infinite varieties of something that’s easily knocked off, thereby diluting the brand and reducing the differences between their product and those of their competitors. Ultimately, with so little difference between one notebook and another, they’ll lose the insane amounts of money they’d spent on expansion.

    Admittedly, the target markets are very, very different, and buying a single Moleskine is never enough. Crocs, on the other hand, last forever.

    Looking at that photo, it sure feels like Apple’s product line circa 1997 though!

  2. You’ve probably read it, but the first few paragraphs of your post reminded me of The Rebel Sell by Heath and Potter. The whole idea of ‘people using my secret notebook’ makes it less cool thing. Not that it isn’t true, or isn’t present – I think we all feel that way from time to time. But maybe it’s also just a good product.

    Anyway, I totally agree that your photo captures the essence of brand extension gone awry. Crocs exploded that way as well, probably more spectacularly.

  3. Darren, the narrative/perception you speak of is definitely personal. I’m a fountain pen user and like Moleskine because the paper quality is good and I get minimum bleed-through/spider-lines. So many of these notebooks use crap paper and one can’t exactly pre-test in the book store! And they have a nice feel. It never occurred to me I might be joining a “special snowflake” club. But then, I buy them in Book Warehouse (Which, thanks to big boxes like Chapters, is the only bookstore within easy walking distance of my place).

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