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The world of travel is perpetually changing. Once elite, perhaps dotted with glamour and exclusivity, the landscape is now inclusive, practical, and accessible—an upswing for those just hoping to see and discover something new. Recently in Berlin, we celebrated these nuances with Montblanc. In town for the launch of the brand’s #MY4810 Nighlight Silver Trolley, we sat down with the brand’s CEO Nicolas Baretzki to talk about how travel is changing and why Montblanc is at the forefront of its newness.
WHITEWALL: Let’s talk about why we’re here in Berlin today. You mentioned that of course we’re here for the new #MY4810 Nighlight Silver Trolley luggage, but really to celebrate travel. Can you tell us a bit about how that was the starting point for the brand and how its evolved?
NICOLAS BARETZKI: We were basically born on traveling. Our fathers started the whole company from a trip from Hamburg to New York. They discovered the patent and that gave us this idea of creating a new fountain pen. From this innovation, they created Montblanc. It was really in the spirit of the company from day one. Four years later, in 1910, from Hamburg, Germany, they created the word Montblanc.
Why we’re here is to explain what the travel segment means to Montblanc. It’s not like we’re the first one to enter that segment, but I believe we enter it from a slightly different angle, and that’s what we wanted to explain during that trip. We’re a luxury maison, so you need a product to express and execute this vision.
WW: The modern-day traveler is changing a bit. Some people are now focused on the experience rather than the product. The modern-day luxury traveler may be a combination. Who do you feel is the Montblanc of today? How does this new product exemplify this?
NB: You’re right. I was just in Shanghai, Seoul, and Hong Kong. And before that I was with some friends at Bucharest, and before, I was in Milan. I think the modern traveler is not just a business, leisure, or casual traveler. I think it’s a bit of everything together. The idea was really to say, “We need to create a collection that can go anywhere.” It’s not just something that you take for your hike, your luxury trip, or a casual weekend. It’s something you’ll definitely consider bringing for all kinds of travel.
Our positioning, of course, is really about luxury, craftsmanship, and quality. When it comes to Montblanc, there is always this notion of performance, of functionality that is linked to the product.
We try to think about how we can bring—besides craftsmanship and style and design—functionality to this modern traveler.
The first thing that I look at is how efficient it is with the wheels, how light it will be, how much I can adapt the bars and handles, so it can fit different sizes of backpacks (because I always use a backpack). Bringing together not just the luxury parts, but really thinking of the journey. As a traveler, I am also here to deliver the best and smoothest journey possible.
WW: What other functions or design details speak to that traveler in this new product?
NB: A trolley is something you have to roll, so the wheels are the most important topic. These are very special Japanese wheels that have ball bearings that rotate 360 degrees.
The second thing is that most of these bars have only two or three positions, and that’s it, which can be quite annoying if you’re tall, short, if you want to put something on it, etc. So, we’ve created a functionality where you can adapt it, and every inch you can have a different position. It seems like it’s not significant, but it’s so practical when you travel.
And when I travel, the moment that my phone runs out of battery is the worst moment. So, we created a small power bank compartment. Of course, we don’t produce chargers, but we give away a very good Montblanc charger.
And I have to say, I’m not personally a big fan of polycarbonate. It’s not so luxurious or amazing, but when I travel, the weight is extremely important. We tried to combine this notion that you need the technicality and the lightness, but we want to keep this Montblanc leather craftsmanship. That’s how we’re sort of integrating not just the leather cover, not just the leather handle that we have on our trolley, but also integrating these three leather bands so you can really experience full leather. And that’s why all the collections are made in Italy because we wanted to link it to the leather.
And when you are in the boutique, you can create something that makes it a little bit more unique.
WW: Can you tell us a bit more about that uniqueness, and what is customizable?
NB: We created this little pad so when you buy the trolley, you have different color pads. In all of our boutiques you can emboss your initials. You can do it in silver or gold. I chose a red pad to be very bold on my black trolley.
WW: You mentioned you were in Shanghai recently to launch Montblanc’s collaboration with Pirelli. Can you tell us more about that collection?
NB: We said we wanted to talk about the performance and the functionality, and we thought what better than to partner with Pirelli, who is providing tires to the whole Formula 1 racing industry. They are definitely known for the best high end and luxury tires in the world.
We completely personalized the leather band, which is a rubberized leather band that we created from the pattern of a Pirelli tire. We are creating these kinds of capsule collections and special wheels that bring back the P Zero, which is the formula one tire.
A lot of these small things—the Pirelli design, the yellow, the P Zero—create something very unique, personalized product. I think it’s very cool to integrate this, bringing back the Pirelli, P Zero, and the trolley. This brings a completely different image and expression of what we do at Montblanc. These collections allow you to be a bit more bold.
WW: The way you’re designing and including collections today is a very systematic approach. I read that you start from the roots, Minerva. Tell me about how that impacts your decisions moving forward with collections.
NB: We are a more than 100-year-old company. I often believe that what happened in the past can be an amazing source of inspiration. About Minerva… we are a very old watch manufacturer, which is 162 years old. And that has been extremely present in the main period of the watch industry. That’s how it could give us so much inspiration for more aesthetic, for more about measuring time, but also about vintage watches, and so on. That’s the kind of thing we love to use, and why we’re bringing modernity to the product.
If you think of these lines, we’re definitely very in tune with the original inspiration of the Montblanc collection, but then completely twisted into a very modern and contemporary product line. I believe as a luxury maison, your heritage is your best asset and your best source of inspiration. But it can only be a source of inspiration and then you need to bring it to the present.
WW: How is Montblanc incorporating new technology or interconnectivity into the immense heritage that already exists?
NB: If you go back to the very root of Montblanc, it’s the innovation. I think that has created a lot of moves. When we go to new tech devices, people will ask why we’re going into that world—it’s not a world of sustainability or something that is long term. But in the end, the answer is that connectivity is becoming essential to this world. There is no question that in the next five to ten years, everyone will have either a smart watch or another way of having a connected device. And at the end, when I see our customers and clients, I don’t see why they would want to wear something ugly. It’s our duty to be able to say from a Montblanc perspective, “How do we see this luxury segment within the whole connected world, that would be huge?”
If we do something like that at Montblanc, the guarantee for the client is that we don’t do it just by an opportunistic approach. We’d really dedicate a whole team that is doing that—the 16:05 that are doing the watches are not the ones doing the connected watch, and to just ensure that the design codes, the quality is there because we want to deliver the feeling of fine watchmaking while using the best digital technology. And that’s the way we think.
If we do a trolley—which is a very complex product, it’s a technical product actually, and not just a leather product—you need to have a whole organization that understands so that you create real quality and a real functional one. So, that’s the way we approach things. What I love at Montblanc is that at the end, there is very little limit to what we can do.
And every time we venture in to smart watches, luggage, high end writing instruments—into a world that is not directly at Montblanc—the way that we are doing it is not just an opportunistic approach, but it’s a clear statement and we believe in it. And that’s how we really design in these new territories.
WW: What can you tell us about sustainability in the brand?
NB: We started this notion of sustainability much before it was such a modern, cool, and important thing. For us, sustainability is really about people and education, and the planet. We have two ways of approaching it.
I think we started 16 years ago the partnership we have with UNICEF. We were one of the top ten donators for UNICEF, and its something we’ve repeated. It is a long, long partnership.
We also had a very interesting event in New York last year with Red, which really was one of the best examples of how Montblanc can do things very differently but for a good cause and in a low profile way. Not overshooting, but in a very meaningful way. This partnership, again that we continue, is also something that is important. But that’s more toward people.
As a big luxury maison, we also want to be more into the planet. The whole campaign this year is about reconnection, and that’s a meaningful thing for us.
WW: Are there any surprising new demands for specific markets around the world?
NB: Sometimes I feel you can almost create the demand. Two and a half years ago, because we are such an important writing instrument company, I said we need to own the whole territory of writing instruments. There is one segment that doesn’t exist—it’s a kind of high jewelry segment for men in writing instruments.
Thinking of the jewelers and high jewelry is so important to this world—Cartier, Tiffany & Co., Bvlgari, and so on. But they are mainly focusing on ladies. It’s about creativity, it’s about design, it’s about craftsmanship. We said, “What will be the answer for Montblanc?” So, we created a completely new segment that doesn’t exist. We started to go all over the world and visit our big clients, and that has become one of the stronger new developments of the company.
Sometimes, you get inspired by what others are doing. And then, trying to reinterpret what could be the Montblanc way. We are not going to do high jewelry for ladies. There is no legitimacy for that. But we thought that there would be clear legitimacy to create high jewelry pieces for writing instruments. It was a huge success from day one. And today, our biggest issue is to produce, not to find customers, which is a good problem.
Why we can be successful is because we keep this innovation, and we brought some new materials, creativity, amazing design, and know-how. Being a very curious person, I’m always looking at what is happening—not always in our own world—and what can we learn and what can we innovate again.
They are all unique pieces. At that the end, we created a completely new segment at Montblanc. This is how I see the market today.
WW: Does it change the way you think about designing for collectors or new customers?
NB: I don’t think it’s changed. My job is to ensure that we are relevant for these customers. And maybe big collectors are expecting something more from Montblanc that is very different. It’s the exciting part of our job—to know that we can venture into new territories and do things differently.
It’s how you remain consistent but, at the same time, creating a new demand. Is it a collector? Is it a lover of beautiful objects? I’m sure I’m sharing some of the customers that some of those big jewelry brands have, except that they buy for someone else in the family. So, an appreciation of beauty, of the exceptional, of scarcity is what brings them to Montblanc.