Zenith In Conversation With Julien Tornare: Part 2
The CEO of Zenith opens up about their new DreamHers initiative, gender categorisation in watches and his least favourite description of the brand
Zenith is at the top of their game — ask anyone, from journalists to retailers to industry observers. One area in which they’re currently leading the pack of traditionally male-oriented brands is their new approach to the feminine side of watchmaking, both in terms of products and also in terms of audience. Recently, the first international event celebrating their DreamHers initiative, launched last year as a social-media campaign to highlight exceptional women in their fields and now a fully-fledged platform, was held in Madrid. WorldTempus had the chance to sit down with the leader of this dynamic brand, the equally dynamic Julien Tornare, and talk about what lies ahead for Zenith.
I couldn't agree more about the fact that a company has to go beyond the watches themselves, working on its image. You can't be a 21st-century company with a 19th-century mindset.
Some people say to me, okay, gender-free approach, that's great, but you don't expect to sell watches with diamonds to men, do you? I say, we've already done it. And we've done it quite a lot. And honestly, even if you take the most feminine watch in the world, so what if a man wants to wear it? Who am I to tell him this watch is for women and not for him? It's interesting, because you see women wearing so-called men's watches, and it's seen as kind of cool, even trendy. But people look at a man buying a Defy Midnight and they question that? That's not fair. Why not have a Defy Midnight on a man? We have customers — men — who bought the diamond-set Deny Midnight 36mm for themselves.
Zenith Dreamhers Event © Zenith
I saw we were both quoted in the same Financial Times article the other day, on this very subject. You said it was time to get rid of this old-fashioned categorisation. My take on it was that we should keep making the same watches as we always have, just stop trying to insist who should wear what. I feel people are resistant to the idea of gender-free watches because they believe we want to push them into making only unisex watches. That's not true at all. We should continue to make masculine watches, but stop saying that only men can wear them. Continue making feminine watches, but stop saying that only women can wear them.
Exactly, because we are modern company, and that's it. I made a presentation to some retailers the other day, and they were super happy with this idea. Being a modern company is not just about using innovative materials like silicon; we don't call ourselves a 21st-century company based on this alone. It has to be about the whole culture of the company. And in this matter, we are all learning on the spot. For example, last year, we wanted to speak more about our comeback into the domain of feminine watches, where we had been quiet in the previous years. We took an angle with women buyers for these feminine watches, but then we realised that many of these women preferred bigger watches, not just 36mm pieces. Now of course we realise that we can't just approach women consumers like that. It's not specifically about the Defy Midnight, for example, but more about the culture of our brand. And you'll see the DreamHers concept and platform will evolve into the brand in that way.
Zenith Dreamhers Event © Zenith
From the feedback I hear, I can confirm that's a great direction to take. I'm in this WhatsApp chat group with over 150 women collectors and watch lovers. And the things you've been saying are the things that really resonated with them. I shared with them what you said in the FT article and the response was 100 percent positive.
You know, it's not marketing, it's really something that I feel, that I believe, that I practise in my personal life, with my family. This pink-blue division for boys and girls — I don't like it. I tell my daughter, to go play football with her brothers, try and beat them. If my son plays with dolls, that's fine. I played with my sister's dolls when I was a kid and I don't think it traumatised me. Of course I'm not trying to change the world with what we do at Zenith, but I really want us to be perceived as a brand that's truly in the here and now, a brand that's adapting to the society it's in, a brand that's evolving. We're 156 years old as a brand, and we're still here because we've been evolving in different ways over the years. When I first came on board at Zenith, there was this conservatism that people associated with us, the dusty side of Zenith — they called us The Sleeping Beauty. I never want to hear this anymore. Things have been incredible for Zenith this year, but we're not going to stop. We're going to keep running.
Zenith Dreamhers Event © Zenith
Running towards the future? Where else can we see this in the brand right now?
In general we try to work in a way that's in line with today's society not in view of our own beliefs, which may have been set during a different time. I'm close to 50 years old now, and I see so many people, colleagues of mine that are in their 50s and 60s who are still thinking with the mindsets of yesterday. On the other hand we have someone like Jean-Claude Biver, who is 72 and says we have to listen to the young people because they know what it's all about. We should have the humility to admit that we don't always know best just because we have more experience, have the bigger title, higher salary etc. Look at the Defy 21 Felipe Pantone watch. This guy from our social media team, 24 years old, he comes to me saying we should do something with a street artist. My immediate reaction, as a guy of 49 years, is to say that in my day, we put people who were doing graffiti in jail. Now we see they're superstars. The watch turned out to be incredible, and I told the social-media guy: You're right; I may be older, but you know better than me. This is exactly what we do for young people, both in the company and as consumers. And now also with DreamHers, I'm so proud of this initiative. The more I work on it, the more ideas I have, and even now I'm thinking about how this could take a much bigger dimension. To be honest, it's literally my favorite thing that we're doing right now.