HAMBURG, Germany — “Dear Miss Roose, Thank you for your invitation.”
So begins a longwinded negative RSVP handwritten on flowery paper by the late Karl Lagerfeld, displayed at the new Montblanc Haus, which blends elements of a museum, art gallery, hall of fame and school — adding up to a unique destination.
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Óscar Isaac and Dree Hemingway were among VIPs who descended on Hamburg Tuesday to christen the new building, which resembles a giant artist’s charcoal stick etched with a mountain scape and stamped with the German brand’s famous snowcap emblem. (The building’s design is actually an homage to historic pen packaging.)
Located next to Montblanc’s headquarters, and production facilities for its precious resin writing instruments and hand-ground gold nibs, the three-story structure also boasts a café, exhibition spaces, writing ateliers, an archive and academy.
It’s the latest “immersive brand experience” served up by Europe’s big luxury brands, which are adding cultural and hospitality elements to their flagship projects — though Montblanc acknowledges that its new “house” on the fringes of Hamburg is more of a museum and gallery than a store, and will initially be open on weekdays only.
So far, only groups of students have visited the permanent exhibitions, trying their hand at calligraphy and watching short films about the value of writing.
On Tuesday evening, editors, influencers and local dignitaries streamed through the sleek, 39,000-square-foot facility, gawking at diamond-studded “High Artistry” pens, Art Deco-style advertising posters, and examples of client penmanship from around the world.
“It’s about celebrating writing,” Montblanc chief executive officer Nicolas Baretzki said in an interview, describing the monumental mobile made of paper hanging near the entrance, and the squishy, ink-like lettering on walls that underscore the theme. “We want people to understand why handwriting is important; what are all the philosophical and cultural ideas behind writing?
“If people leave with some excitement and inspiration, I believe we have done the right job,” he added.
Montblanc Haus arrives at a time when the Richemont-owned luxury brand is navigating a spike in demand for its pricy pens, with its Limited Edition range currently out of stock, and a recent tie-up with Ferrari selling out “in a few days,” Baretzki said.
While he declined to give precise figures, he said, “we are definitely over pre-COVID-19 figures and the big challenge these days is producing enough to meet demand.”
The executive said Montblanc Haus was plunked deliberately in front of three buildings housing about 1,000 artisans who craft the brand’s pens, some nibs requiring 35 hand-hewn steps. Tours of the facilities, until now upon demand, will now be offered more widely as Montblanc seeks to fan interest in its most emblematic product, and using it to “leave a mark” on the world.
“I see it as a means to maximize our handprint,” the CEO said with a grin, deliberately sidestepping the word footprint to exalt the flourish of a penned word.
About 400 exceptional writing instruments are on display in the new facility, representing about a tenth of Montblanc’s stash, along with the multiple component parts.
Baretzki noted that historic writing instruments have been a formidable font of inspiration for Montblanc’s artistic director, Marco Tomasetta, who arrived last year. Among Tomasetta’s new leather goods designs is a weekend bag in a shiny leather reminiscent of its iconic Meisterstück fountain pen, with zipper pulls and handle tabs shaped like nibs.
“More and more, we try to talk about Montblanc and not just isolated categories,” he said. “It’s a lot about brand themes about brand expression.”
Next up for Montblanc is an event in Paris on June 22 during Men’s Fashion Week to unveil a new theme and a new collection by Tomasetta.
In a separate interview, Vincent Montalescot, executive vice president of marketing, said the new facility was five years in the making, with teams “digging deeply in the archives.”
He noted that brand discovery emporiums are more common in consumer products industries, mentioning the likes of Lindt’s Home of Chocolate in Kilchberg, Switzerland or the Heineken Experience in Amsterdam. Sites that offered the Montblanc teams some luxury inspiration included the Louvre in Abu Dhabi and the L’École, School of Jewelry Arts supported by Van Cleef & Arpels, which, like Montblanc, is controlled by Compagnie Financière Richemont. But the archives informed everything from the architecture to the sleek and glossy furnishings in black and white.
While Montblanc Haus charts the company’s 116 years of history and exalts its savoir-faire, it has a broader goal of inspiring writing, and harnessing the creativity sparked when pen hits paper, Montalescot explained.
Displays and experiences are also meant to engage a wide range of audiences, from children to serious pen geeks.
“A collector, someone really passionate about writing and Montblanc, will find amazing pieces and a kid will be inspired by the different opportunities to touch, to feel and to discover an environment and the power of writing,” Montalescot said.
Visitors can write postcards with Montblanc pens, sign up for creative writing classes and read handwritten notes from famous figures. Montalescot said the facility is meant to inspire visitors, and also invite them to “pause and reflect.”
Exhibitions blend high-tech and old-school elements. Visitors can step into a round room resembling a slice of a Montblanc pen and be surrounded by dazzling digital projections, while VIPs and VICs will be ferried into a “secret room” where they don white gloves and can inspect rare writing instruments.
“They both bring unique emotions,” he noted with a smile.
Montalescot said the archives shelter not only treasures from the past, but also possible roadmaps for the future. To wit: Having discovered autographs by writers such as Voltaire, Agatha Christie, Thomas Mann and Ernest Hemingway in storage, Montblanc decided to shift investments from contemporary art into rare signatures by the likes of Albert Einstein, Frida Kahlo, Reinhold Messner and Spike Lee, who appeared in a global Montblanc campaign in 2020.
Asked how many visitors Montblanc Haus might welcome in its first year, Montelescot shrugged, describing the business model as a “work in progress” and efforts to publicize the facility in its early stages, with Tuesday’s inauguration event the big kickoff.
However, the brand is mulling plans to “digitize the experience” and export elements to other Montblanc stores and perhaps pop-up installations. In 2024, the company will mark the centenary for the Meisterstück, its most iconic pen.
Alexa Schilz, director of brand heritage and sustainability at Montblanc, said she engaged two museologists to help contextualize and curate the archives, which include a treasure trove of advertising campaigns from 1922 through to the 1970s. These images document how fountain pens facilitated business travel — no ink well to balance on a bumpy train — and how Montblanc used the language and methods of fashion early, creating a collection of pens around 1907 that were given a fancy French name, “Rouge et Noir.”
“They saw the value in bringing something chic to the market,” Schilz said.
Writing samples on display in the exhibition areas include a small leather book containing the autographs of all members of The Beatles, and more prosaic exchanges, including notes from Italian architect and furniture designer Gio Ponti and his carpenters.
The boutique at Montblanc Haus mainly showcases writing instruments, some leather goods, a tiny selection of watches and personalized stationery, Schilz noted.