The more digital we go, the more analogue we need: Montblanc's India president
- Writing on paper is like listening to vinyl records, says Montblanc’s India president Franck Juhel
- We try to launch one collection every year, and in the past we have focused on historical icons like Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, says Franck Juhel
Montblanc is expanding its presence in India and wants to reach out to tier II and III cities. In Bengaluru to formally launch its latest boutique at the Conrad Bengaluru and unveil a new, limited-edition collection from the luxury maison’s Great Characters series, 35-year-old Franck Juhel, president, Middle East, India and Africa, spoke to Lounge from the hotel’s penthouse suite. For Juhel, who started his career with the Richemont group, and the Cartier brand in particular, luxury is bread and butter. He also believes India has a considerable appetite for luxury, and brands that serve this well have a bright future in the country. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What brings you to Bengaluru?
I’m in Bengaluru, and India, quite often. A couple of years ago, we identified India as a priority market. The new boutique here (at Conrad Bengaluru) is our 12th boutique in India, and we are going to open three more by the end of the year—one in Delhi and two in Mumbai—with a plan to have 25 by 2025. At the same time, our tie-up with Titan (the Indian arm of Montblanc is a 59:41 joint venture between the German brand and Titan) and our decision to offer our products online through Tata Cliq Luxury is doing very well. It confirms our strategy of treating India as an important market.
Does it make sense to sell a luxury brand like Montblanc online?
It is the only way to move forward. Our numbers from online sales show that demand for luxury is high in tier II and III cities in India, and, in fact, over half our online orders come from these cities. Being available on Tata Cliq Luxury was the natural progression of our joint venture with Titan. As we are partners, we want to grow together and support the brand in every way.
There is a charge against global luxury brands that they don’t bring their latest lines to India and retail in a half-hearted way. Do you agree?
I would have to agree, though that’s not our strategy at all. Not all brands are looking at India the way they should—some do have limited presence but are not bringing all their offerings to India. Maybe they believe that since everybody is travelling these days, they will find it somewhere else, or they find regulations difficult to understand. Also, luxury brands don’t have a historical presence in India. But the luxury market in India is worth $40 billion ( ₹2.7 trillion) today, and I cannot believe that brands won’t find that encouraging. As for us, we have introduced all our offerings in India at the same time as any of our boutiques around the world, so the same products are available in Bangalore and Bond Street in London or Champs-Élysées in Paris.
What are some of these new products?
Well, firstly we have the James Dean collection from our limited-edition writing instruments. This is part of our Great Characters Edition, which were first issued in 2009. We try to launch one collection every year, and in the past we have focused on historical icons like Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Mahatma Gandhi, Miles Davis…. The latest collection is inspired by the personality of James Dean and its beauty is in its details. You have the red resin cap and barrel, which reflect the colour of Dean’s jacket in Rebel Without A Cause, and you have the clip which commemorates the gun his character Jett Rink carried in the movie. One of his most famous quotes is engraved around the cap: “Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today." Although he made just three films, Dean created a certain iconic image of the Hollywood star and embodies certain values that young people today identify with, like “work hard, play hard".
We also have a new category, luggage, which is doing well worldwide and especially in India. Crafted in Italy, it is a mix of Italian style,German mechanics and Japanese technology. It has some really interesting features—like, in the cabin luggage, a slot for storing power banks and mobiles.
Your core products, however, remain writing instruments and watches—two categories that one would think are on their way out.
I’m glad you brought that up, and it’s absolutely right that today the question is not whether you are adapting to the digital world or not; the fact is if you have not adapted you are already dead, because we are living in a world that is fully digitized. A few years ago, at one of our executive meetings, we asked ourselves this question—what is the future of writing instruments? But you know what, in the past three years we have seen double-digit growth in writing instruments and some markets have grown faster than ever before. Which just proves to us that the more digital we are, the more analogue we need—and we need stronger links to reality, to touch. And there is nothing more real than writing on paper! My 11-year-old daughter refuses to read on the iPad or on Kindle, and I’m discovering the joys of listening to jazz on vinyl, which is the closest one can come to a live experience.