aunched by two aeronautical engineers, with a first selection of luxury luggage introduced in 2019 after several years of R&D, Charles Simon quickly found a promising parallel path in watch cases, as the pandemic brought international travel to a halt.
From 2020, the brand transferred its particular expertise in high-end luggage – which combines cutting-edge engineering with traditional finishes – to the field of watchmaking. The start-up has since introduced two collections of watch cases, called Mackenzie and Eaton.
In addition to online distribution, Charles Simon is in the process of setting up brick-and-mortar representation for its products, which are distinguished by their minimalist design. We interviewed the company co-founder.
The high-end luggage manufacturer quickly found a promising parallel path in watch cases, as the pandemic brought international travelling to a halt.
Europa Star: What was your background before founding the Charles Simon brand?
Charles Girard Tremblay: I met my business partner Simon Maltais – hence the name Charles Simon – when we were studying engineering in the early 2000s. In parallel with our studies, we entered a competition where we had to design and build a single-seater racing car. The car we designed won several awards in the US and the UK. After our studies we went our separate ways.
I worked in aerospace, for clients such as Bombardier, Airbus and NASA, before taking a management role in Paris for a Canadian industrial consulting company. During this assignment, I came into contact with the world of luxury – that’s where the idea for the brand started. I talked to Simon, who was working in communications satellites. We decided to embark on this new adventure.
- Simon Maltais and Charles Girard Tremblay, the founders of the brand, met while studying engineering in Montreal.
What is the concept of the brand?
In 2013, when I started to work around the world of luxury, I wondered, as an engineer, why there wasn’t a luxury luggage brand with a higher degree of engineering, as found in the world of sports, in golf for example. Charles Simon is the fusion of advanced engineering with more traditional skills in luxury luggage.
If we had to compare ourselves to a watch brand, we are close to the spirit of Richard Mille, which brought new materials into watchmaking while maintaining traditional finishes. Simon also shared this state of mind, bringing high technical standards: when you send a satellite costing several hundred million dollars into orbit, there is no room for error.
“If we had to compare ourselves to a watch brand, we are close to the spirit of Richard Mille, which brought new materials into watchmaking while maintaining traditional finishes.”
- The structure of the Mackenzie case is made of carbon fibre and anodised aluminium to ensure strength and lightness. The exterior is finished in Canadian hardwood or anodised aluminium, combined with young bull leather.
What was your approach to bringing these initial concepts to life?
When the first ideas came up, we put no limits in terms of price, because we had the will to take the product to another level, no matter what. And both high-tech engineering and traditional craftsmanship are expensive. The advantage is that this combination resonates well with watch brands and their customers, who have long internalised this mix of technical and craft skills used in timepieces. We are bringing this mix to luggage as well as to watch cases.
The structure of our luggage is made of carbon panels combined with an anodised aluminium skeleton. We use the same materials as those used in the aeronautical field, which we know well. The aesthetic is minimalist – that’s our signature look – but this advanced technology underpins the durability, strength and lightness of our products. Whether it’s our luggage or our watch cases, they are very simple to the eye but loaded with technology. I would even say that this simplicity is only possible because of the complexity of the engineering. Charles Simon’s visual signature is the result of several years’ work in collaboration with Pascal Godin, a former university colleague turned industrial designer.
“For the luggage and the watch cases, we use the same materials as in the aeronautical field, which we know well.”
When did you start the company?
The company was officially founded in 2014 but the R&D, design and business strategy took five years to implement before we came up with our first product lines. We didn’t think it would take that long! Our first launch was the Bonaventure rolling luggage, which remains the most complex product in our collection to date. Several innovations were patented, such as the self-deploying handles and the retractable wheels. We felt that we had to start with a strong, sophisticated and luxurious product to make a difference. This range starts at $10,000.
You launched a luggage line in 2019, but the pandemic must have completely reshuffled the deck for your brand, when travel shut down in 2020...
Yes, we were starting to get some nice press and good feedback when the pandemic came along and took away some of that momentum from the early sales. We realised that travel wasn’t going to pick up any time soon and asked ourselves how best to respond.
Just before the pandemic, in February 2020, we met with the French watch designer Alexandre Meerson in Montreal, who really liked our products, especially our Mackenzie briefcase, and wanted to commission us to create a watch case. We then decided not only to completely revamp our website but also to develop new products, including the Mackenzie watch cases, for which we have received many online orders.
Do you also apply advanced engineering to this type of watch product?
Absolutely. The watch case is made of carbon with a minimalist design. All the components are machined according to the standards of the aeronautical industry. In a way, we have transferred our know-how from luggage to watch cases. The products have a 10-year warranty but our philosophy is to build for a lifetime. In addition to the Mackenzie line, which starts at $4,990, we have also launched the Eaton line, with smaller dimensions.
- The Mackenzie watch case can hold up to ten watches. The inner cushions are lined with soft Alcantara and are removable to accommodate different types of watches.
Who are your customers?
At the moment, we work mainly for private customers who order our products online. We have strong demand from California in particular. Even today, everything is made to order and made to measure, we do not keep inventories. Customisation is also possible, for example on the colour of the products.
“Even today, everything is made to order and made to measure, we do not keep inventories.”
- Charles Simon’s Eaton line, with its reduced dimensions
Who do you work with for your distribution?
In addition to our own website, we have partnered with several e-commerce platforms in recent months, such as Mr Porter, The Rake and Revolution. We are also aiming for physical distribution and have just signed a collaboration with the new Perpétuel boutique in Dubai. Eventually, we would also like to collaborate directly with watch brands.