The Il Bisonte Insider – a brief review of a highly opinionated binder
I am going to start by saying that I absolutely adore this binder. It is not perfect and it most likely is too rudimentary for a lot of people, but it might just be a perfect match for me.
I ordered mine directly from the Il Bisonte web site, which at the moment only carries it in regular size (equal to the Filofax personal size) and only in black and cognac. I have no idea if they will be available in other colors or sizes again. I purchased one in a cognac color, which turned out to be a gorgeous bridle-tan sort of medium brown, with orange undertones. The leather is very soft, with a decent amount of pull-up character, meaning it will lighten where distressed. It marks rather easily, but scratches rubbs out quickly. I even spilled red wine on mine, but after having blotted it with wet paper the stains are completely gone. When new, it smells ever so faintly of old urinal, just as the leather used in Hard Graft products. I wonder if this is a characteristic of a particular tannery.
The rings are a soft gold tone, with an inside diameter of 26 millimeters at the widest point. They are marked “Full Time”, but I have not been able to find out if that is the actual make, or just some sort of rebranding. They are operating smoothly, with no gaps whatsoever.
There is one full length pocket and three smaller pockets on the inside left flap. Two of these smaller ones are obviously meant for credit cards and such. On the right side, there is a generous zipped pocket. Instead of a pen loop it has a pen pouch on the inside of the right flap. This pouch easily accommodates a fairly large pen, such as a Pilot Capless Decimo, my favorite binder pen. The binder is stamped with the Il Bisonte logo both at the cover and the inner back. The latter debossing also informs us that the binder is designed by Wanny di Filippo, the iconic founder of the Il Bisonte brand, sometimes referred to as the Santa Claus of fashion.
The edges of the binder are left unfinished, the pockets unlined. When opened, it lies completely flat. It closes with the entire right flap folding over the right edge of the inserts, snapping shut against the left flap with two sturdy poppers. The brass colored zipper and poppers complements the leather very well and it creates a very rugged impression. It is obvious that this binder is meant to age well.
I think the major issues people will have with this binder are due the extreme floppiness and the relative lack of functional pockets.
The binder is mostly unstructured and it might even be more flimsy than the outer jacket of a Gillio Mia Cara. When you hold it open in one hand, the leather folds over your hand like a piece of thick felt. In spite of this I still find it possible to write in it standing up, with only my left hand supporting the binder and inserts.
Compared to other binders, this one does not offer much pocket-wise. I do not find the two credit card pockets very functional. The cards stick out half-way from the soft cover, clashing against the rings when you close it. If I was the kind of person that used my binder as a wallet I would have to look elsewhere. Also, I must admit I miss a full-length back pocket for larger pieces of paper. The Gillio range in binders have spoilt me in that regard.
I also have a minor gripe with the backing plate used. From the outside of the binder the plate is slightly convex along the middle, but has a concave portion at both ends, sort of like a spoon. I am sure all sorts of design tradeoffs went into the decision to use this kind of plate, but I have not seen it in other binders and it does lead to some weird creasing. I would much prefer the entire spine to be rounded.
This binder does not perform well when stuffed full. Then, the right flap is almost too short for it to close properly—at least if you have a bulkier pen in the pen pouch. I have found it works well if you leave it at 90 percent capacity, which probably is better for the rings anyway. Then, there is just about room to add a second pen loop, attached to the rings.
Despite these quirks, I find this to be a fabulous binder, made with careful attention to detail and from the highest quality materials. I much prefer this leather to the more recent Epoca leathers I have seen and even to the black Janet leather I have in a Van der Spek binder from last year. Time will tell if this opinionated design will permanently displace the comforting practicality of a more conventional one.