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Raising eyebrows is the way forward for design, says Montblanc creative director

How do you take a heritage brand into the future? For Zaim Kamal, the answer is a little more soul and a little less structure.

With his unhurried manner, long, grey hair, and a rangy frame clad in a slim-fitting black suit and a patterned scarf, Montblanc’s creative director Zaim Kamal stands out stylishly among the watch executives at the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie. For him, being different is a positive professional trait as well: “If I don’t raise eyebrows, I’m not doing my job properly,” says the 52-year-old with a smile, during a chat with us at the annual watch fair in Geneva.

Since joining Montblanc three years ago, he has pushed quite a few boundaries at the 110-year-old Hamburg-headquartered company, which has four main product lines – writing instruments, watches, leather goods and accessories. Take, for instance, last year’s Montblanc Tattoo collection – leather smartphone covers individually hand-tattooed by London-based tattoo artist Mo Coppoletta. Another recent collection, Sfumato, features a specially developed technique that endows leather products with a patinated finish. These designs are a stylistic departure for the Richemont-owned brand, whose products many still associate with a largely black palette and minimalist lines.

Says Zaim, who was born in Pakistan but has spent the last 30 years in London: “When I first suggested doing the tattooed pieces, eyebrows were raised. But I explained the concept – writing with ink on skin – and how it made sense for us, and we eventually did it.”

A former fashion designer, and previously the vice-president of corporate branding and communication at Swarovski, it is unsurprising that Zaim is bringing a dash of modernity and character to what he describes as a “very successful heritage brand… that has always been about functionality, clean lines, and beautiful, quality materials and finishes.”

But all that is no longer enough for today’s consumer. He explains: “There has been a reemergence of sartorial elegance. People dress like how their fathers or grandfathers used to dress, but with their own twist. It’s an expression of individual aesthetics.”

Hence, the need for products like a leather phone case with a tattooed hot-air balloon motif, or a tourbillon watch with a sparkling aventurine dial representing the night sky – designs that retain the brand’s core values, but “feel less structured, less engineered, and have more soul”.

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