Le Petit Prince
Now a trusty writing companion
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author was drafting The Little Prince and fragments from those encounters—including a marked-up cocktail napkin and an unpublished sketch of the little prince perched at the edge of a rose-covered cliff—are now being shown to the public for the first time.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