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India has always had an understanding of luxury, says Montblanc CEO

In an interview, Nicolas Baretzki talks about transitioning the design vocabulary of a legacy brand and the India market

Nicolas Baretzki
Nicolas Baretzki

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For most legacy luxury brands, the challenge is to be accessible, especially to younger buyers and new customers. It is a challenge that Germany-headquartered Montblanc, the makers of fine writing instruments, travel accessories and watches, is rising to by rolling out pieces with an accent on colour and functional design.

The renewed approach for its forthcoming collections was showcased to a select few at a closed-door event earlier this year in Paris. The products on display held a lesson in giving a contemporary spin to a legacy product. In an interview, Nicolas Baretzki, the chief executive officer of Montblanc International, talks about the changes in the design vocabulary of the brand and the Indian market. Edited excerpts:

Also read: ‘Even in this super digital world, writing is not a lost art’

Montblanc 1858 Automatic Chronograph 0 Oxygen 8000 42 mm
Montblanc 1858 Automatic Chronograph 0 Oxygen 8000 42 mm

Is there a transition taking place at Montblanc?

Yes. We started in 1906, and Montblanc is what it is today, because we have challenged ourselves many times. What you see (today) is a result of an effort that started years ago. It’s not about launching a watch or a new writing instrument. It’s about how much you interact, about why people should come to us when buying their first writing instrument or watch. That’s number one.

Number two is we have an amazing opportunity with design, especially when it comes to travel. Today... lines are blurring between business, casual and leisure, and it’s reflecting in consumer behaviour. To address that, we are bringing more of a lifestyle element to luxury.... Our products are becoming a little more colourful, lighter, but not at the cost of the classic Montblanc signature style.

Small elements and tweaks can change the look of a product, like making the emblem a little bigger or smaller. Thankfully, we have a strong 100-year-old archive that allows us to go back for inspiration and ideas on how to make things more contemporary.

Has the transition been easy?

From a design perspective, there is no challenge at all, because whenever (artistic director) Marco (Tomasetta) looks at the archives he comes back saying how inspired he is. And then he makes it more modern, more contemporary. But then he understands that if you’re doing a limited edition in writing instruments, you’re going to use some codes that are maybe much more classic. And if you go into leather, or even watches, you can be much more experimental.

The challenge is to ensure that customers understand the brand expression and purpose. It has to be authentic, otherwise your ideas won’t translate, and you won’t be able to connect with a customer at a deeper level. I think covid has given new perspective to a lot of people. For example, if I look at the writing category, I see a huge push for acquiring beautiful writing instruments because the more digital we become, the more we want to live to experience the realness, the sophistication of writing with a pen to differentiate yourself. That’s why vintage is so important these days; it takes people back to an era where perhaps there was more joy, less noise, less social and environmental issues. That’s why we are seeing better sales, even in India where we were the first luxury brand to enter.

How big is the India market for Montblanc?

We have had customers from all major cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, even Kolkata. I don’t see India as different from other territories. It’s one of our biggest markets. We have a lot of old customers. Now, we are seeing more young customers coming to our boutiques, with wants that are not very different from their counterparts in, say, France or the US. India has strong roots in luxury. I was visiting an exhibition in Paris recently on the Mughal era and they were showcasing jewellery that was brought to France from there. It documented how the Mughal jewellery defined setting techniques here. India has always had an understanding of luxury and what it means.

Let’s not forget that in India, there is a very strong tradition of writing. So it’s not just about owning a beautiful writing instrument; it’s also about functionality. There is a piece of culture in a pen.

What is the significance of handwriting in your life?

For me, it’s about transmission. Three decades ago, I invited a dear friend for my 20th birthday. She couldn’t make it but she sent me 10 postcards, each telling a story about me. We have been married for over 30 years now. I know when my kids read those postcards they will enjoy them. That’s what remains when you write. That’s maybe something you keep in a shoebox at home and cherish them later. You don’t keep WhatsApp messages in a shoebox, do you?

Also read: Watches & Wonders 2023: Montblanc celebrates contemporary watchmaking

The writer was in Paris at the invitation of Montblanc

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