Montblanc goes red as it promotes leather goods collection
A deep shade of red has transformed an imposing building at 152 Champs-Elysées in Paris. This is the façade of Montblanc’s boutique on the famous shopping street, which has temporarily been lit up to celebrate the launch of (Montblanc M) Red, a collection launched by the luxury brand in collaboration with Red, organisation fighting to end HIV/AIDS. The new line of writing instruments and luggage was released on 8 October, coinciding with the sixth Global Fund Replenishment conference in Lyon, hosted by French president Emmanuel Macron to raise money for the fight to end AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
“The project is part of a strategy launched by Montblanc some time ago, following the idea that as a maison deeply rooted in writing, culture and education, we have always wanted to collaborate with charity projects that allow us to express ourselves in areas that feel authentic for the firm,” the company's CEO Nicolas Baretzki told FashionNetwork.com, underlining the importance of raising awareness in the fight against HIV. After starting a collaboration with Unicef almost 20 years ago, the Hamburg-based company has pledged to raise $14 billion over the coming three years alongside Red, the organisation founded in 2006 by Irish singer-songwriter Bono and activist Bobby Shriver.
TRAVEL, AN ENGINE FOR GROWTH IN THE LUXURY SECTOR
Founded in 1906, Montblanc began life as a writing instruments specialist. Still linked to them, the luxury house has branched out into new categories over the years, finding new ways to preserve its brand DNA in watchmaking, stationery, leather goods and accessories. “We were born in Hamburg, an international port city. The idea of the traveler, of exploration, is part of our brand DNA,” says Nicolas Baretzki, stressing that “the world of travel is a completely legitimate area for Montblanc. We have a growing presence, via physical stores, in almost all airports.”
The ultimate goal is to offer “our customers a complete experience”, with the travel collection spanning across suitcases, backpacks, smartwatches and notebooks. “Looking ahead, there are certain categories that I think will be particularly interesting in the luxury world. Especially suitcases,” says the chief executive of Montblanc, which is part of Richemont. “If we have beautiful luxury items, we can’t have suitcases that are not up to par. There is a connecting element here that validates the launch of Montblanc’s own luggage line,” he adds with a smile.
Novelty is especially important when it comes to luxury goods. “This is a sector that is particularly sensitive to innovation,” Nicolas Beretzki explains. He gives the house’s tech products and multiple smartwatches as an example. And he continues defending the firm’s diversification. “When we enter a new segment, we never do it out of opportunism. We work with specialised and fully dedicated teams,” he reveals, adding that traditional watchmaking and manufacturing smartwatches are two different things.
According to the latest available accounts, the company made over 370 million euros in revenues in 2017. He won’t go into detail, but he seems happy with how every category is performing. “Writing instruments remain in the first place, as our core category, but leather goods, including luggage, are increasingly becoming more important,” he says.
The performance of each collection can vary across markets. “I think France is a territory of culture and writing, where there is still a great future for writing instruments, and these will play a more important role here than in other countries. Currently, all categories are important. There is not one category that accounts for less than 20% of sales,” he says.
AN “UNPREDICTABLE” SECTOR
As for its international expansion, the company’s strategy is quite clear. “Montblanc has always been a ‘proximity maison' that has grown in countries by dealing directly with the local clientele,” says the chief executive, citing decades of work in India and Brazil. China is another example, where Montblanc launched more than 20 years ago and it has become “one of the key markets” of the business. In 2014, China accounted for 15% of total sales at the luxury goods firm.
Nicolas Baretzki describes the current environment in the luxury sector as “unpredictable”, but he seems to like this attribute. “I think we are in a good moment for luxury. These are times when there is a lot of creativity and opportunity to meet new customers who want to discover new things. There are more and more customers who can access products that add value, history and craftsmanship,” he explains.
Among them is the coveted millennial demographic, which has been the focus of a number of Montblanc collaborations such as a recent partnership with Japanese brand Bape. “I saw queues outside our stores in China, where customers were not the same ones who regularly visit our boutiques. These collaborations allow us to approach a younger clientele.” However, the luxury brand wants to build an organic relationship with these customers. “We don’t have a specific strategy targeting millennial consumers, we want to do things for them because they are just as part of our clientele as collectors, even if they are reflected in different product categories,” he says.
“I believe you have to be a bit of a groundbreaker, surprise people from time to time. That is something millennials appreciate too,” concludes the chief executive of Montblanc after a moment of thought. Look no further than the brand’s Instagrammable building, painting the Champs-Elysées red.
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