Customised stationery stages a comeback

Just as instant music streaming and the likes of Spotify are encouraging increasing numbers of us to invest in a Crosley and dust down our vinyl, a similar story is materialising in the world of messaging. WeChat, Snapchat, WhatsApp…whatever – it seems digital communication has served to reignite our romance with pen and ink.

If you recall the thrill of Saturday mornings spent shopping for brightly patterned paper, coloured inks and scented erasers, prepare to go back to the future. A host of new stationery brands have launched online tapping into what it was like to be a stationery-loving child of the Eighties but in a far more sophisticated way.

The ability to create customised greetings cards, invitations and letterheads that reflect a personal style was pioneered by Paperless Post, a US website established in 2009 by New York siblings James and Alexa Hirschfield. It now has more than 100-million users in the States – so the pair have decided to expand internationally, starting with the UK. “It was a natural step because we already have hundreds of thousands of British customers who have used the service through the American website,” says Hirschfield.

They’ve got stiff competition, though, in the form of a London-based rival Papier, which launched last autumn. Branding itself as “design-led”, the overarching aesthetic of Papier is playful illustration with a roster of international artists supplying designs, such as young British illustrator Luke Edward Hall. His bright, optimistic style blends Greco-Roman influences with a touch of the Bloomsbury Group “and a dash of Palm Springs” and has been applied to cards, invitations and stationery.

Papier appears to be getting it right: since its launch, it has grown at a rate of 20% per month. “We’re seeing lots of customers buying stationery sets with patterns and motifs, including emojis and monograms that are clearly personal to the recipient,” says founder Taymoor Atighetchi. “People are asking for bespoke motifs, too – recently a woman wanted very specific stationery featuring a brown trout for her husband who loves fishing, which we created for her.”

At the other end of the spectrum is Eleanor Tattersfield, whose design brand Marby & Elm began as a cottage-industry using a Flatbed Adana letterpress in her garden shed. Her witty, brightly coloured typographic designs were stocked in Liberty within a year of starting the company in 2011. Five months ago, she set up shop in Clerkenwell, east London, where she offers a unique while-you-wait bespoke stationery service: a set of 12 personalised notepapers and envelopes is £35 (R780).

“If I try to analyse the appeal of letterpress,” says Tattersfield, “I think it’s the juxtaposition of contemporary vivid colour with Victorian type – it’s modern design but executed in a traditional way.” Her brand is proof that we no longer yearn for overtly formal stationery, but are prepared for irreverence in our correspondence. One of her first commissions was a set of thank-you cards for a pre-eminent psychiatrist, who wanted “F**k Yeah!” emblazoned upon them. It is now one of her bestselling lines.

With the UK greetings card market worth an estimated £1,75-billion (R35,9-billion), fashion brands are hoping to steal a slice. Matthew Williamson has just launched his first stationery range, adorned by 17 prints from his archive, including flamboyant peacock feathers. Williamson is keen to inspire pensmiths with his designs: “It’s such a lovely surprise these days to open a stamped envelope. I have a wall at home above my desk filled with special thank-you messages which I love to look at. With the digital age, letter-writing is seen as unnecessary, but I would love to do my bit to revive it.”

Menswear brand Oliver Spencer and Harvey Nichols are also broadening their offering with stationery. Both have called on the services of modern stationery company Mark + Fold, whose designs are less about decorative pattern and more about celebrating the raw materials. Founder Amy Cooper-Wright studied philosophy and French, but a book-binding evening class at St Martins had her hooked. She started out making notebooks for family and friends and set up Mark+ Fold after gaining a design MA.

“Choosing to use stationery in the digital age is very much a conscious choice, and so paper has to have a materiality that you want to choose to write on,” says Cooper-Wright. “I use a small niche of mills in Scotland and Greater Manchester, and one in Holland because it offers Cold-glue Ota-binding, which no one else can do, but produces notebooks that open completely flat.” Such attention to detail has made the Mark One Notebook, with 35 per cent cotton paper, her bestseller.

Artisanal and bespoke, Mark + Fold is definitely targeted at the aesthete, but it has a considered philosophy behind it. “I take inspiration from Kenya Hara, the force behind Muji. He wrote a book called White, about the power of a white surface and our compulsion to make our mark on it. Starting the first page of a notebook can be quite emotional. It’s just not the same on screen. It’s been proven that you think differently on paper so using stationery is much more than just a style statement.”

By Bethan Ryder April for

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