S.T. DUPONT chief executive Alain Crevet has a close bond with the brand that this year celebrates its 140th anniversary. "My father gave me an S.T. Dupont lighter when I was 18 - I was so proud. It was my first luxury item and it felt prestigious because it was made of gold and lacquer. I could feel the history. I still have it today, " says Crevet.
Making transgenerational items of desire lies at the core of S.T. Dupont's success. In 1872, Simon Tissot-Dupont set out to make exceptional French products for exceptional French people. As a former subject of the court of Napoléon III (Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte), he used his connections with the French aristocracy to create a client list. "Napoléon and his wife were customers," says Crevet. "When I joined S.T. Dupont I went to the house of a descendant of Simon Tissot-Dupont and he had the original order books full of names of famous people who had used Dupont."
Many of the their names have worked their way into the company's new lines, including actress Audrey Hepburn who is honoured with the Audrey Bag, a neat short-handled leather handbag that reworks its famous Riviera Bag, which the actress is said to have toted. Others include Coco Chanel and Pablo Picasso. And Crevet is quick to mention that former French president Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla Bruni gave Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge a bespoke travel case as a wedding gift.
The brand has a Hong Kong connection (in 1987 it was sold to Dickson Concepts, chaired and controlled by businessman Dickson Poon). However, it caught the attention of the French fashion elite last year when Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld created a collection of original designs for a lighter and pen. "Mr Lagerfeld's modernised but handcrafted ideas created a pure, perfect and elegant design that was not too showy," says Crevet.
The newly renovated Smythson store in London's New Bond Street is a beacon of muted elegance among some of its more garish big-brand neighbours. Marble floors, glass display cases and classical architectural features have been restored to surpass their original glory.
The overhaul comes as part of the celebrations of 125 years since the formation of the luxury British stationery and leather goods producer that has supplied to the British royal family as well as Princess Grace of Monaco and singer Madonna.
Despite being privatised in 2009, the brand's ethos has always been rooted in its past. That has kept it grounded, says Samantha Cameron, Smythson creative consultant and wife of British Prime Minister David Cameron. "A heritage brand like Smythson is unique because its future and its history are inextricably linked, and that's its real strength. It's an incredible resource. You have to be respectful of heritage and nurture it rather than leave it behind. If a brand loses its identity, it loses relevance."
Cameron has been with Smythson since 1996 and has witnessed its transformation. "When I arrived I felt the leather goods collections needed aligning with a more contemporary aesthetic," she says. "The brand has come into its own since then. It wasn't a revolution so much as an evolution."
For chief executive Andy Janowski, the former Burberry chief operations officer who joined Smythson in May, the important thing is for the brand to connect on a personal level and for products to relate to the consumer. "You can have any of our products monogrammed - it's a popular part of our business," he says. "Inscribing personal notes or name to the leather Panama Notebooks or Soho Diaries is a thoughtful gift that illustrates a growing interest in making luxury brands bespoke."
As for the future, Janowski believes a combination of technology and growth in markets in Asia are key. "The luxury market in Asia has grown steadily in recent years and we're excited to have a presence in a city such as Hong Kong."