December 07, 2021 5 min read

Ateliers Phileas describe themselves as a “secret brand”… It’s not that they wish to remain unknown, they prefer their customers to focus on their designs and create their own story around them, based on the visual and cultural clues that the brand gives them, rather than on who they are as people or as an organisation.

What we can say, is that they are a new luxury brand of leather bags & accessories, designed and crafted in Europe and Japan, with a nostalgic style that seems straight out of a Jules Verne novel. They are a collective of eccentric international and multicultural designers and craftsmen. Ateliers Phileas always make a point of using the finest materials available : Japanese vegetable-tanned leather and shell cordovan, French taurillon and goatskin. They have a strong focus on craftsmanship, their products are mainly handmade.

Their designs somehow merge Japanese culture and European refinement and are heavily inspired by the golden age of travel and the late 19th century (read: a hint of steampunk) and their collection of vintage luggage and accessories. Because their aesthetic is influenced by historical designs and manufacturing techniques, they also want them to be timeless, elegant and to last a long time. Practicality is important, but functionality has to be kept simple. Finally, the customer has to enjoy using the product and develop an emotional bond with it over time.

The Yokohama A5 Leather Notebook Cover is their first product. They describe designing a first product for a new brand as being just like having to write the first page of a new novel. The Yokohama Notebook Cover was designed in the middle of the second COVID lockdown (2021), Ateliers Phileas decided to create a notebook cover, because it was an item that could be used indoors (travel and movements were restricted).

The name of the Yokohama Notebook Cover is 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. Yokohama also happens to be the port Phileas Fogg visits in Japan in “Around the World in 80 Days”.

The Yokohama Notebook Cover (or planner cover) is currently crafted in Japan using a carefully selected Japanese vegetable tanned leather and truly exquisite Japanese shell cordovan. The vegetable-tanned leather has a very fine grained, almost silky look and feel to it. It is also available in an impressive range of 8 colours, of which 3 in contrasting colours and has excellent colour saturation.

ateliers phileas yokohama notebook cover leather 8 colours

Shell cordovan, a very exclusive kind of horse leather, is difficult to source and expensive. The one that AP use is famous for its beautiful glossy surface, translucence and colour depth. The shell cordovan Yokohama Notebook cover is actually made of cordovan on both the inside and outside, the majority of other cordovan products on the market are simply lined with leather for cost reasons. The cordovan version is available in burgundy, natural and black.


ateliers phileas shell cordovan nptebook covers


The first thing you’ll notice when you unpack your Yokohama is that it comes in a beautiful retro-styled rigid cardboard box. This box ships in a foam pouch that protects it from humidity and shocks. Faithful to their Japanese/Euro tradition, the (superb) packaging reflects both cultures.


ateliers phileas box


The design of the box (stripe on the edges, etc.) was inspired by 200 year old boxes used to store documents in the National Archives of the French Republic. The font used for their logo is inspired by French Art Nouveau, the circular logo by a Japanese Kamon (samurai family crest). Their blue/green signature colour is a Japanese colour reference called Ai-iro or “Japanese indigo”.

Lift off the lid and you reach the next layer. Under an Ateliers Phileas card, your purchase lies carefully wrapped in soft tissue paper. Remove the tissue paper and you’ll find a cotton dust pouch, remove the pouch’ll find a final protection layer made of a kind of cotton paper! We wish more manufacturers paid this much attention to packaging.


 ateliers phileas box without the lidateliers phileas dust pouch


The appearance of the cover is inspired by a vintage piece from their archives and floral shapes. Rather than the usual boxy rectangular shape with sharp edges, everything curves elegantly.

ateliers phileas a5 notebook cover closed in shell cordovan


The cover is decorated with two logos, the discreet Art Nouveau one on the inside with the mention “crafted in Japan” and the simple Kamon on the back.    

The Yokohama is much more than a basic A5 notebook cover, AP decided to add a minimum amount of functionality to it without trying to turn it into a personal organiser (more about that soon!). This 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 “oversized” card slots on the inside left will each take a stack of business cards, tickets or chip cards (Pasmo, etc.).

ateliers phileas a5 leather notebook cover card slots


The curved pocket on the inside right is there to hold a notebook in place, but because of its shape can also accommodate an extra notebook (slim), street map, tickets, etc.

ateliers phileas yokohama notebook cover side pocket


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. AP added some extra space to the usual A5 size.

ateliers phileas a5 notebook cover with notebook inside


ateliers phileas yokohama a5 notebook cover card slots filled


Here are some pics of Nomadist’s bicolour blue/natural Yokohama, she uses a Yamamoto Cosmo Note A5 notebook with the cover inserted in the left pocket and a Kokuyo Jibun Techo diary inserted in the right hand side pocket. The cover is still fairly slim and stays closed, even with a fountain pen in the loop.

ateliers phileas inside leather notebook cover


nomad_ist's yokohama notebook cover


blue natural ateliers phileas A5 leather notebook cover


Physically, the Yokohama feels more substantial and definitely more robust than most plain leather planner covers. Because the leather is of such high quality, it is surprisingly soft and supple and has a wonderful fine-grained surface, which is very smooth to the touch. The shell cordovan one is quite glossy when brand new, but will acquire a subtle patina. Once you’ve tried shell cordovan, it’s hard to go back to ordinary leather, it really is amazing!

The quality of finish is outstanding, the edges of the pen loop, side and card pockets are hand decorated, the stitches are fine (closely spaced) and regular (always a difference between cheap covers and more expensive ones).

The rounded edges and shape, as well as the exquisite materials 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. Charles’s natural shell cordovan cover has darkened to a beautiful light cognac colour, while maintaining its transparency.


ateliers phileas cordovan notebook cover colour evolution


We haven't seen many A5 leather notebook covers with this level of quality and functionality in this price range. The subtle design details, quality of finish and materials are second to none. The Yokohama A5 Notebook Cover is a high end product.

Ateliers Phileas designed the Yokohama Notebook Cover to last and to be carried on a daily basis for many years (possibly even a lifetime in the case of shell cordovan). We hope that just like it did for us, it will fit seamlessly in your daily life and slowly, over the years, become less of a tool and more of an heirloom. Hot tip: the box is great for storing desktop sundries, such as washi tape, etc.

See the Yokohama leather and shell cordovan notebook covers here.