CEOElmo & Montegrappa, S.p.A
Giuseppe Aquila is CEO of Elmo & Montegrappa, S.p.A., his family’s company, in existence since 1912. Montegrappa is the first Italian pen manufacturer, and has been producing high end instruments in the same factory close to the Brenta river, in the historic town of Bassano Del Grappa. The pens are distinctive, often collector’s items, and range in price from $5000 to over $40,000 depending on the use of precious metals and embedded jewels. We interviewed Mr. Aquila during the recent Montegrappa Centennial event, held in Bassano Del Grappa.
ET: Your design diversity is defined at the outset by your choice of the many personalities for whom your pens are created: The Pope, Nicolas Sarkozy, Bruce Lee, Fidel Castro, Mohammed Ali, Paulo Coehlo, and of course Sylvester Stallone. Is there a set of luxury criteria from which these people are chosen?
Giuseppe Aquila: Let me clarify that Fidel Castro and Sarkozy are both pen collectors and own some of our limited editions. We did not design a pen specifically for them. The pen I gave personally to Sarkozy when I met him at the Elysee was The Muhammed Ali Tribute pen with Sarkozy’s signature on the side of the cap opposite Ali’s.
Concerning the Pope, we created a limited edition known as Papal Pen, often referred to as Vatican Pen, on the occasion of the Jubilee of Catholic Church held in the year 2000. This pen was the only product authorized to feature an image of H.H. Pope John Paul II with his signature. The project was linked to a significant charity project in support of deprived Brazilian children, where we donated $700,000. to the designated Vatican foundation. Thanks to this pen, my father, Gianfranco, and I had a chance to meet the Pope in person, which is one of the most touching experiences in my life. As for H.H. Pope Benedict XVI, he was recently given a special pen dedicated to the Virgin de Guadalupe on his trip to Mexico. Last year, we were commissioned by a private collector to produce a bespoke pen that he in turn donated to Pope Benedict. Sylvester Stallone owns many of our pens. We did not design a pen for him. Actually, he did it for us. And our most recent pen is The Alchemist, created for Paulo Coehlo, the author of The Alchemist, one of the most popular books of all time.
So, there is not a specific criterion for the selection of the person or the theme for our limited editions. Of course, we have different series such as Genio Creativo, Emozioni In Musica, Icons, Cult, etc. but these are just the descriptive nomenclatures into which we catalogue our collections. The inspiration for the collection itself may originate from different ideas — the admiration of an iconic personality, artistic interests, connection with an important anniversary and so on.
ET: How do you see the luxury design evolution of Montegrappa pens?
Giuseppe Aquila: There were beautiful pens in the past as well but in general old designs were simpler when compared to our contemporary limited editions. Design has evolved simply because there is demand for extraordinary writing instruments and such demand allows us to express our know-how at their best. The ability to create extraordinary pens generates and fuels new demand…
ET: Many of the pens you sell are have a very masculine, complex design. Will there be any pens designed in the future that reflect a more feminine side?
Giuseppe Aquila: Montegrappa is a male brand. 90% of our sales are directed to men. That said, we do have some collections designed specifically for ladies, like the Piccola and the Micra. Yet, most of our designs are suitable to for either sex. However, the vast majority of people buying expensive pens are men. This is slowly changing and we are watching this trend closely.
ET: Recently, you said that the Sylvester Stallone’s Chaos is a great selling pen – and that it may reflect attracting a new luxury demographic – could you expand on this idea?
Giuseppe Aquila: There are lots of people who love extravagant designs and not many luxury brands dare creating products for this type of clientele, as this might be risky for the so called integrity of their brand. Montegrappa, in a way, does not take itself too seriously. We feel free to pick themes which may be controversial and are not afraid about the consequences. I think that if a product is designed and manufactured according to the usual quality standards and highest levels of craftsmanship, we are not betraying our customers, even though some of them might not appreciate the choice of a controversial theme. Our products are not designed to be liked by all. Most of them generate a love or hate reaction, which I feel is the key to success.
ET: How do you see, from a global perspective, a change in attitude and focus in the luxury space in the past few years?
Giuseppe Aquila: In a tough economic climate and highly competitive market place, clients pay much more attention to quality, design and craftsmanship. Cultural differences allow brands with different peculiarities to find their own space in the global market. Due to the crisis, U.S. consumers became less prone to buying products which might attract too much attention, but this is not true for Russian or Chinese, for example. I think that a good product, no matter how expensive it is, will always find a buyer somewhere around the world…
ET: Can you explain some of the recent technical innovations that makes the Montegrappa pen so different from all others? Technical differentiations within the pen?
Giuseppe Aquila: Our innovation is: sticking to tradition. We use the same old materials (such as celluloid, precious metals or ebonite for our fountain pen feeders) and the same old techniques. That’s where our innovation lies. Most companies have lost such know how and many more will do so in the near future. Our main challenge is to hand over our savoir faire to new generations of craftsmen while preserving the Old Masters’ skills.
ET: What motivated you to expand your product line into different areas within the past years?
Giuseppe Aquila: The need (and the fun) of extending the Montegrappa spirit to other products. We have expanded our brand in the creation of other products with our new brand, NeroUno, including men’s timepieces, cuff links and fragrance.
ET: Where in the Middle and Far East do you sell your products now? Can you explain your motivation for expansion into these areas?
Giuseppe Aquila: We have our own subsidiary in Dubai, and through this, we distribute our products to most countries in the Middle East, which today represents one of our main markets. We have a marginal presence in Asia but obviously this is an area that is catalyzing our attention and that no doubt will play a significant role in our future expansion.
ET: What do you think a luxury brand must to right now to keep up with the changing luxury populations?
Giuseppe Aquila: Accept no compromises…