Before you start reading this post for the first time, I would like to ask you to quickly open your favorite Music streaming platform or library and set the following songs in the queue: 1. Blue Suede Shoes, 2. Jailhouse Rock and 3. Suspicious Minds. Done? Now we are ready to dive into one of the most fascinating stories of music history and see it through the words of none less than Zaim Kamal, Creative Director Montblanc International. Zaim has shared some insights of the creative process of Montblancs latest “Great Characters Edition: Elvis Presley”. Join us in a journey made of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Cars and broken rules.
Elvis Aaron Presley: This name is known by billions of people. Across generations and continents and languages. The king or Rock ‘n’ Roll. No adjective is probably doing justice to the impact Elvis had to the music industry but also to the general culture and his influence is still present to many extends till today. These are the attributes of a legend that left us too early. The fan community of Elvis is, I suppose, the biggest one for an artist that died almost over 40 years ago. We all love his songs and regularly listen to them still today. One figure that gives a rough idea of what we are talking about here is, that on Spotify Elvis has over 17 Millions monthly listeners! It goes without saying that a tribute from a brand like Montblanc was only a question of time. This was also one of the questions I asked Zaim when we had our chat about the creation of their “Great Characters Edition”. To start with, I asked Zaim if he could lead us through the creative process of the “Elvis Presley” by starting on how Montblanc selects Great Characters to pay homage to.
ZK: We analyze and look at characters that have left a mark in history and have become reference points for the culture. Across generations they have left deep mark in societies. How have they become an icon. What have been the impactful events during their life. And Elvis has left a very deep mark in societies around the globe. He played concerts on more or less every continent and has a remarkable fan community still today.
That makes sense, doesn’t it? So what were the ideas behind this specific Great Characters Edition? Zaim then led us through the different steps in the realization of these specific writing instruments.
ZK: First thing, after we have selected a great character, we deep dive into their life and history. What do they stand for, how have they gone through their life, what have they left to us. In the case of Elvis, there was so much to draw from. For example, his passion for cars was a major inspiration for the creation of the 3 editions that have been released. The clip of all the 3 editions is inspired by a V8 engine. The V-shape and the 8 holes are revoking exactly this. Elvis spoke, so to say, to the instinct of people. You can feel his sound in your stomach, like the vibrations of an American V8 engine.
Talking about American V8 engines, a very famous sentence jumps to our mind: “Ambition is a dream with a V8 engine”. In fact, Elvis was a huge car enthusiast. He had the unusual habit of buying cars and gifting them to his associates, friends and even random people on the street. Because his brand of choice was the Cadillac, he owned more than 100 Cadillacs during his lifetime. However, the majority of them had a V8 engine. Even the European cars he owned, like the legendary BMW 507, the Rolls Royce Phantom V or the De Tomaso Pantera were V8. So no surprise that this specific detail had to be on this writing instrument.
ZK: Another, let’s say, car oriented detail of the pen is the shape of the cap and the final part of the shaft, inspired by a spark plug. Elvis was a very eclectic personage and ignited the spark of many people inspired by his style, his voice and charisma. He exploded basically as a character. He had no teenager culture at all. He went straight from being a youngster to an adult.
As pointed out by Zaim, Elvis started singing with 10 years in Tupelo, on a local contest where he placed 5th over all and recorded his first song with Sun Records in 1953, when he was 18 years old. At the time this was exceptional. Biographer Peter Guralnick argued that he chose Sun in the hope of being discovered. Asked by receptionist Marion Keisker what kind of singer he was, Presley responded, “I sing all kinds.” When she pressed him on who he sounded like, he repeatedly answered, “I don’t sound like nobody.” How right was he?? After he recorded, Sun chairman Sam Phillips asked Keisker to note down the young man’s name, which she did along with her own commentary: “Good ballad singer. Hold.” From then on, Elvis’ career was a “crescendo” with only few interruptions, for example when he went to serve in the army, and basically it’s divided into a couple of different phases, like the period of time, where he focused on movies, from about 1960 until 1968. And of course the comeback to the stage from 1968 until 1973. The Montblanc Limited Editions are inspired in particular to this period of Elvis’ life.
ZK: The “Aloha from Hawaii” concert in 1972 or the 1968 NBC’s “Elvis’ TV Special” were evidentially a major inspiration for the different Editions, in particular the suits worn by Elvis during these performances were, once again, a reference for the future. Therefore the colour of the leather suit he wore for the famous 1968 NBC “Elvis’ TV Special” – enhanced with platinum-coated fittings, are recreated in the precious black resin used for the “Elvis Special Edition. For his return to the stage after being drafted to the army, he presented his early rock ‘n’ roll hits unplugged for the first time, with such power and explosiveness that this performance is viewed today as a highlight of his career. Also the texture used on the body of the pen is rough, you can feel it clearly. The tactility is a key factor on this series of writing instruments, like it was during the entire artistic career of Elvis.
The eagle on Elvis’ suit for the “Aloha from Havaii” concert, for example. The eagle was something that would say “America to the World”. On January 14, 1973 Aloha from Hawaii aired live via satellite to prime-time audiences in Japan, South Korea, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia, and New Zealand, as well as to U.S. servicemen based across Southeast Asia. In Japan, where it capped a nationwide Elvis Presley Week, it smashed viewing records. The next night, it was simulcast to 28 European countries, and in April an extended version finally aired in the U.S., where it won a 57 percent share of the TV audience. And in the Limited Edition 98, the cap top features a floating Montblanc emblem with gold dust beneath. The little pillar in the centre of the dome is a reference to the “Aloha in Hawaii” concert being broadcasted via satellite, and the dust represents Elvis’s electrifying performance witnessed by millions of viewers. Oh right, the Montblanc Logo. I’m sure that the most attentive of you haven’t missed the fact, that for the first time ever in Montblanc’s history, the logo on the top of the pen has been adorned with a detail, in this specific case, Elvis’ name. I wasn’t able to resist to the temptation to ask Zaim, how did he managed to do this.
ZK: I have faced, obviously, quite a bit of resistance when I came up with this suggestion. But my argumentation was pretty simple. Elvis has broken a lot of “rules” during his career. So if we want to pay properly homage to Elvis, we need to brake some rules as well. And this is why the Montblanc logo features a decoration that reminds the light bulbs from and the radiation of Elvis’ myth in history and on the society. The cap logo, together with the final part of the cone and the spark plug shape at the bottom of the cap are my favourite details on these editions.
And we couldn’t agree more with Zaim on these details. They are really incredibly well merged with much more artistic traits such as the eagles. I’d like to dedicate a couple of minutes to these details as well. On the 1935 Edition, each of the 246 lacquer windows is individually filled by hand with meticulous precision. While on the 98 Edition The eagle is created using various layers of coloured lacquer inside a skeleton frame, with each individual dot then lasered out at different depths to create the different colours. The impressive thing is, the almost identical details that you find on this Au750 solid gold pen compared to the pictures you see above. A real masterpiece. Another interesting detail of the 98 Edition is the quote “Elvis has left the builing” in contrasting letters. This sentence entered into popular culture and has been used thousands of times. Throughout the 1970s, the phrase was captured on record several times, spoken by Al Dvorin. In later years the phrase would be spoken by some of Presley’s backup singers to calm down the audience after concerts.
ZK: From our point of view, we wanted to homage Elvis also with this sentence since it marked, to a certain extent, the end of Elvis performances and what we want to say with this sentence on the top of range version of the Elvis Presley Edition is: Elvis has given something to you. Do something with it. Make it yours.
Zaim and I could go on for much more time than we actually had. I would have many more question to ask but we will have to postpone those to our next meetup that will hopefully happen soon. I would like to conclude with what we started with. Do you remember the 3 songs I suggested to start at the beginning of this post? “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Jailhouse Rock” and “Suspicious Minds”. Well they haven’t been chosen randomly. These are the titles of the songs engraved on the nib of the 3 variants of the Elvis Presley Edition, respectively on the Special Edition, the Limited Edition 1935 and the Limited Edition 98. I hope you enjoyed the insights we got from Zaim and I want to thank him for his time.
There would be many more interesting details to talk about as well as the collateral products Montblanc is launching together with the 3 versions of the pen, such as a limited edition ink in Old Glory Blue, inspired by the stars and stripes from his stage costumes, as well as a white calfskin leather notebook with digital print and stud design of the eagle. In addition there will be also a pair of steel and lacquer round “Elvis” cufflinks, and a steel and leather bracelet. But the best thing is, check out the collection under www.montblanc.com/discover/campaign/elvispresley and make sure you don’t miss to check it out at your preferred authorized Montblanc retailer. It’s worth it.
The Price of the Special Edition (Ballpoint, Rollerball and Fountain Pen) is set between 835$ and 1065$ and the Limited Edition (Rollerball and Fountain Pen) between 3’535$ and 3’880$.