In Conversation with... Zaim Kamal, Creative Director of Montblanc
The Self Stylist speaks to the somewhat shy yet highly charismatic 52-year-old Zaim Kamal, Montblanc's creative director who enthuses about optimism, openness and his romantic take in life, After all, how can one overlook the designs of a such a wide spectrum of accessories from leather products to writing instruments and timepieces without that sense of "openness" Kamal talks about?
BY NG YI LIAN
Beside fashion, what design areas are you interested in? After all, aesthetics transcend different platforms.
Yes. You know, to study fashion, you have to know art, sculpture, graphics, industrial design... All these aspects are necessary knowledge for you to design fashion.
Well, it's just like fashion journalism. You need to know beyond fashion to know what references the designer are using and actually understand those references.
I cannot agree more! The history of design and the history of fashion are so closely related. This is something very important to understand in order to know the depth of design.
So what are your pet topics among all the different design platforms?
Ugh, how do I choose?
You know, Raf Simons didn't come from a fashion design background.
Yes exactly. I mean, I studied fine art and I like graphics very much in the way how they can represent things. Beautiful graphics always catch my eye. Also, shapes and materiality are what call out to me. Materials always excite me, be it the stiffness of metal, the flow of silk or the beautiful folds of leather. Materials always inspire me because if you study its folds and texture, it always tell you where it wants to go in terms of how it wants to be used.
Are materials your starting point when it comes to creating a new collection?
It depends. You also want to think about what you want to achieve on a broader perspective with the collection. For example, graphics also drive me because strong graphics [pointing to the 'Balenciaga' logo on my bag] with its are about creating enough identities and contrast from the background to stand out. That's why materials, when you put them together, they are complementary.
Thanks for making me feel better about carrying a logo-ed bag.
But the logo is also a design detail. A lot of thought goes into this logo. Yes it's a brand identity but it's definitely a design element too.
Mmm I like that idea. Very romantic.
Haha yes, I am very romantic.
What are your favourite material to work with, especially since you have to deal with so many, working with such a wide spectrum of products for Montblanc?
Leather. The sensuality of leather... Its texture, smell and folds. The way it's been used, the depth of the texture... I love that. But I do also like the contrast of the hardness of steel or metal. There are infinite ways of using steel. You can have it ruffled or smooth, dark or light. Oftentimes, the dichotomy of hard and soft always fascinates me.
I totally agree with that. I always like contrast in the outfits I style too. When you wear something feminine...
You want an edge to it.
Totally. With a touch of masculinity.
And this is what we call juxtaposing. You create a story with something in the complete opposite. That's what makes both of them interesting because it's no longer so one dimensional.
And that's also what makes the simplified notion of one adjective different.
Exactly. I also like the word 'antagonism'. When somebody narrates against what you actually want to narrate, that creates a story in itself. And in that very situation, you have juxtaposition and contrast. The storytelling is just endless.
You also mentioned earlier about music being an inspiration.
Music is also a big influence in my life. I do everything in my life based around music. Music is something I tie into certain moods. In our studio, music is always playing. I like anything with a distorted electric guitar. I'm a rock child at heart but my music tastes are very wild. One of the things I've always very carefully maintained in my life, is to never limit myself. Always to try something new - it could be an idea and it might not work but the thing is to never not try and I extend that ethos to every aspect in my life.
Do functionality and aesthetics ever make comfortable bedfellows?
Oh yah. Functionality is engineered to fulfil needs and needs fill up checklists. Tactility, aesthetics, is the beauty of functionality. It makes you desire it and it's emotional. So functionality without tactility is not going to work. You have to marry them with equal proportions and that's when they make the best bedfellows. Aesthetics evoke desires and emotions in people, even in the most subtle way. For example, even if you are not a car lover, if a beautiful, rare vintage car drives past, surely its curves and lines capture your attention somehow. You may not realised you are even attracted to it but that's what beauty does to humans.