Montblanc's Jens Henning Koch Talks About 1926 Heritage Collection

Montblanc launches a vegetable-tanned leather collection with vintage finishes for the urban travelers.

BY IAN LOH | Oct 5, 2017 | Fashion

We’re sitting in Florence’s Giardino Torrigiani, the largest privately-owned garden in Europe within city boundaries, on a warm summer night, sipping champagne and savouring canapés, before the official launch of Montblanc’s new leather goods collection simply dubbed “1926 Montblanc Heritage”. The latest range features small leather goods, briefcases, portfolios, messengers, backpacks and a weekender with a detachable pouch/belt bag—all crafted in Tuscan vegetable-tanned leather.

As the night unfolds, we find ourselves sitting beneath a safari-style canopy tent made from the very same canvas and vegetable-tanned leather that’s used in the collection, across the table from Hugh Jackman.

“I’m involved in the business of creating things all the time,” Jackman chimes, as he stands up to make a toast. “Sometimes, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on things that we’re creating. Sometimes, I can have a movie, with years behind it, which opens on a Friday and is irrelevant by Saturday morning.” The dinner guests laugh as Jackman continues: “So, if you think about the job that Zaim Kamal, Creative Director of Montblanc, and the team do in terms of honouring a tradition of 110 years, but also creating a product that will be relevant—not just the day you buy it, but at the end of your life—that is a task, which in my job, you’re lucky if you have one in your whole life, let alone 20 products in the 1926 Montblanc Heritage Collection. It’s a great honour for me as a Montblanc ambassador to support Zaim and his team, and to tell the world of his great work.”

Jackman’s toast perfectly sums up our sentiments about the collection. As we raise a glass to Montblanc’s latest craft, at the other end of the table sits Jens Henning Koch, Montblanc’s Executive Vice President Marketing, whom we had chatted with earlier that day.

ESQUIRE: Tell us more about the vegetable-tanned leather used in this collection.

JENS HENNING KOCH: This is actually a very important collection for Montblanc because it is the first time that we’re using vegetable-tanned leather. The leather has been tanned in a natural way, so every piece is unique. It’s also a piece of leather that can develop a nice, new patina over time. But it is the craftsmanship process that makes the leather very soft. Really, the leather is so superb you can only find it here in the Tuscan area when it comes to the tannery. We wanted to add a very special style expression to [the collection], hence, the vegetable-tanning process. I think it is important to make a product unique because in today’s world, everyone wants to express his or her own personality, and not just be one of the masses. And to further enhance that, we wanted to stress that craftsmanship and our heritage in leather.

ESQ: Design-wise, there’s a very ’70s retro, safari style to it.

JHK: That is the story we want to express—the ’70s exploration of the safari in Africa. You can see it from the dark brown, those golden-finished hardware elements and the vintage elements of how the leather stitching has been done. And to make it even more special, we added linen that has been inspired by Maasai tribal colours.

ESQ: It’s really beautiful inside and out.

JHK: Yes, you have a bag that is sophisticated (on the outside), but there is also a wow factor when you look inside. We like to think that it’s a piece that follows you through the urban nomad lifestyle, so to speak. Basically, the collection is about great craftsmanship and a strong style expression; each piece is truly unique.

ESQ: Would you say the target customer for this collection is younger than the current Montblanc demographic?

JHK: Yes and no. I think the set-up of the business lifestyle has changed from very formal to a more casual or unconstructed one. When you think back, perhaps 10 or 20 years ago, young customers who stepped into business went for the most formal outfits possible because that was the expression then. Today, it’s almost like the guy who dresses the most casual in the meeting is the most important one. I think the expression has changed. So, we’re very much focusing on mentioning that generation, and especially in your (Malaysia) market, there is that young generation who is developing in business and society life at an incredible speed.

ESQ: Speaking of age, what does the year 1926 symbolise?

JHK: That was the first year when Montblanc offered leather goods. We started off in 1906 with writing instruments and, in 1926, we created leather pouches for them.

ESQ: At Montblanc, there are writing instruments, watches and so on. Where do you see the leather goods range positioning itself within the company?

JHK: Leather goods are very important to us. We are really a maison of that and what we call today an inspiring luxury lifestyle. It is really about enhancing your life and expressing yourself beyond the business life. I believe it is through leather goods that you can express your personality and style the best. So, it is a very strong category within Montblanc.

ESQ: How will the collection resonate with travellers from different parts of the world?

JHK: I think it is more of a question of how do you want to travel; how do you want to express your style; whether you are someone who sticks to more formal elements or are more versatile. I think it is not so much a case of nationality or regions, but rather a segment within a market.

ESQ: So, who is a Montblanc urban traveller?

JHK: I would say that person is on a mission. There is a certain ambition in life: it can be a business one, or just how to balance life or how to achieve certain elements. He or she is someone who wants to move forward and is aiming for new heights. He or she is an active person who is open-minded, travels for experience and is constantly inspired. These are the people we want to talk to, who we want to inspire to new heights. We want to tell stories like, “Hey, this is how you can experience a function; this is how you can express your style; this is how you have never written or travelled before.” This is what we want to achieve. 

ESQ: How do you see a Montblanc product complementing that person’s lifestyle?

JHK: I think it is very important that what you buy really fits what you want to express and what you feel most comfortable with—because that really enhances your personality. Over the last three years, we have launched many products that express that, and the customer can really find the right offer for him or her. It is not a Montblanc product that carries you; it is always you who carries a Montblanc product. We don’t want our customers to be hidden behind our products and logo; they should be at the front. Our customers are so strong and on their own mission, and they want to appreciate products that enhance their way. 

Transcript by Eva Zenteno.