To the moon and back

On a cool Tuesday night in Houston earlier this month, the Lone Star Flight Museum was transformed into a celestial party venue by Montblanc, the German purveyor of luxury writing instruments, watches and leather goods.

The action took place in a stunning pop-up blue planetarium with mesmerising cosmic views projected on the dome ceiling.

Within its cavernous interiors, Montblanc executives mingled with international journalists and a star-studded line-up of guests, including Hollywood celebrities Hugh Jackman, Diane Kruger and Charles Melton (from the television series Riverdale), model Winnie Harlow and astronaut Leroy Chiao, who went on four missions and spent 229 days in space.

The shindig, timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, celebrated not just space exploration, but also Montblanc’s re-imagined range of its popular StarWalker pens.

Montblanc’s chief executive officer Nicolas Baretzki said: “This year marks the 50th anniversary of the landing on the moon. Like Leroy, most astronauts who had the opportunity to see Earth from space over the years share the same unique feeling – the majesty of our planet is difficult to describe.”

“That’s why we decided to take a unique perspective of space exploration by looking back at our planet from the vast expanse of space. The StarWalker line is about innovation, engineering and modernity. This product line, as well as this new campaign, reminds us to preserve and cherish our planet.”

The result is a range of sleek writing instruments – with platinum, metal and black resin fittings – inspired by rockets, astronauts and the big unknown yonder that is space.

A key feature of each pen is a beguiling blue translucent dome under the Montblanc six-pointed star or snowcap logo, evoking the blue planet as it rises above the lunar horizon.

One of the highlights of the celebration at the museum was a panel discussion with Mr Chiao and Mr Baretzki, led by Jackman, who is a Montblanc ambassador.

The star of movies such as The Wolverine and The Greatest Showman started the ball rolling by talking about how, as a kid, he would lie in the backyard of his home in Australia, look up to the skies and dream of one day going into space.

He then turned the microphone on Mr Chiao, who was eight years old when he watched Apollo 11 land on the moon.

The 60-year-old, who was selected by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1990 and became an astronaut the following year, said that was when his space dreams started.

“I said: ‘Wow. I want to be like those guys, up there a quarter of a million miles away and getting ready to take those first steps,'” said the former astronaut, whose parents are Taiwanese immigrants in the United States.

His first flight into space as a mission specialist aboard the STS-65 in 1994 is something he will never forget.

“The first time I looked back at Earth, I was overwhelmed by how bright the colours were. It was an emotional moment.”

The experience has made him appreciate Earth and all its gifts more.

Asked what the most important qualities of being an astronaut are, he replied: “One of the most important ones is the ability to work well in a team. Even now, as we contemplate longer flights farther away from Earth, that becomes even more important.”

Mr Chiao, who was the first American to vote in a presidential election while in space in 2004, added: “Also, as astronauts, you have to be a jack of all trades. You have to be able to learn a lot of different things, you know, the systems, how they interact, Russian systems, the Russian language.

“You have to learn about the experiments you’re going to do… And (you have) to have that drive and perseverance.”

Mr Baretzki said Montblanc decided to work with Mr Chiao on the new SkyWalker range for several reasons.

“We like only genuine stories. We’re not going to talk about something we have no clue about. We want the real guy, the one that knows. And (with his) four times in space, he knows a lot.”

He added: “There was something else that we learnt afterwards. Leroy is not just an amazing astronaut, he is also a big Montblanc aficionado.”

Nodding, Mr Chiao said he had two Montblanc pens, one of which was the classic Meisterstuck, when he was a chemical engineering undergraduate at the University of California, Berkeley.

“Before I went to the space station, my wife surprised me with (another) Meisterstuck as a gift.”

At this point, Jackman jumped in with an anecdote.

“You know, I when I was 14, I failed a test because my writing was illegible. My father said: ‘Why did you fail this?’ I said: ‘Well, Dad, if you bought me a Montblanc fountain pen, I would write a lot better.’ You know what he did? He said: ‘No.'”

As the brand ambassador, he has access to as many Montblanc pens as he wants. They are what he uses when he writes in a special journal given to him by his wife, actress Deborra-Lee Furness.

“When you put a beautiful Montblanc pen in your hand, you think about what you’re saying and what you’re writing. It gives you space.”

Drawing inspiration

South Korean Choi Jaehoon’s (above) style of illustration is influenced by Japanese manga and European comics.

Luxury group Montblanc has roped in South Korean illustrator Choi Jaehoon to help launch its re-imagined range of StarWalker writing instruments.

The brand spotted the artist via his 2018 Forever Rain illustrated video for RM (Rap Monster), also known as Kim Nam-joon, leader and rapper of South Korean super boy group BTS.

Mr Choi, who is in his 30s, has come up with a series of space-themed illustrations for the new StarWalker pens, which are inspired by space exploration.

A graduate from the Korea National University of Arts (K’Arts), he started drawing in his teenage years because of his love of manga.

His style is influenced by Japanese manga and European comics. His heroes include Osamu Tezuka, who drew Astro Boy; Hitoshi Iwaaki, who illustrated the science-fiction/horror series Parasyte; and Jean Giraud, a French graphic artist who used the pseudonym Moebius.

The Korean illustrator runs a comic-book group called Quang and is also a member of an artist group called Spectrum Object, which runs exhibitions and panel discussions.

Mr Choi got his big break three years ago when he collaborated with famous Japanese film director Iwai Shunji on a music video and album cover for Japanese singer illion.

Asked what has shaped him as an artist, he told The Straits Times: “I always think about death. It’s not a negative thought. It is about the value and preciousness of life.”

“I think about parting, sunsets, withering and darkness. Usually, we keep away from these things, but they are definitely important elements in our lives.”

It explains why he has a penchant for the surrealistic.

He added: “I like the surrealistic because I like to express the boundaries between life and death. I also think that’s the value of creation: to show a new and possible world.”

Life has become a lot busier since his videos for illion and RM.

“I have to put in a lot of effort to create good stories.”

Not that he minds it.

“New and good stories should be continuously created to make fans and the public happy.”

He is chuffed that Montblanc roped him in as a collaborator.

“The concept of StarWalker connects to the universe, life and nature and that is something I’ve always been interested in,” he said.

“Moreover, as I use a pen for my work. It was a great pleasure to receive a call from one of the most famous and historical pen brands in the world.”

The collaboration has taken him to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) in Houston.

“Visiting Nasa was on my bucket list. All of the things I saw there such as Saturn 5 and Soyuz have given me new ideas which I’m already working on,” he said, referring to the American expendable rocket and the spacecraft designed for the Soviet space programme.

Wong Kim Hoh