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Five streetwear icons x Haute Horlogerie
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Five streetwear icons x Haute Horlogerie

Wednesday, 16 December 2020
By Laure Gontier
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Laure Gontier

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7 min read

A twenty-first century uniform, streetwear has metamorphosed part of our wardrobe, transformed the fashion industry and is even shaking up Haute Horlogerie. From A for Alessandro Michele to V for Virgil Abloh, a look at five icons who have put the watch industry on streetwear time.

Alessandro Michele

In 2019 Gucci launched the Gucci Grip, the first watch designed by Alessandro Michele, the marketing mastermind – part Jesus, part hippy – who took a brand that had fallen asleep on its laurels and turned it into a symbol for the next generation (not to mention a licence to print money). His gowns, worn by women as well as Harry Styles, are infused with a love of kitsch and ugly beauty; a thrown-together aesthetic of granny chic that could resemble thrift store rummaging were it not for the talent of a label established in 1921 with untold expertise in luxury leathergoods. Grip takes its name, and its inspiration, from the tape on a skateboard deck. In fact Michele went on to collaborate on a series of short films with director Gus Van Sant whose Paranoid Park captures the difficult coming of age of a young skateboarder. Sober in style though heavy on logos, with a cast of skater dudes to advertise it, Michele’s genderless watch uses streetwear tropes to chip away at traditional watch design.

Grip © Gucci
Grip © Gucci
Bella Hadid

When in 2017 TAG Heuer wanted a spokesmodel who would help the brand reach a new audience of young buyers, it turned to Millennial icon Bella Hadid. It also imagined, especially for her, a 500-piece Link Lady Limited Edition – in black, like the boxing gloves she wears for the Don’t Crack Under Pressure campaign – that replaces the twelve numerals with twelve diamonds. When she first walked the runway three years earlier, Bella was still “just” the kid sister of fashion’s then most sought-after model, Gigi Hadid. A couple of seasons later she was a star in her own right and the reigning queen of streetwear. Constantly trailed by paparazzi, she’s regularly seen out and about in baggy cargo pants, sweatpants, crop tops, Doc Martens, oversize jeans, puffer jackets, mini dresses and baseball caps. Inspired as much by hip hop as she is by Paris Hilton and Britney Spears in all their turn-of-the-millennium glory, her unlikely mix-and-matches shouldn’t work but somehow hit the spot every time. Probably because her classic beauty, cat eyes and perfectly defined lips make whatever outfit she wears miraculously chic. A gift that wasn’t lost on TAG Heuer, or her millions of Instagram followers…

Bella Hadid © TAG Heuer
Bella Hadid © TAG Heuer
James Jebbia

James Jebbia No, Supreme isn’t going to change persona. Yes, it will remain an anti-mass market brand for a community of fans. This was the (reassuring) message James Jebbia sent out in November after selling his brand for $2.1 billion – meaning the two Supreme x Jacob & Co watches stay as desirable as ever. Phew! Launched in 1994 in New York, the brand’s legendary Lafayette Street store quickly became a hangout first for skaters then for the in crowd in general, all irresistibly drawn to its under-the-radar cool and a strategy based on scarcity. Shelves are frequently and deliberately empty of goods. Rather than launch seasonal collections, Supreme makes weekly drops of limited runs that are guaranteed to sell out in hours. Which hasn’t prevented the brand from putting its red and white box logo onto just about everything, through collaborations with artists (Damien Hirst) and brands (from Lacoste to Vuitton), but also through items as incongruous as coffee-makers, bike locks, ski goggles, penknives, axes, tape measures, not forgetting dirt bikes, kayaks, even bricks! And not the smallest dent in its cast-iron credibility. On the contrary: fans can’t get enough of this recontextualising à la Andy Warhol. Nor can the professional resellers who know they will make huge mark-ups online. Supreme’s collabs with watch brands are equally diverse. The brand started by customising 20 Rolex Submariners in 2013 – without Rolex’s authorisation – for a handful of VIPs. In 2019 it worked with Timex, officially this time, on an affordable collection. This year, in a complete change of style, it has slapped its name on a Jacob & Co diamond-framed dial with a $14,000 price tag. Although in this case, price isn’t the only thing that might stop you from buying. Earlier this year, Supreme worked its magic on a packet of Oreo biscuits (red and white, of course). Like every other Supreme-branded item, they were never seen in-store…

Five Time Zone © Jacob & Co x Supreme
Five Time Zone © Jacob & Co x Supreme
Nigo

Nigo Hardly a household name but with a cult following of fans: that’s Nigo, the Japanese designer and founder of a slew of must-have luxury streetwear brands. They include A Bathing Ape which, thanks to strategies that are now commonplace in the sector (scarcity, collabs), became the go-to label for early 2000s hip-hop stars. One of Nigo’s followers back then was a certain Virgil Abloh. Twenty years on, the student invited the master to collaborate on a Louis Vuitton capsule collection of all-over Monograms and Damiers, from shoes to suits to watches. Revisited by Nigo, the Tambour Horizon transforms the luxury house’s codes into a multi-monogrammed camouflage. The “LV Made” duck flying across the dial is a nod to Nigo’s latest brand, Human Made. Nigo is, let it be said, anything but a watch newbie. A respected collector, he accumulates, wears and sometimes sells, as in 2014 at Sotheby’s where he lightened his load of ultra-rare Richard Mille, Franck Muller, Girard-Perregaux and Jacob & Co. Going forward, it’s hard to imagine the watch industry passing up on the significance of this living legend or his perfect understanding of streetwear culture.

Tambour Horizon, cadran Virgil Abloh et Nigo © Louis Vuitton
Tambour Horizon, cadran Virgil Abloh et Nigo © Louis Vuitton
Virgil Abloh

Virgil Abloh A multidisciplinary creative genius who connects to the current mood better than anyone else or an imposter taken all too seriously by a gullible art world? Virgil Abloh divides opinion. Kanye West’s former right-hand man, founder of Off-White, artistic director for Louis Vuitton menswear, he has been instrumental in fusing streetwear and luxury once and for all. Man of a thousand collaborations, he’s putting his stamp all over pop culture, whether it’s designing lighting for Baccarat or rugs for Ikea, revisiting bottles for Evian or Moët & Chandon, or teaming up with Nike, Levi’s, Moncler, Rimowa… the list goes on. When early this year he showed graffiti-splashed concrete blocks and skate ramps at Galerie Kreo, some raved over his “brutalist sculptures” while others asked if he wasn’t ever so slightly taking the piss. One thing is for sure: his watches fascinate. Starting with the Tambour Horizon he revamped for Vuitton. Abloh and Nicolas Ghesquière, at the head of the women’s collections, seem determined that time will never get a hold on a watch that started out smart back in 2017. While Ghesquière gave it the visual tropes of League of Legends, Abloh took inspiration from New York street art for a fluorescent Tambour Slim Rainbow. He also has the online watch community speculating over two Patek Philippe Nautilus 5526 which he (had) customised without the prior approval of the Geneva watchmaker or its designers. One is a totally blacked-out model that he wears himself. The other is an emerald-encrusted model for the singer Drake. Who thanks him in Life Is Good with these words: “Virgil got that Patek on my wrist goin’ nuts.” Mixing the language of streetwear and tailoring or, in this instance, Haute Horlogerie, creating a buzz wherever he goes, visionary (for some), jack of all trades (for others), Virgil Abloh continues to reinvent the workings of a system.

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