How Helen developed a cutting edge at Victorinox

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Martin Moodie
Martin Moodie is the Founder & Chairman of The Moodie Report.
Looking sharp: Helen takes a stab at knife-making

Helen Pawson, The Moodie Davitt Report’s Brand Editor, is a key member of our organisation and a highly talented all-rounder. But until now I had no idea that she had an aptitude for knife-making. She’s obviously even sharper than I thought…

Helen showed her hand, as it were, at the London flagship store of Victorinox, where she and I spent a fascinating couple of hours learning about the great Swiss brand from Victorinox Director Global Travel Retail/Duty Free Thomas Bodenmann (pictured centre below with Helen and me) and some of the most knowledgeable and engaging shop managers and staff you could ever meet.

Chinese represent an astonishing near 50% of the consumer base

I don’t use the term ‘great’ lightly. Go to and type in the question, ‘What are the things I must buy from Switzerland?’ The first answer to come up lists watches, chocolates, cheese, wine (yes, I can testify that Switzerland makes some outstanding wines – they just keep them for themselves) and… you guessed it, knives. But not just any knives.

Here’s what the entry says:

Swiss Knife: Victorinox, Victorinox and maybe Victorinox too.

And there, in those eight words, is the dual opportunity and dilemma for the brand in travel retail encapsulated. Victorinox is synonymous with the iconic Swiss Army Knife, not the easiest proposition to sell in today’s security-obsessed airport world (though you can in certain locations). But Victorinox is about so much more than the brilliant adaptable knife created by company founder Karl Elsener in 1897.

Based on the same qualities of superb functionality, high quality and chic design, Victorinox is now a multi-category brand, embracing watches, fragrances and travel gear, as well as its signature Swiss Army Knife and household & professional knives.

Founding father: (Above) Karl Elsener founded the company in 1884. Today his great grandson Carl Elsener (below) runs the business.

Thomas has been charged with developing the brand in travel retail, both through stand-alone shops and within wider generic offers. For the latter, the main focus will be on travel gear and watches. For the stand-alone route, fragrances and the Swiss Army Knife (where permitted) will also come into play.

I love to see traditional companies flourish in changing times. We see so many great brands die because they cannot adapt to the digital age, have been disrupted, or simply did not identify changing consumer habits in time.

Moodie blues: The corkscrew function on this beautiful personalised Swiss army knife is certain to get extensive use

I can tell you there’s no chance of such a fate for Victorinox. Some of its travel gear features built-in mobile phone chargers for example. Its brilliant Swiss Army Knives can be personalised in multiple ways (choice of functions, colour, engraving – even with choice of font) and you can even go into a Victorinox store and craft your own knife, as the redoubtable Ms Pawson demonstrated so ably this week under the kind and able tutelage of Robert Carter. Helen had her knife engraved with her boyfriend Luke’s name while I had mine done in Moodie blue and with Moodie Davitt branding.

You probably won’t get this beauty through security…


By tapping into personalisation (and it’s not limited to the knives) Victorinox is right on trend. But that’s just one of the reasons I believe it is going to be big in travel retail.

Another is its huge popularity with the Chinese. As I entered the London store the other day a young, immaculately attired Chinese woman passed me on the way out carrying a branded Victorinox shopping bag with its distinctive logo (a cross within a shield). She would be one of many Chinese customers to shop there this week – in Europe, Chinese buyers represent an astonishing near 50% of the consumer base. Air China now flies direct from Beijing to Zürich and a very healthy percentage of arriving passengers head downtown to the Victorinox flagship.

Victorinox also has a very strong fan base (its knives and even watches attract many collectors) and operates in 130 countries (underpinned by nine foreign subsidiaries).

Thomas is responsible for developing Victorinox from a near nil-base in travel retail to a major force. If qualities of heritage, innovation, value, commitment and investment count, and they do, then I believe he is going to achieve exactly that.

You can read all about it in my forthcoming feature on Victorinox. On second thoughts, maybe I will ask Helen to write it. For she has clearly become our most cutting-edge journalist.

Let’s cut to the chase, able tutor Robert Carter tells Helen as The Moodie Davitt Report’s knife-manufacturing business gets underway

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