How a luxury lifestyle juggernaut is writing its future with solidly backed expansion, subtle design and the occasional stylistic surprise.
Call it timeless, or call it classic – either way, there is no doubt that many luxury brands, particularly the male-centric ones, tend towards conservatism. Consider, for instance, Montblanc’s Meisterstuck Le Petit Prince pen collection. Inspired by Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s classic novella The Little Prince, the new writing instruments are sheathed in blue resin or lacquer – the first time in more than 90 years that the brand’s signature Meisterstuck pen has been done in a colour other than black.
In a chat with The Peak when he was recently in town for the reopening of Montblanc’s Raffles City store, the brand’s CEO, Nicolas Baretzki, said with a smile: “One might wonder why it matters that the Little Prince collection is blue. But, for us, it’s a revolution, because the Meisterstuck has always been black.”
While it might be prudent in its use of colours beyond its distinctive black-andwhite palette, the Richemont Group-owned and Germanyheadquartered brand has been much bolder in entering new product segments. In recent years, notable launches have included tech-driven products – such as the Summit smartwatch – and style-driven leather accessories that go beyond black leather cardholders and wallets.
Baretzki, who took up the role of CEO last year after serving as Montblanc’s EVP of sales for more than a decade, said: “What makes Montblanc successful is its ability to be agile, anticipate trends and to constantly search for new territories. We are not just trying to target new customers or millennials, but thinking about what products are relevant for Montblanc. The lines between customers are more blurred today – for example, high-end customers are not necessarily older. And when we did the Summit, we realised that many of the buyers were more mature customers, and not just millennials.”
Crucially, as the dominant company in Richemont’s 1.82-billion-euro (S$2.9-billion) “Other” business category – which includes the group’s concerns in fashion, watchcomponent manufacturing and real estate – its financial clout enables it to enter new territories with guns blazing.
Offering an example, its CEO elaborated: “We started with writing instruments and we are the leader of that category, no question. Now, when we enter a new category, we do so with real expertise. When we went into watches, we did so with a strong team. We have a head of watches (Davide Cerrato) who comes from that industry and thinks only of watches from morning to evening, a dedicated design team, in-house developers, and two manufactures – including Minerva (now known as Villeret), which has 160 years of experience. And our watchmaking division is based in Switzerland, the centre of fine watchmaking. I’m confident that we are on a par with any of the other watch brands.”
The brand’s expansive product catalogue also matters on a strategic level, with the multiple touchpoints it offers.“Think of a cowboy,” said Baretzki, again evoking the notion of exploring new frontiers. “In the morning, he takes his hat, his gun and his lasso. A Montblanc customer might pick a belt, a watch, cufflinks, a wallet, maybe eyewear, put on some fragrance – it’s like he’s living with the brand the whole day. This gives us many opportunities to interact, and develop a close relationship, with our clients.”
As with any relationship, the odd surprise can keep things fresh. New products in the months to come will include flamboyant designs such as notebooks with zebra stripes – still black and white, sure, but hardly conservative. Said Baretzki: “After the launch of the Little Prince pens, people told us, ‘It’s cool that Montblanc is going for more colour.’ We can be a bit daring and edgy – our clients like it.”
“WHEN WE ENTER A NEW PRODUCT CATEGORY, WE DO SO WITH REAL EXPERTISE.”
LEADING WITH HUMILITY “In the big book that Montblanc is writing, I would just be a paragraph, or maybe a chapter,” says CEO Nicolas Baretzki.
TEXT LYNETTE KOH