Think of Italy and the usual stuff comes to mind - sunbaked terracotta-tiled roofs… hillsides covered with vineyards and olive groves… certain red sports cars with a prancing horse logo… and of course, spaghetti. How about pens? No? Well, that's understandable, but we hope to change your mind on that by introducing you to LOCLEN.
Granted, the brand name does not sound particularly Italian, but you'll be pleased to hear that its owner most definitely does: Carlo Vazzoler is the creative brains behind the brand, and what's more he's ably assisted by his son who's called - rather satisfyingly - Enrico. It is the first two letters of Enrico's name, plus those of his two siblings, that combine to make 'LOCLEN'.
So what's so special about LOCLEN writing instruments? Apart from being Italian, that is? Well for one thing they're metal, which is always nice; and for another they, well, they just look the part. They're solid, they're robust, they're pens for men (and women, but women doesn't rhyme with pen). They're a talking point: a piece of well-thought-out design you can carry around and use every day, just for the pleasure of it. They even fit William Morris's famous 'golden rule': 'have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful'.
Take the Evolution fountain pen, for example. This is a deceptively simple-looking instrument, with no fancy curves or unnecessary embellishments. It's just a rod: straight up, straight down. But… unscrew the cap, and then unscrew the ring at the end of the barrel. Slip the ring over the nib and screw into place for safekeeping. Now you can screw the cap onto the end of the pen. It makes for a long pen, but it's so well-balanced this doesn't seem to matter. And you don't have to post the cap anyway.
But if that really upsets you, no problema, as they say in Italy. Just go for a Tiny fountain pen instead. It's exactly the same as the Evolution, but - as you might have guessed - shorter.
And if fountain pens aren't your thing, then that's where the L3 comes in, because it's available as a ballpoint or a mechanical pencil. Weighty, chunky and hexagonal in profile, it has a cross-knurled grip and twist-retract mechanism, things you'd expect to find on precision instruments rather than pens.
LOCLEN was born in 2008, when Carlo ventured into making pens from making custom wheels for cars. Not quite the enormous leap that you might think, since they have similarities. Both are indispensable objects that don't necessarily need to look very pretty. But just as we all know that a scarlet sports car with instantly-recognisable rear lights will look infinitely better with swanky alloys than a set of metal wheels from Halfords, so will a person look so much more stylish wielding a sleek, pleasingly weighted metal pen than a chewed up plastic biro. And this was Carlo's goal. He wanted to create a pen that was a pleasure to own. One that - from a practical point of view - wouldn't break if you dropped it. One that was not only a delight to use but that, for want of a better expression, looked good. He is Italian, after all.
His first offerings were all chrome-plated brass ballpoints, quite angular and with more than a whiff of the automotive industry about them. But, just as cars evolve, so did Carlo's designs, and LOCLEN now produces a healthy choice of pens and pencils: just enough for most people's tastes, but not so many that they boggle the mind.
Based near Venice, LOCLEN is very much a family business. Carlo and Enrico are responsible for pretty much everything, apart from the clips, which come from Japan, and the nibs and internal mechanisms, which are German. They outsource only when a particular finish is needed. They take blank rods of brass, titanium, acrylic and special resins, and turn them - via the wonders of lathes and milling machines - into beautiful writing instruments. And while Carlo is keen to optimise production and can foresee a move one day to slightly bigger premises, staying small and flexible is paramount. As Carlo explains: 'The main difference between a mass production company and an artisan one is quality.' A bit like the difference between a white sliced from Tesco and a rustic bap from the local baker: both do the job of satisfying an appetite, but one is just a bit more pleasurable than the other.
So now when you think of Italy, by all means indulge in visions of olives and grapes, Ferraris and Fiats, gnocchi and gelato. Then add LOCLEN to the list of lovely things that come from Italy.
8 August 2016