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Reach for the StarWalker

Montblanc relaunched its StarWalker collection of writing instruments in Houston, featuring a trip to NASA and the Lone Star Flight Museum. Hugh Jackman and Diane Kruger mingled among guests that included our very own Rob Nicholas

Writing instruments are the bedrock of the 113-year old Montblanc brand and the StarWalker collection has been a popular modern incumbent since its introduction in 2003. Inspired by space and the stars, it was fitting that the relaunch would take place in the home of Mission Control for some of the world’s most notable space missions. And on the 50th anniversary of its most famous feat – the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Space and rockets are an obsession that few boys ever grow out of. From dinosaurs and army figures, we progress to a wonder of the wider universe and the possibilities of once venturing to where few have been. The desire to be an astronaut must feature on the ambitions of many a child – me included – but with just a handful of serving astronauts at NASA, it goes without saying that few ever make it.

Male, female, journalists and influencers alike were excited about the prospect of a trip to NASA, which featured on the launch itinerary for the new StarWalker writing instrument. It was the most inspiring educational trip I’ve taken in the last 30 years – and I learned more than on any school outing I can remember.

From the speed that the international space station travels around the earth (17,150 miles per hour in case you are wondering), to the number of sunrises that the astronauts see in a 24-hour period (16 – one every 92 minutes), it was an enlightening insight into man’s adventures into space and the science that makes it all possible.

The journey to becoming an astronaut is a difficult one. Few qualify for training that lasts two years and then fewer may make final selection. Boxes that need to be ticked for graduation include expert piloting skills, engineering skills, mathematical wizardry, lightning-quick thinking to enable you to problem solve as you multitask – oh, and of course, the ability to speak fluent Russian in order to be able to communicate with Russian Mission Control (which manages the journeys to and from the International Space Station).

The signature visual is an astronaut floating in space showing a yearning for home as he reaches for the Earth

Besides the intellectual requirements, space travellers need to have a sense of self that allows them to be thousands of miles from home in close-quarter company with other astronauts while accepting that their working day will be micromanaged and scrutinised by Mission Control in five-minute increments. Yes, really. With the cost of sending one astronaut to the space station currently standing at US$80 million a seat – time in space is a lot of money.

Leroy Chiao is among NASA’s most accomplished astronauts. His achievements include participating in four space missions, including the command of Expedition 10, where he lived on board the International Space Station from October 13, 2004 to April 24, 2005. His latest success is becoming the inspiration for the new Montblanc collection.

One of the friendliest and most accommodating men you could meet, Chiao is both humble and passionate in equal measure, and he is a fitting new ambassador for the brand.

A series of animated stories have been created that are the campaign visuals for the new StarWalker collection. These were the result of a collaboration with Korean illustrator Jaehoon Choi, Leroy Chiao, and the brand, to evoke the emotions felt from space and provide a new perspective both on the Earth and the new product.

Before attending the launch I looked up Choi’s works and found it to be very unique, but also quite abstract in its approach. This left me wondering what to expect before the campaign visuals were officially released. It was also something I put to Montblanc CEO, Nicolas Baretzki, when we met and I asked how the process had worked out.

Baretzki explained: “In the end, of course, it was quite complicated to bring together a lot of different notions. Even though Choi is quite abstract, if you see what he has been doing for Montblanc, it goes a little bit outside of his natural expression and he has really adapted to what the maison is all about. What I like about Choi is his unique approach using a technique of dots and lines.

“If you think of space and of putting a picture of an astronaut and the world into it, it doesn’t really work. We had to do something different and more sophisticated.

“Our approach with the image of our beautiful blue planet and the illustration of the astronaut looking back on it, and the fact that this is combined with true stories, really adds a lot to the narrative of the StarWalker launch,” said Baretzki.

Now revealed, the illustrations are simple and effective. The signature visual is an astronaut floating in space with his body posture showing a yearning for home as he reaches for the Earth.

The launch event was hosted at the Lone Star Flight Museum, which is an impressive venue itself. However, the museum was only used for an initial cocktail reception and to host the red carpet photos.

A temporary event structure was used outside on the grounds for the main celebration and this created a big wow factor. Resembling the half dome on the cap of the writing instrument and bearing the Montblanc star, it was used to create a unique environment as projection was used inside to bring the surface to life. Nature, landscape and cityscapes immersed the room.

Hugh Jackman and Diane Kruger always leave audiences awestruck. Even more so when they mingle right next to you. But on this occasion, Jackman was the facilitator rather than the star, while he and Baretzki asked questions of Chiao and set the scene for the new product and the campaign that supports it. This was an interesting three-way act that also offered a new perspective that challenged the norm. Chiao’s authenticity shone through, as did that of Jackman and Baretzki. Everyone was excited to be part of this really unique approach and their energy filled the room.

The thrust of the campaign narrative was offering a new perspective. At the event, Chiao explained how the fascination with space is replaced with a wonder at the earth when you gaze back. A realisation of its fragility and the sudden longing to be home, which he said was unexpected until he experienced it.

I talked to Baretzki about the new approach to messaging we have seen from Montblanc in recent launches. From the new 1858 timepiece collection focused on exploration, to the StarWalker’s planet theme. I asked if this is becoming more of a core narrative for the brand or just for these products.

Baretzki replied: “It’s more of a narrative and concept that we are adopting as a brand. When you see all that’s happening in the world, we believe a lot in sustainability. This is deep in the DNA of the maison. It’s a natural evolution for us. People and education have been a consistent theme, which makes sense for a company that makes writing instruments. Planet and people are what we are now focusing on and you will also see something new from us on sustainability in the near future.”

The culmination of the event left the audience in space as “Rocketman” played and the words of the song popped up all over the surface of the structure. The audience was left in awe and wonder as many sang the words as they celebrated the launch.

“People and education have been a consistent theme, which makes sense for a company that makes writing instruments” 

Describing the new collection, Baretzki explained: “The new StarWalker is really aimed at becoming the second iconic writing instrument collection from Montblanc, but in a very different aspect from our classic Meisterstuck. More of an engineering piece, with an innovative and modern design. This is very interesting for a younger customer that is less classic and wants something more edgy and cool.

“It is only 16 years after the original StarWalker collection, but we thought it was time to bring it back to something more solid and a bit more pure also. We didn’t change the story – but it’s a different approach that is more consistent to what we believe in today with Montblanc.” 

The new collection

The new StarWalker collection expresses the wonder of being part of one of humankind’s most mysterious and powerful adventures: space exploration. The black precious resin of the writing instrument recalls the dark vast expanse of space, while the translucent dome beneath the emblem evokes the Earth rising above the lunar horizon as seen from the moon, a reminder to appreciate our planet. The polished platinum-coated cap and barrel represent the astronaut. The angled clip cover and dome resembles the shape of a space rocket, while the cap screw mechanism on the forepart and cone is similar to an astronaut securing their helmet to a spacesuit before setting off into space. 

Discover the collection at Montblanc boutiques at The Dubai Mall 04 340300 and The Galleria on Al Maryah Island 02 6764776  

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