‘A TENTH OF A MILLIMETRE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE’
Zaim Kamal, creative director of Montblanc, tells Selina Denman why there is unexpected freedom in working with a minuscule canvas
Montblanc’s creative director on working with a micro canvas
“Bauhaus, David Bowie and the Rolling Stones.” These are the influences that have shaped Zaim Kamal’s aesthetic, he tells me with a smile. It’s perhaps not what you would expect from the global creative director of Montblanc, a 112-year-old heritage brand best known for its exquisitely crafted fountain pens. But Kamal, with his unhurried manner, melodious voice, grey hair and slim frame habitually clad in black, is nothing if not unexpected.
“I am a child of the 1970s and I was very much influenced by that era,” he continues. “So it’s all a little bit, for lack of a better word, edgy. I grew up with rock bands and electric guitars; my mother used to go to Studio 54 – that’s the world I come from. So I think I tend to look at things from a different angle.”
He has developed a knack for presenting things outside of their usual context. This has translated into projects such as the Montblanc Secret Adornment Tattoo collection – briefcases that feature secret, hand-drawn tattoos by Mo Coppoletta on the inside of their flaps. “I said I wanted to do a tattoo on leather,” Kamal recalls. “They asked why. What does a tattoo have to do with leather? I said it’s the idea of writing with ink on a surface… of using the idea of writing, of making your mark, but in a different way.”
Kamal started his career as a fashion designer, graduating from Central Saint Martins in 1991, in the midst of a major recession. “There were no jobs – everybody went bust. We were these highly trained, highly motivated designers, and we just wanted work. Any job,” he reveals. Any job ended up being an internship with Vivienne Westwood. “She literally taught us how to create something out of nothing,” he recalls. “It takes two metres of fabric to create a jacket. At the time, there wasn’t money for two metres of fabric, so we used to go to the bins and get the offcuts – they were between 90 centimetres and one metre wide, and so we had to be very clever with our pattern-cutting. There were all these little things, of understanding how not to waste anything, of being aware of what you do, of not being precious about it.”
Although born in Pakistan (into a conservative family that must have baulked at the idea of him studying fashion), Kamal has called the British capital home for more than 30 years. “I have always loved London, since I was a child,” he says. “I grew up in Pakistan, but London had everything that I wanted. It was creative; it was big; it was crazy; okay, the food sucked, but London has an energy that you will not find anywhere else in the world. The weather sucks, but when the sun shines, the city glows.
“You can sit in central London and you will see every trend – everything that is going to happen, that has happened, that is happening – walk past you in a single day. If you want to see what the world is going to be, go to Camden Lock on a Saturday; just sit there on the bridge and let the world go by. You will see everything that’s in the making.”
It was perhaps fated that he would end up at Montblanc, since he has always been surrounded by the brand’s creations: his grandfather used to collect writing instruments and Kamal, himself, has long been a fan of the brand’s iconic Meisterstück pen.