As regular Brand Jam readers know, we keep constant tabs on Montegrappa’s new releases, which are transforming the company from luxury pen manufacturer to a maker of “emblems of obsession”. As it seeks to become increasingly remarkable and relevant for a new fanbase, Montegrappa collaborations with licensed properties have been growing – in number and scope. We were delighted to have the opportunity to interview Giuseppe Aquila, Montegrappa CEO and passionate collaboration generator.

Brand Jam: What is changing in the luxury pen market, or at least in your view of it?

Giuseppe Aquila: Like most industries, the pandemic has been a huge disruption to luxury – although in many ways, it has just accelerated trends that were already in motion. Brand touchpoints have been totally reshuffled, with growing emphasis on digital, as well as in-home or close-to-home shopping. Only 2-3 years ago, eCommerce was rare in luxury, but has now become indispensable.

Then there is the much-discussed growth of younger luxury shoppers. In the pen market specifically, many younger buyers have developed an interest in analogue writing as a reaction to digital. Compared to previous generations, they enter the market better informed and with higher expectations, and many find their way to the upper tiers as their passion or hobby intensifies.

B.J.: From Freddie Mercury and Queen to Games of Thrones, Formula 1 to Monopoly, your innovation strategy intersects with a range of popular themes. What path are you following? How do you select your partners/collaborators?

G. A.: As far as licensed properties are concerned, we look at the level of passion in the community and their suitability for showcasing our specialities. Properties with a fantasy dimension often suit our strengths with precious metals. Names with technical traits fit well with our reputation for exotic materials and creative engineering.

Collaborators are usually chosen based on some kind of shared curiosity, or their ability to help tell our story. This also applies to licensing, where we work, for instance, with the Ernest Hemingway estate.

B.J.: Montegrappa seems more dynamic in terms of frequency and variety than its competitors. How does this strategy help create a competitive edge? Are your competitors as active and energetic in proposing licensed limited editions?

G. A.: Among penmakers we tend to have more limited editions – and more new releases generally – so there is more capacity for us to feature a license or collaboration. But we are also competing with watch and fashion brands, and there are several names in these segments who are very good at using partnerships to demonstrate vitality and become part of the conversation.

B.J.: You often collaborate with major intellectual property owners – licensors, in the licensing industry jargon. What are your feelings about dealing with them in terms of creativity and execution? Or in economics?

G. A.: I would like to be positive, but we often find the creative contribution wanting. Our products are semi-artistic and can cost thousands of euros. Style guides often don’t translate well to precious materials – or cylindrical objects – so we need more leeway than many licensors are prepared to give. Compared to regular licensees, we need to achieve more differentiated, timeless looks and qualities.

As far as execution is concerned, many of our relationships have been very constructive and beneficial. But in others, promises haven’t always been delivered on. Luxury brands need to be able to offer exclusive content and access to engage with their customers, and we need licensors to create introductions and paths to exclusivity.

Regarding economics, most of our licensed releases work out very well for both sides. Most of our current collections comprise more than one release, so continuity is good. But often it can be difficult arriving at a deal. We have a lot of resources tied up in expensive materials, so we aren’t the most willing partners when it comes to financial guarantees or archive samples.

B.J.: What is your vision about the future of collaborations?

G. A.: I think their popularity demonstrates growing interest in how products are designed and made, so I hope they continue to prosper. The idea of “collabs” is becoming stale, but there is definitely a growing class of shoppers who want to be discerning and informed. This makes me optimistic that the collaboration stories and qualities will continue to resonate.