By Thomas Shambler
For Montegrappa's CEO Giuseppe Aquila, it's the brand's attention to detail and Italian heritage that is key to its growth in the region
Montegrappa still maintains that it is a creator of luxury writing instruments. However, over the past few years, it has moved into watches, accessories, jewellery, leather goods and even fragrances. Are you not worried that you might be diluting the brand?
On the contrary, we are not diluting the brand but enhancing our product offering through diversification. However, we recognise that our core business is and will continue to be the manufacturing of fine writing instruments. When we bought the company back again into our family in 2009, we did at the time make the strategic decision to diversify our product offerings. I personally have always been a watch collector and believed that to further create growth, watches and accessories would be instrumental in realising that growth. Nevertheless, writing instruments are in our DNA – Love writing is our core communication, and we do not intend to move away from what has brought us to where we are today.
For someone who is unfamiliar with the brand, how would you describe it? What makes it unique in the world of luxury today?
Our Italian heritage is an important element of the company’s persona. ‘Italian-ness’ is at the heart of Montegrappa’s tradition. It defines the brand philosophy, its attitudes, and its style. We are unique in that we are family owned business while having global recognition for manufacturing and designing the world’s best writing instruments. Being a family owned business gives us the unique ability to be versatile in our product offering, we can offer customisation and special development products for our clients. We are seeing a large growth in our bespoke and made to order business.
The brand has been going since 1912. Would you say that Montegrappa is a brand that looks to its heritage for inspiration? Or is it forward-facing?
Montegrappa is defined by its roots in Bassano del Grappa, as the company has been operating from the same factory, refurbished and expanded of course to modern standards, on the same site on the bank of the Brenta river for over a 100 years now. We are in an area of northeast Italy, famous for resistance during the two World Wars. In 1918, Ernest Hemingway, then a Red Cross ambulance driver, wrote home of the ferocity of the battles on the Monte Grappa. It is this very heritage that drove us to launch the Limited Edition Hemingway Collection. Our Italian ancestry that defines strength of character, no matter what the economic climate, is a fundamental reason why Montegrappa is still in existence. We associate the brand with strength, which is why we have developed lines that personify this drive for success and struggle against odds. From Muhammad Ali, Bruce Lee, Nelson Mandela, Sylvester Stallone, Ernest Hemingway and even our DC Comic line, all represent extremely strong characters, who were relentless in their pursuit of achieving what seems like the impossible.
What's your goal for 2017? With all that's going on with uncertain markets, most companies in the luxury space seem just to want to survive?
Despite the challenging conditions in certain markets, we have grown our overall business over the past 12 months and look to continue to do so in 2017. We have found opportunities through new product assortments, key licensee partnerships such as our UEFA Champions League collections and recently launched Game of Thrones collections, while also expanding our retail coverage through our global boutique expansion plan.
What is the creative process like at Montegrappa? How does an idea become a product?
I personally take much pride in our product development and will overlook much of the process from concept generation to final end product. We have the ability to launch products into the market that would not be considered the norm for our particular industry yet are proving to be extremely well received by today’s global citizens. Sometimes an opportunity would present itself, be it a licence agreement or a potential collaboration with a celebrity, where we can react to an opportunity with speed and deliver a beautiful product to market that we just believe will work.
Obviously, many of our product offerings are done based on research conducted in multiple markets among our different target segments. Perhaps one of our greatest challenges has been crossing generational rather than cultural divides. For example, a collector in the UAE is very similar to a Collector in the USA; however, that same collector is different from our early achievers. That’s where we have differentiated ourselves by doing some brilliant collaborations and licensed products such as the Game of Thrones Collection, DC Comics and our Cult series – the Q1 limited edition, Pirates collection and our now very distinguished and acclaimed Sylvester Stallone Chaos Collection. It’s different but that’s what works.
You have a number of special editions – Bugatti and the Champions League. How important are those to the brand? And are we going to see more of them in future?
We are very proud of the associations we have, be it with other brands or celebrities, authors, artists and charities. I would say we are fortunate that people and brands share similar values to us and are not afraid to do things differently. Such collaborations and line extensions have been very successful in growing our client base and reacting to a new growing market. I believe so long as there is an opportunity and the collaboration fits within the brand’s ethos we will continue to see more in the future.
Can you explain some of the processes that goes into creating one of your writing instruments? That goes above and beyond a 'typical pen'.
Montegrappa has always been known for its rigorous choice of fine materials, for its accurate production methods and superb craftsmanship. We use many different techniques depending on the type of writing instrument we are creating – many of these techniques are by hand. Our new bespoke offering which gives our customers the opportunity to create their very own unique writing instrument involves our master engraver using a small scalpel to cut away a fine shaving from the barrel giving a two dimensional impression making the pen a true work of art.
How important is the Middle East to Montegrappa? Is the market getting bigger or slowing down? Are there any unique or limited edition models coming to the region?
The Middle East is a strategic geographical region for Montegrappa. It is a market that despite recent challenges continues to grow and we remain optimistic about the longer-term prospects for the region. We have expanded our retail footprint with recently opened Shop in Shops in Qatar along with the recently opened Boutique in Atlantis, The Palm. We are also looking into further expansion plans within Saudi Arabia. The Middle East is unique in that it is looked upon as one region or market; however, each country has its own intricacies that are unique to that country. What is common though is that is that we have a large local population who are avid collectors of fine writing instruments and accessories.