By Christina Bohnstengel
Photography by Steven B. Ekerovich
Eva Longoria as Scarlett O’Hara? Susan Sarandon as Carmen? Christina Ricci as Juliet? To support Montblanc’s and UNICEF’s fight against illiteracy, these actresses, along with nine other revered Hollywood starlets, answered with a resounding, “Yes!”
“An education-the empowering ability to read or write-is the biggest gift we can give the children of the world. It makes them independent-independent of mind where they don’t need to follow other people’s thoughts or ideas.”
Rarely do little girls escape childhood without indulging in any number of games of fantasy make-believe, naturally starring as the lead role of the fairest princess in all the land. The fairy tales may vary, but in the end, playing dress up as one of literature’s great leading ladies is a fantastical practice of the imagination that has been a longstanding contributor to the cultural mythology of our society. As we evolve and become more astute in our understanding of the enchanting world of literary classics, so do our concepts of inspiring, imitable literary heroines. We graduate from our admiration of Cinderella or Snow White to taking cues from Natasha in Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Esmeralda in Victor Hugo’s Notre Dame de Paris.
In an incredible flash of creative genius, Montblanc and Signature International used this concept as the foundation for their latest philanthropic endeavor, a charitable photo project that will benefit UNICEF and the fight to end illiteracy.
As part of Montblanc’s 2009 “Signature For Good” campaign, Montblanc invited 12 of Hollywood’s leading ladies to dress up in their own modern-day interpretations of their favorite heroine from a classic novel, to be captured on film by famed American photographer Roger Moenks. The result is a dozen striking portraits, autographed by each of the 12 leading ladies, which will be auctioned off by Sotheby’s on World Literacy Day on September 8, 2009, in Los Angeles.
Until generous bidders lay claim on them later this year, the portraits are spending the better half of 2009 on a world tour, with stops in Hong Kong, London, and New York City. In May, we caught up with Montblanc International CEO Lutz Bethge, during the Manhattan leg of the tour, where he shared with us the defining company culture of philanthropy at Montblanc.
“I firmly believe that when you are successful, as a company or as an individual, you have to give something back in the world. And this is a significant philosophy at Montblanc that has evolved over many years. It is part of our heritage,” he says.
Montblanc’s legacy as the signature name in the world of luxury writing instruments dates back more than a century. The brand’s identifying logo, the Montblanc star, represents the snow-covered peak of Europe’s highest mountain and symbolizes the company’s commitment to the highest quality and finest craftsmanship. However, Montblanc’s pursuit of excellence does not begin and end simply with the creation and production of its inventory, which ranges from the most elegant of fountain pens to jewelry, eyewear, leather collections, and fragrances. In what can only be described as a profound understanding of the intricate nature of true power and wealth, Montblanc maintains its longstanding dedication to supporting philanthropic initiatives related to arts, culture, and literacy, despite any financial changes on the balance sheets.
“This has not been a very easy year. There is no one in the world who has not heard the term ‘financial crisis,'” explains Bethge. “But while the world today may be in a more difficult situation, power still remains, and writing is power. At Montblanc, we believe that even in more difficult times you must still maintain your commitments to initiatives that are really important.”
At Montblanc, those important initiatives include their longstanding partnership with UNICEF. Through the years, their clever campaigns for social change have included such themes as “Power to Write” and “School in the Box”-projects conceived with the intention of arming children around the world with the power of the written word.
“An education-the empowering ability to read or write-is the biggest gift we can give the children of the world. It makes them independent-independent of mind where they don’t need to follow other people’s thoughts or ideas. They can think autonomously, conduct their own life, and decide what is right and what is wrong and where they want to change the future of the world. Only when you empower them can they take their destiny in their own hands. There is no more priceless gift than that,” says Bethge.
While this year’s “Signature For Good” campaign will include other projects throughout the year (such as dedicated product launches), Bethge believes that this charitable photo project is one of the most exciting. “Our 12 celebrity ambassadors had so much fun picking out their characters. You can see it in the photographs too-you can see how much fun they’re having. It definitely translates in the portraits,” he says, going on to cite Eva Longoria as an example. “Eva is being pictured as Scarlett O’Hara, and when you see the portrait of her you see that she completely embodies Scarlett-not just because of the dresses or the costumes, because these portraits are contemporary interpretations of the characters-but you can see it in the eyes and the attitude.”
The premiere unveiling of the portraits took place earlier this year during Oscar week in February at L.A.’s Paramount Studios. During the charity gala dinner, Academy Award winner Reese Witherspoon took the lead and marked the year of giving with a $50,000 donation. Bethge shared some details from the event, “It was very much like a family gathering. It was people who believe in the same values getting together and sharing their philosophies, which are that when you are successful, you have to give back.”
Montblanc’s commitment to giving back is unquestionable, with a fundraising goal of $1.5 million for their 2009 commitment to UNICEF. Along with the portraits of the 12 Hollywood heroines donning Montblanc jewelry, the solid gold Montblanc pen that each actress used to sign her portrait will be auctioned. “These special pens are not for sale-these are not commercial products. They were created specifically for the charity auction and they are spectacular. Each carries the olive leaf, which is the sign of peace as well as the sign of UNICEF, along with a blue sapphire that relates to UNICEF’s signature color, and is set in diamonds,” Bethge explained.
Invoking the sage advice, “To whom much is given, much is also required,” Montblanc is proving itself to be the luxury brand embracing the aphorism.