Kamal was standing by the window of the suite in The St. Regis Florence, quietly admiring the sublime views of the Arno River as I walked into the room. “How beautiful is this view?” he greeted me. I smiled and nodded. It was indeed a beautiful summer day—Florence was basking under the Tuscany sun, overwhelmed by tides of colours that turned the city into a golden picture. “You should see the city during full moon, it is something else,” Kamal added, having just flown in from his home in London.
As the Creative Director of Montblanc International, Kamal spends his time between Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy and UK. There’s no one better to introduce the new #MY4810 luggage collection than the frequent traveller himself.
ESQUIRE: Tell us more about the luggage collection. Why did Montblanc decide to launch a luggage collection?
ZAIM KAMAL: When we looked at our new clients and we looked at the way they function and work, in what we called urban exploration, we asked how do you move through the city, and what are the requirements and the necessities you need. That’s how the luggage collection came about. Over the last five or six years, there has been this idea of travelling from your city into another city, and because you know the codes and rules from your city you don't really feel alien in the new city, because you know how to work and act and react. For example, if I go from London to Shanghai, I don't speak the language but I know how to behave because I know my code. So, this urban-to-urban exploration is something that's very interesting.
ESQ: How does this new way of traveling inspire the collection?
ZK: For example, you travel to Florence, and then to London, and then you might go to Paris, and you do all of this in the course of five days. This means you have no time to wait in line to check in your bags, or to wait for your bags—you want something you get on and off really quickly. That's why we created this luggage line that allows you the maximum freedom and ability to take maximum content whilst adhering to all the size and weight and limitations.
ESQ: So, functionality is the key?
ZK: When we started researching into the materials, we said “it has to function; it has to run over different surfaces; it has to be sturdy; it has to be easy to use.” But, it has to be beautiful as well. You want something that also stands out. We asked who the best manufacturer to handle this is—Germany beautifully engineers parts, the best wheels are from Japan and the best poly-carbon are from Italy. So, we took all these things and we started designing the aesthetics around it.
ESQ: How about the design on the body? What inspired the lines?
ZK: This might sound a little crazy, but when we were designing this, I was actually researching exoskeletons from cyborgs. Because exoskeletons are basically structures around which you wrap a skin, it gives rigidity; it gives strength. At the same time, there's a tactility. I found that concept really interesting, and we realised that we could use the structure of the lines to stiffen the poly-carbon and give it a bit more structure; we could also use it as an aesthetic emblem as well. So, the structure and the ribs hold the piece together giving it strength, rigidity, and lightness, as well as flexibility.
ESQ: How do you see the #MY4810 collection fitting into the world of Montblanc?
ZK: When we started, the idea was to have a lightweight, easy to use, resistant and resilient, piece of travel luggage. The next step is to have five different sizes, not just one. The name MY comes from a personalisation aspect; not only because I can put my initials on it or select colours, it also means "how do I put the needs of my travel companions together?" It could be just that I need the trolley and the bag that goes with it, it could be that I need the trolley and the mid-size with it. It's "how do I put the tools together to fulfil the role of my travel?" It's a logical step to take. I also think the reason is to have a certain aesthetic. It's made in Italy, it's got the craftsmanship; so it was a natural progression for us to move forward.
Urban exploration means the interaction between people, it's not only about how I'm walking around the city and looking at buildings and architecture. Urban exploration starts within you. It's "how do I interact and integrate myself with the environment we live in?"
ESQ: Do you find it challenging designing luggage as compared to leather goods or watches?
ZK: It’s challenging because it’s a completely new material. We have to learn a new way of working. When we went to look at the materials, I was sitting there with the chemistry guys and talking about polymers and I was thinking: "I wish I had paid more attention in school.” Montblanc as a designer always challenges you to learn new things. It doesn't say "do this again and again"; it says "OK, you've done this, now go into another direction", and that always pushes you. I've learned about materiality, technical development, ball-bearing, sizing, and ceramic versus stainless steel; it's amazing. When I have a new project, it's not like "oh my god, I know nothing of this," it's more "OK, where do I start and how do I get into it?" For instance, I insisted on having these leather corners, which meant we had to work into the mould. It also meant I’d be losing space for something else, so we have to really consider all these things, like the radius. I think it sounds very technical, but it was very exciting.
ESQ: Has the digital side of things changed the way you design?
ZK: No, it's just the tools. Everyone has their own balance—it depends where you put the slider. When I was first asked this question, the journalist across from me asked: "yeah, but do you sleep with the iPhone next to you?" I said: "Of course I do, everybody does. Because without this, I don't know what time it is, and I don't get woken up." This [the iPhone] lies next to my bed, but my sketchbook is in my bed. It doesn't change the way I design, it just changed my mix of tools nowadays. When I have four design teams, and I travel, how do I communicate with them? I make a sketch. I take my phone, I take a photo, and I send it to them. They work on it and send me a PDF. I take the PDF and I comment on it, and then, this sketch becomes a 3-D piece which we model. It's this mixture, and I think it's amazing to have all these tools. But you have to find your own balance.
ESQ: Speaking of urban exploration, what does the term means to you?
ZK: Urban exploration means the interaction between people, it's not only about how I'm walking around the city and looking at buildings and architecture. Urban exploration starts within you. It's "how do I interact and integrate myself with the environment we live in?" It’s also an editing process: editing how you move, editing the people you interact with, editing with your jobs, editing with the urban environment. The other thing one shouldn't forget with all this is beauty and tactility. When you look at a city during the day, there’s the function; walk through the same city at night, and that's when the glamour, the romance, the mystery, the darkness, appears. It's to be aware of what it is, and to learn and utilise that. You can find that in every city you go, and you’ll find codes that work in different ways. Two weeks ago, I was in Paris. I couldn’t sleep so I walked out of my hotel at midnight. I've been in Paris for 30 years and know it like the back of my hand. I just went into the left bank and got lost. You know what time I came home? 4:30 in the morning. I was walking the whole night. It's seeing things through new eyes, and for that we create companions that are there that help you enhance your experience.
ESQ: Like seeing the full moon in Florence?
ZK: You should really see that—it takes your breath away, every time.