Mont­blanc’s 110th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions point the way for­ward for this Ger­man la­bel

Augustman - - Contents - WORDS DAR­REN HO PHO­TOS MONT­BLANC

Singer, dancer, ac­tor and pretty much Jack of all trades, Jim Sturgess is re-defin­ing the tra­di­tional male lead in the film in­dus­try

“HI, I’M CHAR­LOTTE,” said the grand­daugh­ter of Grace Kelly, of­fer­ing a hand­shake while I stood sur­prised, mouth full with pro­sciutto and ricotta cheese pizza. Thank God I kept a hand clean, I thought, mum­bling back a hello while try­ing to avoid any food splat­ter. I’m usu­ally pretty good with man­ners and eti­quette, but the one time I had the op­por­tu­nity to make an im­pres­sion on the vi­va­cious Char­lotte Casir­aghi, I blew it. Luck­ily for me she sim­ply smiled, sat down and asked me to pass the wine and a slice of Ni­co­letta’s pizza (in­ci­den­tally, ex­tremely good).

The Casir­aghis blend well into so­ci­ety. Dressed in a down jacket, with a ca­sual top and jeans, Char­lotte was non­de­script. If you passed her on the street, you might not even re­alise her re­gal back­ground.

In the cor­ner, a body­guard hov­ered dis­creetly, but she was safe, sur­rounded by an army of Mont­blanc em­ploy­ees who made us feel at home.

We had gath­ered in New York to at­tend Mont­blanc’s 110th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions, and the com­pany thought it would be a great idea to have a first meet over pizza and beer, two of my favourite things. Ni­co­letta, at the junc­tion of East 10th and Se­cond Av­enue, was a lit­tle brown­stone with wood-fired ovens and ex­cel­lent meat­balls, along with sev­eral great craft beers to pick from.

Cer­tainly the staff were not ex­pect­ing Monaco roy­alty to turn up. The in­ti­mate at­mos­phere of the pizze­ria and the easy flow of con­ver­sa­tion float­ing through the place, served to foster a warm fa­mil­ial ex­pe­ri­ence, even though we were jet­lagged by 12 hours, hav­ing spent pretty much a whole day on the plane and ar­riv­ing to a freez­ing cold snap that most of us were ill pre­pared for.

I have al­ways thought of New York as a cold city, that is un­til you make some friends and get to know the lay of the land. It’s an in­cred­i­ble city, like a so­phis­ti­cated older gent or lady (whichever you pre­fer) who will take you un­der his wing and guide you to be­com­ing a worldly per­son. But like its win­ters, New York’s fa­cade is dif­fi­cult to break.

The wind chills right to the bone. It’s a city that can quickly be­come un­bear­able un­less you have some sort of fam­ily around you, whether an adopted or an ac­tual one. On this oc­ca­sion, we had Mont­blanc, which made ev­ery­one feel right at home.

Fam­ily is some­thing that’s im­por­tant to Jérôme Lam­bert, CEO of Mont­blanc. In fact, it ap­pears to be im­por­tant to ev­ery­one at Mont­blanc, from the staff work­ing on the ground to the celebrity am­bas­sadors such as Char­lotte Casir­aghi and Hugh Jack­man. In a brief in­ter­view the next morn­ing with Lam­bert, he thought­fully de­scribes the Mont­blanc mai­son as a fam­ily home, one that strad­dles across con­ti­nents to over 450 out­lets in the world, but a home that would be empty and cold un­less it’s filled with peo­ple. “Then, it comes alive,” he philosophises. “Their emo­tions, their feel­ings, the home be­comes inhabited.” Peo­ple, both cus­tomers and staff, are clearly what mat­ters to Mont­blanc. And it’s a for­mula that ap­pears to work for this Ham­burg-based multi-bil­lion dol­lar busi­ness.

It re­minds me of Richard Bran­son’s fa­mous state­ment on hu­man re­source: Train peo­ple well enough so they can leave but treat them well enough so they don’t want to.

It also marks a strong ex­pres­sive dif­fer­ence within Mont­blanc, which has in the past al­ways por­trayed a pro­fes­sional cor­po­rate im­age when com­mu­ni­cat­ing with its cus­tomers. Per­haps it’s a rem­nant of its Ger­man her­itage. Af­ter all, in the past, the em­pha­sis was to con­stantly link Mont­blanc’s prod­ucts with func­tion, de­sign ef­fi­cacy and qual­ity.

All three are still cen­tral to the work that’s done by creative di­rec­tor Zaim Ka­mal and his seven-per­son de­sign team. The group puts to­gether nearly 1,000 prod­uct de­signs in a year across all of its port­fo­lio (watches, jew­ellery, leather goods, writ­ing in­stru­ments, eye­wear and be­spoke ser­vices), which are then dis­tilled and edited into the prod­ucts you see in the store. But be­yond that, Lam­bert and Ka­mal are eager to tell a tale of two cities, and the brand that spans them.


Mont­blanc’s found­ing gents, Claus-Jo­hannes Voss, Al­fred Ne­hemias and Au­gust Eber­stein started with an es­sen­tial busi­ness prod­uct in those days: the foun­tain pen, bril­liant in style but no­to­ri­ous for its ten­dency to leak ink onto shirt sleeves at the most in­op­por­tune of times.

The trio in­vented a so­lu­tion to elim­i­nate this prob­lem, a patented de­sign for Mont­blanc’s re­fills that be­came its call­ing card and key to suc­cess. In a cam­paign for the 110th an­niver­sary, just re­leased last month on­line, Hugh Jack­man de­scribed the trio’s plan as one not un­like that of a “mod­ern startup”.

It’s cor­rect. The Mont­blanc of to­day, as

Lam­bert later ex­plains, is still one that’s full of in­no­va­tion at its heart. But it doesn’t in­no­vate without pur­pose or rea­son. As an ex­am­ple, he demon­strates a brand new Mont­blanc Star­walker 2-in-1 writ­ing in­stru­ment that’s just about to hit the mar­ket. Avail­able as a roller­ball or fine­liner, it also has a se­cond e-fine­liner tip that works on touch-friendly dig­i­tal screens.

It’s bril­liant, es­pe­cially for cre­atives who need to draw for work.

In fact, that de­sign stemmed from a need that Ka­mal ex­pe­ri­enced. He ex­plains, “I still draw out the de­signs that I want to cre­ate, and to­day I have to draw it out on pen and paper, take a photo of it, send it to my team and they con­vert it to a com­puter-aided plan be­fore send­ing it back to me as a PDF for ap­proval.

It’s in­ef­fi­cient, so this al­lows me to still use my pen but more ef­fec­tively.”

And though the 110th an­niver­sary col­lec­tion does dive into the ar­chives of Mont­blanc and cel­e­brates a par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant range in the brand’s his­tory, it also of­fers a peek into the next phase of Mont­blanc’s fu­ture with an elo­quent range of prod­ucts that evokes more than just the cor­po­rate ex­pe­ri­ence of the past. Zaim Ka­mal opines that this all started three years ago when he first came on board as creative di­rec­tor. “But with Rouge et Noir, we re­ally took a leap for­ward and cre­ated new icons and de­sign themes that re­ver­ber­ate around a Mont­blanc icon from 1906, but made it more strik­ing,” says Ka­mal.

Rouge et Noir was a line of writ­ing in­stru­ments un­der its pre­de­ces­sor’s name, the Simplo Filler Pen com­pany. The pen ex­pe­ri­enced zero leak­age in any po­si­tion due to the Simplo safety filler, and be­came a pop­u­lar lux­ury ac­ces­sory for the busi­ness­man who val­ued a prac­ti­cal ad­van­tage. Over the years, Mont­blanc con­tin­ued to im­prove on the writ­ing in­stru­ment through­out the boom­ing years of the early 20th cen­tury. A par­tic­u­lar de­sign aes­thetic in the 1920s on

its writ­ing in­stru­ment was a snake clip, with an un­du­lat­ing snake curled around the pen cap as its clip. This was re­vived by Ka­mal for the an­niver­sary this year, play­ing on both the theme of red and black, and the ser­pent.

“In nearly ev­ery culture in the world, the ser­pent is con­sid­ered to be a fig­ure of re­birth, cre­ativ­ity, fer­til­ity and heal­ing,” he clar­i­fies.

“At the same time, there’s an as­so­ci­a­tion with glam­our and mys­tique. These and more con­sti­tute the ser­pent’s al­lure.” That, along with its sig­nif­i­cance within the Mont­blanc ar­chives, was the rea­son the brand chose to re­vive it this year.

The colour themes re­ver­ber­ate on each and ev­ery ob­ject, from the black resin bod­ies of Mont­blanc’s an­niver­sary edi­tion, with a rouged edi­tion in a co­ral-toned lac­quer for the body. There’s also a lim­ited edi­tion in black ebonite, with a red resin top that’s mod­ern, yet a lit­tle vin­tage. The se­ries some­how man­ages to re­mind one of the Mont­blanc M writ­ing in­stru­ment de­signed by Marc New­son, but with a ret­ro­spec­tive, slightly ar­chaic twist. A ser­pent clip in a spe­cial al­loy that’s gal­vanised and treated to give it a vin­tage patina is seen on all editions. The same gal­vanised ser­pent wraps it­self around the in­ner bezel of the Villeret Tour­bil­lon Bi-Cylin­drique 110 Years An­niver­sary Lim­ited Edi­tion that’s the high­light time­piece of the range.

There are also menswear ac­ces­sories such as cuff­links with the same coiled ser­pent with gem­stone eyes, in emer­ald, ruby or sap­phire. An­other fond favourite is a ser­pent tie bar, with ruby eyes, that looks as if it’s wrig­gling across your neck­tie. Who­ever said Mont­blanc didn’t have a sense of hu­mour about its work hasn’t seen the Rouge et Noir se­ries.

For those who like a lit­tle jew­ellery on their wrists, there’s also a pair of cuff­links in gold, with a Mont­blanc di­a­mond set on it. Cut in its patented Mont­blanc star style, this unique and nearly flaw­less pair bears over 1.90 carats on each wrist. One only hopes Mont­blanc has a way to turn them into ear­rings as well, so that the wife doesn’t get jeal­ous.

On the leather goods front, along with a range of soft grain leather bags and ac­ces­sories, there’s also a steamer bag in leather with a ser­pent un­coil­ing around it. It is Ka­mal’s trib­ute to the olden days of steamship travel and re­minds of the time when Art Deco was all the rage. The piece is cen­tral to the leather se­ries and marks Mont­blanc’s bold­est de­par­ture from its clas­si­cally hand­some leather goods.

Tak­ing an icon from its past to pro­pel Mont­blanc for­ward into the fu­ture, Ka­mal is de­ter­mined to steer the com­pany’s creative ten­den­cies in a more ex­cit­ing man­ner.

Lam­bert is of the same mind. “True lux­ury has to in­cor­po­rate some amount of dis­rup­tion. Cre­ativ­ity has to ques­tion the norm. It’s im­por­tant for us to ques­tion con­ven­tion in or­der to cre­ate a new par­a­digm. Whether it’s suc­cess­ful or not is an­other mat­ter. But at least we stay true to our own DNA [of in­no­va­tion] and it en­ables us to move for­ward in our state of de­vel­op­ment,” ex­plains Lam­bert.

For a com­pany built on an in­no­va­tive but smartly safe lux­ury prod­uct, Mont­blanc looks set to dis­rupt it­self and the lux­ury in­dus­try in or­der to move for­ward. We’re bet­ting the bold moves will pay off.

SER­PEN­TINE STYLE The ser­pent pen clip is an old icon within Mont­blanc. First cre­ated in the ’20s, it was re­vived this year by Kamal for the brand’s 110th an­niver­sary WHY NEW YORK?

THIS SPREAD CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP The Rouge et Noir Lim­ited Edi­tion 1906 in black ebonite with co­ral-tone resin top; the Villeret Tour­bil­lon Bi-Cylin­drique 110 Years An­niver­sary Lim­ited Edi­tion; a holdall with the rouge lug­gage tag made for the...

Mont­blanc is a Ham­burg-based brand, but as the founders met on a steamship trip from Ham­burg to New York, the lat­ter was cho­sen as the spot for its cel­e­bra­tion.

A SIMPLO MAT­TER The Simplo Filler Pen com­pany started out pro­duc­ing re­fills but even­tu­ally in­vented a safe re­fill­ing process that en­sured the user re­mained spot­less af­ter fill­ing. This turned the com­pany to­wards a lux­ury pen fo­cus. CLOCK­WISE FROM...

True lux­ury has to in­cor­po­rate some amount of dis­rup­tion. Cre­ativ­ity has to ques­tion the norm

In nearly every cul­ture in the world, the ser­pent is a fig­ure of re­birth, cre­ativ­ity, fer­til­ity and heal­ing

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