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What does it mean to be an explorer today? Three real-life adventurers weigh in

As citizens entrenched in the daily grind of urban living, most of us constantly crave the act of exploration. To explore promises that we are in the pursuit of something new, pushing ourselves out of the comfort zones that resemble our small flats, our desks and chairs, and the faces we surround ourselves with every day. To explore is to engage all of our senses with the unknown, and to welcome the endless stream of possibilities that comes with venturing outward. Ultimately, to explore is to be the best version of ourselves — a philosophy Montblanc has embodied with their latest fragrance.

montblanc explorer
Montblanc Explorer.

Aptly titled Montblanc Explorer, the fragrance is in itself a product of exploration. The ingredients, spanning the likes of vetiver, bergamot, and patchouli are sourced from four different corners of the globe, resulting in a seductive combination of leather and wood that is undeniably masculine, but intriguing enough to pique the curiosity of those in the wearer’s surroundings.

Instead of launching into a run-of-the-mill explanation of how Montblanc Explorer smells, we’d rather canvass the spirit the fragrance represents. To do so, we speak to three real-life adventurers in Singapore, each representing a particular brand of exploration, because there’s no one right mode to experience the vast world beyond what you already know. Get inspired.

Paul Valin, the explorer who conquered Everest

montblanc explorer
Paul Valin. (Photo credit: Jeff Chang/Lifestyle Asia)

When Paul Valin attempted to summit Mount Everest in 2014, he had an uncomfortably close encounter with his own mortality. The avid mountaineer was on a quest to conquer one of the greatest natural wonders of our time when an icefall hit an expedition near the base camp he was at. 13 sherpas passed away because of the accident, and the mountain was closed shortly after as the government dealt with the crisis.

Having encountered something so tragic may have numbed Valin for a while, but the CEO of Samara Capital by day rekindled his childhood fondness for the mountains and eventually achieved the incredible feat of standing on the peak of the earth’s highest peak, Singapore flag waving in his hands. We may not have been able to see his expression behind the oxygen mask that guarded his face, but the grin would’ve matched an act that wonderous.

What does being an explorer mean to you? 

To me, an explorer is somebody who is not afraid to take risks. He is someone who isn’t afraid to take a step forward even if it was ill-advised. He needs to be confident to achieve his goals, and this leads him to always find satisfaction at the end of the journey he takes. He is also a dreamer that is always chasing something and remains continuously curious, as well as open-minded.

montblanc explorer
Valin at the peak of Mount Everest, at 8848 metres, which is the altitude of a cruising aeroplane. (Photo credit: Paul Valin)

What has been your biggest mountaineering achievement thus far?

Summiting Mount Everest was definitely that achievement. It was a long journey of two months, and my second attempt after an unsuccessful one five years prior. Climbing Everest is extremely challenging as it pushes your limits far beyond what you can imagine. Spending almost two days above what they call the “death zone”, at an altitude greater than 7,500 metres, constantly climbing without proper rest or sleep was the hardest challenge of my life. I learned so much about myself during that journey.

What expeditions do you have planned next?

I’m planning to climb a peak in the Karakorum region of Pakistan, hopefully in 2020. I also love motorbiking, and 10 years ago, I crossed the entire Silk Road from Beijing to Paris in a 125cc bike. My next goal is to do the same across South America, but as I like to say, it’s “step by step”.

Gonzalo Landin, the explorer who scours cities for gourmet gems

montblanc explorer
Gonzalo Landin. (Photo credit: Jeff Chang/Lifestyle Asia)

Gonzalo Landin’s love for food is not just the domain of his day job as head chef at Binomio. Taste and the constant pursuit for new flavours govern most of his expeditions abroad, be it stints around India or Hong Kong, or years working in top restaurants around London, Spain and New York.

The Spaniard’s craving for fresh food experiences makes him a gastronomic explorer who is unafraid of venturing into markets or dining establishments that locals favour, even if he may not speak the language of the country well. These nuggets of authenticity always lead him back to the kitchen — a playground where he applies the memories his stomach has gleaned from his time abroad into edible stories he can share with his diners.

What attracts you to exploration?

We live in a time where we can travel and settle in different parts of the world with ease thanks to the recent waves of globalisation, and with my experiences, I begin to realise that it doesn’t matter where you go, because aside from the minor differences in culture, most of us around the world live the same way.

Landin in Hong Kong. (Photo: Gonzalo Landin)

How do your travels inspire your approach to food?

I love visiting local markets when I travel because that is the perfect reflection of what a country is as I get to witness what they eat and how they interact with one another. Besides that, I avoid touristy itineraries and tend to ask locals where they eat or drink. You get a much better experience this way.

After every trip, I always learn something I can apply to the kitchen, whether it’s new flavours, ingredients, techniques, or even a different way of cooking an ingredient I have used before.

When it comes to food, which is your favourite city in the world?

London is the gastronomy capital where you can find all types of cuisine, and where the most acclaimed chefs in the world have opened restaurants. When it comes to localised cuisine, however, I find Tokyo and Kyoto very interesting.

Yvan Maillard, the explorer who battles far-flung seas

montblanc explorer
Yvan Maillard. (Photo credit: Jeff Chang/Lifestyle Asia)

The first time Yvan Maillard went outside of his native France, he decided to take a road trip to the Middle East by the way of Syria. He was 20 years old, he didn’t speak any Middle Eastern languages and wasn’t very competent in English either, which made crossing the borders through Lebanon and Turkey especially treacherous.

It may seem impossibly foolish to some, but adventures that push Maillard out of his comfort zone and force him to reckon with himself and the world around him in new ways prove to be his favourite mode of exploration. It makes sense when considering this mindset, why surfing, especially remote surfing in waters unknown, is the main incentive for his travels.

The paradisical Bocas del Toro in Panama and open waters with no coast in sight in the South Maldives are just skimming the tip of the places his surfboard has shredded. To him, the waters offer both peace to refuel and a challenge to combat, and it is with that passion that he looks to his next dream location to surf — the Mentawai Islands which he deems the home of the best waves on earth.

montblanc explorer perfume
Maillard on his latest surfing trip. (Photo credit: Yvan Maillard)

What is it about surfing that attracts you so much?

There are many reasons. The attraction of the ocean is one. Being surrounded by so much water in motion and its wildlife is something that brings so much serenity and fascination, sometimes fear as well. It gives me perspective and makes me feel good both physically and psychologically. You never know what to expect with surfing.

Have there been any particularly challenging adventures you’ve taken on so far?

Sometimes, the best adventure doesn’t necessarily need to be far away. I went surfing and rock climbing with friends back home in Biarritz. We could only access the rock climbing cliff from the sea so we paddled along the shore and underestimated how long it would take to make it back to the beach. A storm rose while we were climbing and we were all convinced we couldn’t paddle back amidst the angry waters. I still don’t know how we made it.

Define an explorer.

To me, an explorer is someone that goes with the flow rather than plans every single step. It is someone willing to live different experiences that can be shared with others. Great explorers are great storytellers.


Montblanc Explorer is available now at leading departmental stores, Sephora and Sasa.



Photographer: Jeff Chang
Producers: Azleena Chng,  Beatrice Bowers and Wynson Huang
Stylist: Josiah Chua

What does it mean to be an explorer today? Three real-life adventurers weigh in

Beatrice Bowers

Features Editor

Beatrice Bowers writes about beauty, drinks, and other nice things. When not bound to her keyboard, she moonlights as a Niffler for novels and can be found en route to bankruptcy at your nearest bookstore. Don't tell her boss.

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