It doesn’t help that I’ve only got 20 minutes to chat with S T Dupont’s CEO Alain Crevet, given that his opening line is: “I could talk about S T Dupont all day.” He means both the brand and the man, and the latter cuts a fascinating figure indeed. Simon Tissot Dupont began his career as a photographer for Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie, whom Dupont also counted among the first customers for the personalised travel trunks he began manufacturing for Paris’s elite, in 1872.
“It was quite different from what was being done at the time,” Crevet tells me. “Louis Vuitton was, of course, doing beautiful trunks, but empty. Dupont’s would come with unique accessories and compartments – and that became the signature of the brand. It became a symbol of luxury to have this attaché in your house or with you on your travels. And the clients who came were also very specific about the space separators they wanted, for cosmetics and so on,” he adds. “Often, they would ask for bespoke accessories, which Dupont was then able to invent in his boutique factory.” The brand’s famed lighters and writing instruments were both conceptualised on the back of special requests.
Crevet’s recent visit to the S T Dupont boutique in The Dubai Mall coincided with the launch of a host of new collections, some of which were firsts for the 144-year-old maison.
In addition to making good on its leather expertise – with a first-time range of belts, briefcases, duffel bags, laptop cases, wallets and credit card holders – Dupont has also created a series of prayer beads, in sterling silver and precious stones such as malachite, amethyst, amber and tiger’s eye, especially for this region.
Crevet explains that the brand has always been the go-to for customised requests and gifts. In the 1940s, for instance, the Maharaja of Patiala ordered 100 clutch bags for the women in his harem, with separate compartments for their cosmetics, and each holding a gold lighter. "It was this request that gave Dupont the idea to do their first-ever luxury lighters in solid gold," he confirms. "Then Jackie Kennedy, who loved Dupont lighters, wanted a matching pen. So the artisans designed our first ball-point pen, based on the drive wheel of her personalised lighter.
“The misbaha, too, were designed keeping in mind that they will make beautiful gifts. We have also had many requests for the falcon and horse designs, and so we decided to make them available to more people, by embossing the patterns on our lighters. With their Arabian influence, these collections will be made available first and foremost in the UAE,” he adds.
The same goes for Dupont’s Picasso collection, which dropped in Dubai before it became available anywhere else in the world. “This is because the residents here have a taste for S T Dupont products and, besides that, the region also enjoys such a multitude of visitors – from Russia, China, all over,” says Crevet, frankly.
It was his candour and commercial-mindedness that led him to shut down the brand's ready-to-wear stores in his first year as its CEO. "I'm a big believer in the DNA of the brand, which is basically about a guy running a small, boutique workshop, making bespoke accessories, each crafted individually by hand. Our expertise lies in leathers, lighters and pens – and with these we can be as inventive as possible. But Dunhill and Zegna will always do a better job than us in clothing, so there was no future there."
Accordingly, the leather goods adhere to an S T Dupont-formulated diamond tanning technique, which renders the material more supple and durable. The belts are made of calfskin leather, and come in colours such as midnight blue, tobacco, rubis, emerald and a "new black", Toit de Paris, as do the other smaller leather goods in the Atelier collection. The three styles of men's bags – an overnight case, and a duffel and messenger bag – are offered in neutral beige or warm grey, set off by a tricolour strap and dark cognac or blue leatherwork and handles.
The pens and lighters in the Picasso range, meanwhile, are embossed with the artist's prominent Profil de Femme line drawing. "It is said that Picasso was always smoking when he was painting, and he had a whole collection of Dupont lighters, which he would love to engrave for his visitors and friends, and gift to them. Those original lighters, unfortunately, don't belong to us, but the family gave us permission to reproduce his original sketch of a woman's profile on the Picasso collection lighters, cigarette cases and writing kit, along with his signature."
The brand-new Complication lighter is another example of the artisanal industriousness that Crevet keeps coming back to. Based on the technology behind complication watches, the lighter features a skeletonised body, visible micromechanics and 200 parts, which took four years to develop, with each piece taking 21 weeks to complete. "Our factory is but 20 minutes from the Swiss border, and so many of our friends and colleagues were familiar with the workings of a complication watch. We were already using up to 50 spare parts in our lighters, so the next challenge was to create one with 200. While a complication watch may not be expensive, a complication lighter is very costly [Dh180,000 a pop, to be precise], so I wasn't sure if people would be interested. But the first series of 10 sold at the snap of a finger in just two to three months," says Crevet. "And when the mechanism of a dual soft and torch flame was ready, we were so pleased with the results that we created this baby," he adds, whipping out the Le Grand Ligne 2 lighter. The largest in the S T Dupont stable, the lighter has double the flame and twice the heat than the original Le Grand, which also makes it ideal for lighting cigars.
The bodywork of both these lighters, as well as the pen and lighter in the Picasso collection, is composed of natural lacquer, an eco-friendly material that the brand sourced for the first time in 2014. For this, master lacquerers were called upon to revive an age-old technique called popoté, which enables them to transform the teardrops of the so-called Chinese lacquer tree into a glistening, deep-hued natural sap.
Crevet reveals: "Being eco-friendly is something the S T Dupont brand has always upheld, and it's been very important for me personally, too. The family belongs to the village of Faverges, at the foothills of the Alps, which is also where the factory is located, so they were of the belief that while we must create beautiful things, we must not harm the mountains and lakes around.
“This is reflected in the way we recycle, we have always sourced only equitable gold, now use only natural lacquer and recently we have put up solar panels in the factory,” he says, adding somewhat conspiratorially: “I am even pushing the team to think of alternative sources for leather, which is a huge departure for a company known, above all, for its leather goods.”