Fashion is taking baby steps towards its pre-Covid-19 rituals. On Wednesday night, the Hamburg-based luxury brand welcomed guests (including wrangling out-of-town influencers, another sign of resumption) to celebrate their collaboration with the French Japanese cult-following brand Maison Kitsunè. Held at LouLou restaurant in the Tuileries in abnormally chilly weather, CEO Nicolas Baretzki jubilantly spoke about innovation, synergies and plans for Montblanc’s retail transformation.
A Step Towards Celebrating
In a speech to attendees, including Quincy Taylor Brown, Susanna Lau aka Susie Bubbles and Tamu McPherson of All the Pretty Birds, Beratski referenced parallels between the two brands. “Why Maison Kitsuné and Montblanc? Looking at their history, Maison Kitsunés’ founders went to Japan, which gave them a new idea and an opportunity. In 1906, Montblanc’s founders traveled to New York in search of innovation and came back with an idea for the fountain pen,” said the CEO of the 115-year-old watch, leather goods, tech accessory and writing instrument brand. “If you trace the steps of each, you see the same brand expansion, both with a strong emblem: the snow cap and the fox.”
During the uncertain and ever-changing Covid-19 health-related restrictions in Paris, planning the event was a risk that the CEO welcomed. “It took a certain pragmaticism to adapt to the regulations and be willing to follow the rules, but this reflects the Montblanc attitude that nothing is impossible, especially if you push your luck.” Though having the Maison Kitsuné founders Gildas Loaëc and Masaya Kuroki attendance wasn’t possible due to still-in-effect quarantine rules in Tokyo.
The brand was willing to risk planning an in-person event which many weren’t. The requisite onslaught of fashion week parties and dinners is notably absent. (Before the dinner, Blue Marble showed their eclectic vibrant club-inspired collection in the courtyard of the Musée des Archives Nationales and are only one of five live fashion shows this week, with others continuing to show digitally only.)
Forging a Partnership
Beratzki said his pursuit of headphone technology led him to examine Maison Kitsuné to create the partnership and recognize brand alignments such as heritage, craftsmanship, and authenticity. “We aren’t a marketing Maison, nor are they. That is super important to me. We try to tell true stories, not make them.” The collection which hits Montblanc stores and e-commerce as well as Maison Kitsuné stores today features various totes, a clutch, a backpack, a document case and headphones in a custom leather fox print.
He realized a similar “art de vivre” or lifestyle brand approach, encompassing several categories. “They have fashion, the café and a music component, so they had some parts, and we had the other,” he said, noting a similar audience too. “We see a younger generation turn to Montblanc.” A previous collaboration with A Bathing Ape or BAPE, which sold out in 36 hours, presumably pushed that.
Considering one key item at Montblanc is their pens, at first glance, that sounds skeptical. But Baretzki has solid views and results to back it up. “I completely believe that the more digital we become, the more people will want to discover the art and roots of writing. We have never sold so many pens.” Montblanc brand ambassador and baby-boom film director Spike Lee—who defined black Gen X in his films—similarly, shares the sentiment, telling Baretzki, “I don’t type. I write.”
Crafting the Experience
Experience is driving change at Montblanc that Baretzki says was accelerated by the pandemic. 2022 is going to bring unexpected but surprising changes to the atmosphere at flagship retail stores in New York, Paris, London, Dubai and more. While focusing on digital strategies in the last decade to adapt to the luxury customers’ shopping habits, today’s question becomes “why do I have a boutique?” pushing his team to rethink them.
“I believe in retail, but beyond the physical space, I want to reshape the retail emotion. There has to be a reason for people to go to the boutique.” First and foremost, he believes in the staff-client relationship, having grown up in the family’s watch and jewelry retail business. “A customer would come in and ask for a certain salesperson and if they weren’t there, they would say they would come back another time. It was the conversation, trust and service they offered that instilled the loyalty.”
But there will be undisclosed other points of engagement. “I want people to have fun when they come in and find an experience they cannot get online,” he said of the retail revamp. Before the pandemic, he felt this change was five years away. “Now it’s an urgency and something people want now, not two or three years later,” he noted. “You will be surprised; I can guarantee that.” According to the CEO, innovation is at the heart of Montblanc, as well as unique positioning with hard and soft luxury goods.
“Montblanc was started in Hamburg, which was the Silicon Valley of its day at the heart of shipping and travel routes. An engineer, finance person and sales rep founded it, which is the startup of today,” he stressed. “Before marketing existed, they took a French name that symbolizes greatness as the highest peak in Europe and then they created a recognizable logo representing the six valleys of the mountain in 1913.” he said, comparing it to the Nike Swoosh, which is valued at 26 million dollars. “Having a storied mark like this is super valuable.”