Couture and Watchmaking Fashion Houses and watchmaking: What's The Big Attraction
What is it about watchmaking that attracts brands in sectors ranging from automotive to aviation, technology, jewellery and, as we’re about to see, fashion?
You don’t have to be crazy to enter the fine watch arena but it helps. Breaking into this already crowded marketplace—where expertise is concentrated within a few square kilometres, the cost of entry is excessively high and return on investment can take decades—is a herculean task. This hasn’t deterred Chanel, Gucci, Hermès, Louis Vuitton or Ralph Lauren. All five believe they have the answer to the only question worth asking: what’s to be gained from entering the watch market?
Chanel: carry on Coco’s legacy
Let’s start with the most “delicate” case in point. Chanel lives off the legacy of Gabrielle Chanel, a name most closely associated with her couture label. What many people don’t know is that Gabrielle’s talent extended far beyond fashion. During her lifetime, she developed a much wider vocabulary of fragrance (1921), cosmetics (1924), skincare (1927), jewellery (1932) and leathergoods (1955). When Jacques Helleu became Chanel’s creative director in 1965, watchmaking was clearly the next step on the brand’s journey. Yet the project would remain more or less on hold for over 15 years. After Gabrielle passed away in 1971, Chanel continued to focus on couture; a tendency personified and confirmed by Karl Lagerfeld (who joined the brand in 1983). Chanel Horlogerie didn’t see daylight until 1987 with the appropriately named Première collection. Watches gave Chanel the opportunity to expand into creative terrain that Gabrielle Chanel didn’t explore in her own lifetime but, had she done so, no doubt she would have enjoyed shaking up conventions. Which is what the namesake brand is doing today.
Première © Chanel
Hermès: a creative outlet
Hermès is a different kettle of fish. The family firm came to watches via the strap; specifically a leather holder made in 1912 so that Jacqueline Hermès, daughter of Emile Hermès, could wear a pocket watch on her wrist. From a saddle maker, Hermès became an artisan of leather straps. It was Jean-Louis Dumas who in 1978 opened up the brand’s watchmaking horizons. Described by Laurent Dordet, CEO of La Montre Hermès, as a visionary who was curious about all cultures, and who conquered new markets with a sense of boldness and fantasy, under his stewardship Hermès put its mark on watches and clocks by Jaeger, Universal and Vacheron & Constantin. Through watches, Hermès has developed a creativity that was already ingrained in its original universe of leathergoods, illustrated by its focus on the métiers d’art and its work with wood, straw, glass and stone, for example. Says Laurent Dordet: “La Montre Hermès is now a full-fledged manufacture. We master every specialisation in-house and our production is 100% Swiss. At the same time we remain true to the brand’s core values and the authenticity that characterises Hermès.”
Arceau Le temps Voyageur © Hermès
Ralph Lauren: add to a world of luxury
Ralph Lauren is more than just a ready-to-wear brand and has been for a long time. It is a lifestyle. A world. The world of Ralph Lauren. The introduction of watches to the brand’s luxury portfolio, in 2009, was seen as an opportunity to enhance the brand’s product offering for its international clientele. Watches are therefore an extension of the world of Ralph Lauren and its many incarnations. They also reflect Mr Ralph Lauren’s own passion for elegant, enduring timepieces and make reference to his well-known passion for fine cars. Ralph Lauren watches have gone on to embrace other themes, such as the Polo Bear and safaris. On the scale of this multinational brand, watches represent a niche business which nonetheless “elevate the customer experience through their aesthetic, quality and level of service.”
Polo © Ralph Lauren
Louis Vuitton: a natural extension
Which leaves Louis Vuitton, originally a trunk maker. For a brand dedicated to travel, what could be more natural than to embrace that other travel-friendly accessory, the watch? Whereas Vuitton could have contented itself with GMTs and worldtimers, it has developed a horological fluency that goes beyond boundaries, assisted in its expeditions by La Fabrique du Temps. Because Vuitton doesn’t travel. It explores. Complicated watches, smartwatches, jewellery watches, table clocks: the measurement of time is a playground for a serious brand for which nothing is off-limits, whether it’s a foosball table that costs as much as a car, a €37,000 hammock or a sneaker trunk at €165,000. That such a profusion of creativity should extend to watches is really no surprise.
Tambour Slim Vivienne Heures Sautantes © Louis Vuitton
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