Le Pe­tit Prince

Now a trusty writ­ing com­pan­ion

Esquire (Singapore) - - Portfolio -

It’s a sur­pris­ingly cold spring morn­ing in New York as I scurry into the Mor­gan Li­brary & Mu­seum on Madi­son Av­enue in Mid­town. I’m in the Em­pire State, just a few blocks from the Em­pire State Building, and I’m in an Em­pire State of Mind: These streets will make you feel brand new, bright lights will in­spire you. It’s a cliché, but the hon­eyed soulful voice of Ali­cia Keys is on loop in my head. Surely, I rea­son, Mont­blanc has cho­sen New York as the city to un­veil its spe­cial edi­tion Le Pe­tit Prince Meis­ter­stück pens, be­cause the fa­mous French chil­dren’s book is cen­tred around dreams and imag­i­na­tion. What bet­ter place to launch a col­lec­tion of pens in­spired by dreams than in the city where dreams are made of? But, as it turns out, there are more his­tor­i­cal rea­sons at play.

Inside the Mor­gan’s lower level gallery, five newly dis­cov­ered drawings of The Lit­tle Prince by au­thor An­toine de Saint-Ex­upéry are on dis­play inside a glass vit­rine on the fur thest south side. The items be­longed to the Amer­i­can artist Joseph Cor­nell, who met Saint-Ex­upéry at the very mo­ment the French au­thor was draft­ing The Lit­tle Prince and frag­ments from those en­coun­ters—in­clud­ing a marked-up cock­tail napkin and an un­pub­lished sketch of the lit­tle prince perched at the edge of a rose-cov­ered cliff—are now be­ing shown to the pub­lic for the first time. Con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, Saint-Ex­upéry wrote and pub­lished his world-fa­mous book in New York, in­stead of France, when ex­iled from his home coun­try dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. And for­tu­itously, this year marks the 75th an­niver­sary of the pub­li­ca­tion. The stars are aligned.

In a suite at the Four Sea­sons over­look­ing the city, I speak to Ni­co­las Baret­zki, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Mont­blanc, about the ori­gin of this spe­cial col­lab­o­ra­tion with The Lit­tle Prince; the rel­e­vance of the chil­dren’s book in today’s dig­i­tal age; and whether he agrees with the fox that fa­mously tells the prince: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.”

ESQ: How did this col­lab­o­ra­tion with The Lit­tle Prince come about? NI­CO­LAS B ARETZKI: This col­lab­o­ra­tion has a spe­cial story as it started from a long-term project. There are a lot of goals and rea­sons to why we’re work­ing on this project.

One of the first goals is that we wanted to re­work and present a unique ver­sion of our iconic Meis­ter­stück. The Meis­ter­stück pre­cious resin has ex­isted for more than 90 years and only in black. When­ever you touch or change some­thing mi­nor for an iconic piece, it’s a big rev­o­lu­tion. A few years ago, we de­cided to change the fit­ting and ex­per­i­mented with the rose gold colour, and it was al­ready viewed as a big change. This time, we wanted to do a ma­jor change and play with the colour of the resin it­self, but we needed a very strong rea­son to change the colour of the Meis­ter­stück. When we de­cided to make a spe­cial-edi­tion Meis­ter­stück for The Lit­tle Prince, it made sense to change the colour of the resin to deep blue—in­spired by the colour of the gal­axy.

Sec­ond, when you think of Saint-Ex­upéry, he’s quite an amaz­ing char­ac­ter. He’s not just a writer, he’s also an il­lus­tra­tor and a mys­te­ri­ous man as well. He’s quite unique I would say. When we ap­proached the heirs of Saint-Ex­upéry and we re­alised that they have a big foun­da­tion for Sain­tEx­upéry, and that foun­da­tion is all about education and fight­ing against il­lit­er­acy—themes and top­ics that are very close to Mont­blanc—it was just another rea­son for us to work to­gether. As you know at Mont­blanc, we love sto­ries with sub­stance and cul­ture, not just what’s cool and trend­ing right now. We saw that there’s le­git­i­mate con­tent for this col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Fi­nally the book, The Lit­tle Prince, be­ing French, I know that ev­ery stu­dent in France would have read and stud­ied this book in school. I did too and I re­mem­ber it very well. The story is amaz­ing, the his­tory and the mes­sage that it con­veys. It is a story about imag­i­na­tion, trans­mis­sion, friend­ship and cre­at­ing bonds. If I had to de­scribe Mont­blanc and what Mont­blanc stands for, I would say we’re all about in­no­va­tion and sub­stance. We of­ten talk about life­time companions, like how a cow­boy bonds with his gun. Here, you will take your writ­ing in­stru­ment, bag and watch. So this is very close to the val­ues of the com­pany.

ESQ: Will there be more col­lec­tions in

col­lab­o­ra­tion with The Lit­tle Prince? NI­CO­LAS B ARETZKI: The book is so rich that we can­not just try to sum­marise the book in one col­lec­tion. It doesn’t make sense, there’s too much to say. We are do­ing like chap­ters of a book. For chap­ter one, we ex­plore the re­la­tion­ship between the lit­tle prince and the fox. But there will be two more chap­ters. You know I’m French. And in French education, there’s thèse, an­tithèse, syn­thèse. Take es­say writ­ing for ex­am­ple, it’s com­pul­sory to do it in three parts.

ESQ: Of all the char­ac­ters in The Lit­tle Prince, is there a par­tic­u­lar char­ac­ter you res­onate with more? NI­CO­LAS B ARETZKI: I feel that I can res­onate with a lot of the char­ac­ters be­cause the book fos­ters and en­cour­ages imag­i­na­tion. It’s some­thing not linked to a spe­cific char­ac­ter, but how, through imag­i­na­tion, we can put our­selves in the shoes of each char­ac­ter and learn a bit about our­selves. That’s the kind of story I like. I read The Lit­tle Prince when I was about the age of 11 or 12 for the first time. And when I read it again, you dis­cover another mean­ing that the book is try­ing to con­vey. I’m sure it’s true for most of Saint-Ex­upéry’s books. But this is a book where you can keep your ‘child eyes’. And you can re­use your ‘child eyes’ as an adult and try to re­think the other mean­ings of the book.

ESQ: I vis­ited the Mor­gan Li­brary and Mu­seum here in New York—which has un­veiled five pre­vi­ously un­seen sketches by Saint-Ex­upéry of The Lit­tle Prince— and learned that he wrote the book here in Man­hat­tan. I think that will come as a sur­prise to many read­ers; since it’s a French book, most peo­ple ex­pect it to be writ­ten and pub­lished in France. NI­CO­LAS B ARETZKI: What’s in­ter­est­ing for me is the time when he wrote the book. Saint-Ex­upéry was ex­iled here in New York dur­ing the Sec­ond World War when he wrote The Lit­tle Prince, and he still man­aged to cre­ate a pos­i­tive mes­sage. Which is another part that I like about the story. I like to be op­ti­mistic and the book ex­udes pos­i­tivism. It’s the book’s 75th an­niver­sary this year, which is a co­in­ci­dence.

ESQ: The fox is a cen­tral char­ac­ter in the col­lab­o­ra­tion for chap­ter one. And one of the most fa­mous quotes in the book is from the fox: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is es­sen­tial is in­vis­i­ble to the eye.” What does this mean to you per­son­ally? NI­CO­LAS B ARETZKI: In this world you’re faced with so many peo­ple and sit­u­a­tions. For me, this passage is about be­ing able to go be­yond what you see, and to un­der­stand how to re­act or re­spond to peo­ple and sit­u­a­tions. Go­ing back to my pro­fes­sional back­ground, if I en­ter a bou­tique, I can feel im­me­di­ately if there’s a good at­mos­phere—whether the peo­ple in there are work­ing har­mo­niously to­gether or there is ten­sion. This is some­thing that I’m more sen­si­tive about, this kind of sit­u­a­tion. I res­onate with this quote, as I’m more in­clined to my feel­ings.

ESQ: The book places an em­pha­sis on re­la­tion­ships over ma­te­ri­al­ism. How do you think this is helped or hin­der ed by today’s dig­i­tal age? NI­CO­LAS B ARETZKI: I think that the more dig­i­tal we get, the more we need to have phys­i­cal ob­jects around us that we can touch and hold. Some­thing with her­itage, cul­ture, true mean­ing and crafts­man­ship. I think it forces us to be bet­ter in a way be­cause it means that when you se­lect a prod­uct to pur­chase, there has to be a re­ally good rea­son for it. I think it pushes us at Mont­blanc to be bet­ter.

ESQ: I agree. With so much dig­i­tal noise, when you want to tell sto­ries,

there is some­thing very per­sonal about hand­writ­ing. For you per­son­ally, do you type or write more?

NI­CO­LAS B ARETZKI: I am def­i­nitely an old soul. If I want to write a story or speech, they are all hand­writ­ten.

ESQ: You write all your speeches by hand?

NI­CO­LAS B ARETZKI: Def­i­nitely. Most def­i­nitely. I need to write it down, oth­er­wise I will not re­mem­ber. I’m very visual, so if I write, I’ll re­mem­ber the text I’ve writ­ten. If I just type it, per­haps I am old, but it’s not the same and I don’t re­mem­ber it as well.

ESQ: What is the most mem­o­rable hand­writ­ten note you’ve re­ceived? NI­CO­LAS B ARETZKI: It’s some­thing very per­sonal, that I usu­ally don’t share, but it was some­thing that I re­ceived on my 20th birth­day. It was from some­one who couldn’t at­tend my birth­day as she was sick. She sent me 10 post­cards. Hand­writ­ten, of course. The con­tent of those post­cards con­tains the story of my life; how she sees my life. She was a friend of mine. And that per­son be­came my wife.

ESQ: The book also talks about dreams. But we are all so busy with our lives today. Do you think we for­get to dream? NI­CO­LAS B ARETZKI: I would say no. I still be­lieve there is time to dream and op­por­tu­ni­ties for it. The ques­tion is not about time, but the mind­set in­stead. You don’t need time to dream, you need to have the will­ing­ness and mind­set of do­ing it. Dream­ing is prob­a­bly one of the eas­i­est things you can do. I hope that this is some­thing that peo­ple will do.

ESQ: The book also talks about the trans­mis­sion of ideas—from per­son to per­son or gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. As the CEO for Mont­blanc, what kind of ideas or val­ues would you want to pass on to the next chap­ter for the house? NI­CO­LAS B ARETZKI: It’s kind of dif­fi­cult to give you an an­swer as this mai­son is so com­plex. Our her­itage is about 120 years old. At the end, if we go back to the book, I don’t feel like I’m writ­ing a chap­ter, but only a para­graph. You need to take it with hu­mil­ity, be­ing in this po­si­tion in such a huge mai­son. At the end, you want to make sure that there is con­ti­nu­ity, and you hope, at some point, that you can cre­ate some­thing to bring the mai­son to the next level. You know, I would love for Mont­blanc to be as­so­ci­ated with imag­i­na­tion.

The first se­ries of Meis­ter­stück Le Pe­tit Prince

edi­tion fea­tures the in­spir­ing and ten­der char­ac­ters of the young prince and the fox.

Ni­co­las Baret­zki has been with Mont­blanc

since 2013.

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