If you need to put ink on paper to organize your thoughts, if you make lists and jot down ideas, if you scribble on books and notepads, then you need a writing instrument.
And if you’re particular about your clothes and pick your accessories carefully, you’re likely to want a decent pen, in addition to a decent writing environment.
Over the years, I have gradually become aware that it is important to me to embellish my work station. I have other people to thank for introducing me to this concept through tasteful presents; I was gifted a De LaForêt wenge pen box as well as a vintage “lampe bouillotte” and a bronze figure. They now sit next to the fine hand-painted Limoges china, the Bernardaud pen holder, near a leather desk pad.
It’s a soothing sensation to sit down and get work done while employing well-crafted objects that may carry historical or personal meaning. For instance, my choice of paper weights is a couple of common stones: one from a Yorkshire dale, another from the bed of a Pyrénées stream.
However, the mainstay of a desk, the epitome of function and style, of practicality and aesthetics, is inarguably the fountain pen.
I remain convinced that pens are a sadly underestimated pleasure, an easy way to complement an outfit with an accessory of utmost practical use. Fair warning: you might then fall for such colourful additions as inks and stationery, becoming a paper and notebook addict, a specialist of stub nibs, a votary of urushi lacquer, an advocate of vacuum-fillers. Ring a bell? That’s because the world of pen-enthusiasts is much like sartorialists’ passion for clothes construction.
Like clothes, pens have to perform certain tasks but they also pertain to another dimension as they belong to the world of craft and aesthetics. Yet I am actually not sure how both worlds intersect. Sartorialists are often tempted either by bling or extreme low-key classicism without caring much for the pens’ technical features; pen geeks, for all their minute passion for clips and finials, nib shapes, and blind caps, do not seem to apply the same scrutiny to clothes.
Craftsmanship and style have a natural and necessary connection. As you make something, you have full control over the way it will look once completed—which means you make an aesthetic decision that works in accord with the function, the technique, and the intention behind the object.
The pen market is dominated by the conjunction of engineering features (filling and closing mechanisms, material, functionality, weight, length), writing performance (steel or gold nibs, feel of the nib—wet, dry, smooth writers), aesthetics (inventive designs, like the use of jazzy colours over sober black and silver; nib shapes, whether hooded, inlaid, vanishing or arrogantly massive) and degree of luxury (which involves rarity as well as the value of the material, gold and diamonds taking them to a different territory, closer to jewelry).
Conversely, in menswear, the market is tiered in other ways: we have mass-produced clothes, custom-made options, and at the top of the pyramid bespoke garments that are not only unique but completely hand-made.
This is where fountain pens differ from tailored clothes. Gold, silver, plastic, celluloid, ebonite or metal cannot be worked by hand in the same way as cloth and they require machining. While there’s a technical relevance to the hand-work in tailoring, the human factor in fountain pens makes itself felt at the level of quality control rather than fabrication.
In addition, unless you’re looking at a limited edition, with commensurate price tag, production costs imply that pens have to be duplicated and customisation doesn’t play a role in consumer desire. In fact, you wouldn’t want your pen to be different than the one you saw or read about. In addition, there is no issue of fit so the unicity of a pen is not a necessity, except regarding nib preferences which can be tuned to your liking.
What could bring those two worlds together? Love of craft, of course, but also a sense that everyday objects can be an opportunity to add depth of perspective to your work. Contemplating a beautiful gold nib as you write possibly the dreariest piece of bureaucratic chore is a saving grace. Wearing a sharp and delightful suit to go about your business will make you feel delightfully snug. It’s certainly not about status, although some would see it this way, but rather about enjoying the good things in life.
After all, we are as much obliged to wear clothes in most social circumstances as we need to use desks and pens. So we might as well make the intimacy of objects a fuller and more discerning experience.