The best thing about Calepino is on the website:
"Neither Hemingway, nor Picasso, nor even Van Gogh ever used a Calepino notebook – and for good reason: CALEPINO is a product of today bearing a timeless surge of quality"
Nothing like a subtle dig at the market leader.
Calepino Notebooks are made in France, from recycled materials. The outer cover is a very stiff cardboard: their words, not mine. I would call it heavy duty chipboard card stock? Regardless, it is heavy, but will bend and mold to your back pocket like it should. It's reminiscent of the Scout Books I reviewed earlier.
The design is simple: two stripes, one holding the name, the other "Fabriqué en France". Had these been around when I was first getting into pocket notebooks (Moleskines, basically), my Francophile-self would've been all over it. I became that way in college, as a film student my favorite era was always the French New Wave. I was obsessed with early Godard and Truffaut, and how damn cool everyone was in their films. So I would've loved these books.
I grew out of that phase, and though I still love the films of the era, I don't obsess over French stuff much any more. These books, however, are drool-worthy. On the inner covers, you have a very minimal area to put your information and a ruler (metric of course) and the Calepino origin story (in French). Other than that, it's two staples, 48 pages of paper, rounded corners, and your input.
How you input is very important. I found that graphite is best. The 90gsm paper has a nice texture that makes pencils shine. However, I was disappointed in pen performance, especially fountain pens. With all the fountain pens I tried, I had bleed-through. There wasn't much noticeable feathering, but there was a tiny bit on one of my wetter M nibs. More than anything, I was shocked that the finest pen I have, the Pilot Metropolitan, bled-through. Even on bad paper, this thing usually has a shot at being serviceable. Gels and roller balls didn't bleed, but there was some pinpoint show-through on some. The Paper Mate Flair actually fared the best, but I'm sure standard cheap ballpoint pens make very little mess. I was surprised by the pen performance because A) this is a quality notebook and B) every review I've read had nothing but good things to say about the paper with concerns to fountain pens. It's not like I didn't believe them, they had picture evidence. But I have mine, too. I'd be interested to know if there was a change in paper recently or if different rulings have different weights.
Of course I got the lined version. Calepino knows what's up: lined is listed as No. 1. They list No. 2 as graph, 3 as blank, and 4 as dot ruled. The covers are the same other than the number change and the color change. Red for ruled, Green for graph, Blue for blank, Gray (on white) for dot grid. The dot grid cover is the only outlier, with it's white cover. I understand why the colors went with the ruling, but I wish they had made green the lined books...it would've made it that much more perfect for me, having my favorite ruling and favorite color together! And as No 1? Awesome.
The books come 3 in a box, which is made of the same material as the covers and has the same branding. On the inside of the box is the "Fiche Technique" or, if this were a Field Notes, Specifications. It's in French, but the gist is this: 9cm x 14cm, 6mm lined ruling, 90gsm paper, 325gsm cover, all recycled. They use Frutiger as the font choice and vegetable inks in their printing process.
I've been writing in mine for a little over a week and I'm nearly to staple day. I really like these, but would warn that fountain pen users mileage may vary. As a mainly graphite guy, however, they are perfect for me and I love the minimal design. The little part of me that still wants to get a Jean-Luc Godard tattoo really likes these for their French origins, though I don't see how these couldn't be made anywhere and nothing besides the language screams "French" to me. I bought mine from CW Pencils, and though I'm sure there are other importers of these books into the US, they're who I'll be giving the link to.