I “met” Christian Seno several years ago through Instagram. He started commenting on my posts and immediately intrigued me because he’s not only brilliant and socially conscious, but he has impeccable taste in pens and notebooks. Is there any better combination? I don’t think so. In many ways, we are like-minded, which became even clearer after the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, just two months after the US lockdown because of the global pandemic. Emotions were higher than I’d ever seen them before, and my heart was broken by the state of the world in which we lived. My Instagram account went from talking about my kids, my analogue tools and my personal things, like my divorce, the death of my ex-husband’s death, to focusing on social issues, like racism and social justice/injustice. I couldn’t help it. I could not remain silent and just keep talking about analogue tools because that’s not who I am. For some followers, that was a turn off. For others, it was the beginning of an important and much-needed dialogue. I am so grateful that Christian fell into the latter category.
At some point, Christian and I started communicating, not only in comments on posts, but also through DMs. I couldn’t remember exactly when that happened, so as part of my preparation for meeting with Christian and writing this piece about him, I scrolled all the way back through our Instagram conversation, hoping that I had not deleted that first message. I was so happy to find it. The date was June 2, 2020, less than a week after the murder of Floyd’s murder. The country was in turmoil, and I was a mess. Many of us were messes. In the midst of all of this, Christian reached out to me with a private message. He introduced himself as a law student with limited means, but wrote that he wanted to do something to support communities struggling for justice. He wanted to send something to me, a gift, as a gesture of solidarity. I don’t know what made me trust him, but I did. In the middle of the pandemic, I gave this virtual stranger our address, and days later a package arrived.
In addition to being a law student, Christian also crafted leather artifacts, as a hobby, to reduce stress. The package that arrived was a beautiful passport size traveler’s notebook. The exterior was rich brown glazed python skin and the interior was brown goatskin. I should say “is” because not a day goes by when I don’t use or touch this notebook. Christian’s original message to me was sent on June 2, 2020, the second anniversary of Seán’s (my ex-husband’s) death, and I received it on June 4, 2020, my birthday. The timing was perfect and only added to the significance of the gesture. The notebook was so beautifully and expertly made: it was so exquisite, like something you’d buy from a luxury designer. It’s nearly unfair that Christian is so talented and so smart in so many ways. He’s also special, more compassionate than most people that I know, and he uses all of this to serve.
I expected that my meeting with Christian would lead to some very deep, philosophical discussions, and it did not disappoint. Christian’s background, education, training, and purpose greatly inform his thoughtful insights on a great many subjects. He is passionate about many things. Social justice and human rights top the list, but fashion, travel, and opera are on the list as well. Christian is also passionate about notebooks and pens, which should come as no surprise to you. Christian started keeping a sketchbook in high school. His interest in art and his use of a sketchbook continued through college, where he majored in fine art. Christian talked about his dreams of becoming a painter, but mentioned that upon graduating and needing to secure a job, he found his way to the fashion industry. As he transitioned out of school and into the world of fashion, his sketchbook became a planner. He recalled going through a Filofax phase, like many of us did.
It’s impossible to know if Christian’s appreciation for beauty led him to art and fashion, or if his experience as a student of art and in executive positions in the fashion industry influenced his refined taste, perhaps it was a bit of both. His love and appreciation for refinement, sophistication, and aesthetics are evident in his collection of analog tools and leather goods, as well as in the leather goods he crafts with his own two hands, but more about that later. Writing about Christian isn’t easy. He’s driven, multifaceted, brilliant, and complex. He has a wealth of life experience, and an incredible mind, add to that a compassionate heart. Every time I start telling you one thing about Christian, I want to tell you something else about him. He reminds me of lines from one of my favorite Walt Whitman poems,
“Song of Myself.”
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself.
I am large, I contain multitudes.
- Walt Whitman
In 2013, Christian left the fashion industry and entered into religious life, as a Franciscan friar. During his six years as a friar, he kept a journal. His writing practice was very much a part of his reflective work during this time, and he wrote almost daily. He talked about the clunky notebook that was given to him, early on, by his postulant director, who has sadly since passed away. He laughed about the size of the giant journal he was given. And though he didn’t carry that giant notebook around, he did journal regularly. He described the transition from secular life to religious life as traumatic. “It’s a departure…It’s not like going into a job, because I think it’s sort of a process of deconstructing yourself and your own assumptions about who you are and what you’re called to do.” Christian went on to add, “And I think the journal helps you process that. If you're truthful, if you’re honest with what you’re writing down because it could also be a tool of lying to yourself.” This was one of the many gems that Christian shared during our chat. We would spend a lot of time talking about insights like this, and there were many.
When asked if he recalled a time when keeping a journal positively impacted his life, in addition to journaling during the transition to religious life, he shared this: “When issues about racism in the community came about, my journal helped me to frame my thoughts, to take a step back and see for myself that what I saw happening is what I thought/felt it was.” I agree that journaling is an excellent tool for finding clarity. When we write things down, it makes it even more real. To this point, Christian added, “Oddly enough, for me, seeing a description of an incident that is traumatic written down on paper, as if it was a play by play, helped to ground me and make me feel as if I was not going crazy, which often happens when people try to gaslight you after a racist incident.”
Christian is a deep-thinker, and we talked about so many different difficult topics during our nearly two-hour Zoom meeting. But, we didn’t only talk about serious issues; we also talked about his love of paper and pens. When it comes to paper, Christian enjoys writing on Japanese paper for its smooth texture. When it comes to pens, he prefers writing with fountain pens. He likes to write with Leonardo and Platinum fountain pens, but really loves custom-made pens from small makers, such as John E. Brady of JEBS Pens in Pennsylvania and Ash from Rockster Pens in Wales. Christian and I often talk about consumerism and our sometimes conflicting penchant for nice things. Christian will splurge on Hermés notebooks, and has a few Ulysses notebooks in different sizes, and our conversations about this subject are profoundly interesting. I wish I could write about everything we talk about at great length, but I cannot do it in the scope of this short essay. Oh, how I wish I could. Perhaps, we will have to have a part two, or write a book.
When I asked Christian what advice he would give to someone who wanted to keep a notebook, but didn’t know where to start, he said, “Just start. Don’t think about writing something important. Just move the pen on the paper. But it does help to have a nice pen that you enjoy holding, and a nice sheet of paper that feels good to write on, and a notebook that you like to carry. Having something of beauty helps. But what is beautiful is objective, so whatever helps.” Christian believes that aesthetics and beauty matter a lot. That said, Christian describes his own handwriting as small and ugly, which made me laugh. When I asked him if he worried that someone might read his notebook, he commented that his handwriting would be a deterrent because it was “so small and ugly and that not a lot of people would take the time to read cursive nowadays, so I’m not concerned.”
He is concerned with social justice. After leaving religious life, Christian went to law school, which he finished in 2022. He now works at a firm that provides appellate representation to criminal defendants, who have been convicted in trial court, and cannot afford legal representation for their appeals. Even as an attorney, he continues to work to support marginalized and underrepresented communities.
In his spare time, he makes the most beautiful leather goods, such as passport covers and notebooks. You can see some of his work on his Instagram feed @christansenoleatherworks. He is highly skilled and professional when it comes to his leatherwork. He could rival some of the top designers at this point. I’m not even exaggerating. He’s that good. The work he does is mostly custom/bespoke, and you can reach him via DM through Instagram. I’m going to have him make something new for me shortly, and I will pick it up in New York, now the weather is getting warmer. I’ve already decided that we’ll go to Muji on 5th Avenue and Kinokinuya on 6th Avenue, and then grab some lunch and continue the great conversations we’ve started.
Thank you, Christian.