Dear Hero, Dear Rebel…
Low rider motorbikes, camouflage patterns and massive elaborate tattoos are now bankable in the high-end watch industry. Some wealthy individuals from the alternative scene actually don’t like the codes of global luxury and are looking for something diffe
The second half of the 40s was a special time in the USA. As the Hells Angels motorcycle club emerged in Fontana, California, World War II US soldiers were back from the battlefields and trying to start a new life at home. These young veterans had still in mind the pin-ups that air fighters used to paint on the noses of their planes. Their curves might have made taking off less scary. Cruising around the Bay, the bikers were unpredictable outcasts. Some of them were deeply involved in illegal activities. Hell’s Angels still embody independence, rebellion and a way of life, outside the law.
The Hell’s Angels were gangsters, the veterans were heroes, and both have become trendy enough to inspire today’s high-end watch brands. Indeed, it has been a few years now since different subcultures infiltrated the world of luxury watches, with tattoos being the latest hip thing.
In 2011, MB&F introduced the HM4 Razzle Dazzle and its sister watch, the Double Trouble, in reference to the “nose art paint” practiced on warplanes. At Baselworld 2014 you could also find neo-rebels, like a sparkling violet customised motorbike chopper in a hidden room of Romain Jerome’s booth. Next to it stood the H9CDNA HardNine Choppers – a watch that goes with the bike. And they are not the only ones. Artya, one of the most unpredictable brands of the plateau, also co-realised a massive motorbike. The brand promotes an identity built on provocation and gasoline. Recently, Hautlence founded its Gentlemen rebels’ club with Eric Cantona to embody it, and what about Rebellion? That brand name speaks for itself. Pin-ups, hostile vehicles and rough guys – they all refer to social groups who used to live another way than most, and for whom danger and adrenaline were a part of life. Why is that?
Heroes don’t Fear
“The Double Trouble and Razzle Dazzle HM4 watches celebrate the myth of the hero,” explains Maximilian Büsser, founder of MB&F. “I have been always fascinated by the World War II era because soldiers had to surpass themselves to go and fight. 90 per cent of fighter pilots could die each time they left the base. You can read this in Pierre Clostermann’s story about the Battle of England. Today, we have fewer heroes as technology dehumanised fights. Just think about the drones controlled from thousands of miles away. Nobody risks his life, as old Formula 1 pilots used to also for instance. I remember I was fascinated by these figures as a child. Indeed children need to project themselves as heroes and heroism is intimately linked to danger. They can then grow into
“The Hell’s Angels were gangsters, the veterans were heroes, and both have become trendy enough to inspire today’s high- end watch brands.”
adults and become, for example, a firefighter to save people. Today heroes have other faces. They are people who try to rebel against the conformity our societies softly want to impose on us. For that, they use symbols of rebellion, and tattoos for example belong to them. They represent a way to escape George Orwell’s 1984 syndrome. This said, tattoos could also be seen as a recent reaction to the perfect man that used to be described as a metrosexual. It is somehow the return of the virile man.”
Catch the Essence
Romain Jerome’s DNA is to create original watches that evoke different contemporary universes. Led by Emmanuel Emch, the brand works on catching the essence of a trend, an artistic style, a historical fact or the culture of a modern day tribe before instilling it into a watch. An art ob- server for years, Emch works on creating these specific links. “New consumers have different expectations and live differently than the older generations,” he says. “Some have been successful in new businesses and don’t recognise themselves in the codes exposed by the traditional luxury brands. They have been innovative, have taken risks, often have strong and extrovert personalities, some like being provocative. For them, being aggressive is not a taboo. Classical watches are clearly symbols of the old ways of making business, often with long decision processes and no place for creativity. They think these days are over. My role consists in offering specific precious watches that meet their needs. In addition to that, the X generation buying habits are different. Earlier, customers used to belong to a defined socio-economical class that shared the same tastes and points of interest. X generation people go freely from one social group, or tribe, to the other. They don’t want to follow models and don’t trust anymore the old marketing strategies based on ambassadors that jump from one brand to another. These new customers are also very sensitive to trends. They have different interests such as video games or contemporary art. Or they like camouflage patterns as well as steam punk. As a watch brand, we have to adapt ourselves and gain this flexibility. Moreover, nowadays, people want to be able to customise themselves. Tattoos fit perfectly this need as they allow the personalisation of bodies. They are obvious signs of self-expression. Tattoos are symbols that show you belong to a certain social group too. And this notion is crucial. Indeed, trust became an important social value. And it grows among people that share similar visions. This creates strong and coherent groups. These groups always have a leader,
or an influencer. And the goal for a brand is to understand this leader perfectly in order to access his community. This is the key to create the right product. The process takes time, hard labour and is dangerous too. Indeed, the worst thing is to be rejected by the members. Being humble is key, as well as being patient, sensitive, and very intuitive. Personally, I think it is also important to let people get involved in the process. They want to be part of it, feeling like artists. In the end, the challenge consists in taking the good risks while staying fashionable.”
Provoke and Pester
Yvan Arpa, who runs the brands Artya, Black Belt and Spero Lucem, considers rebellion the fact of not being afraid of danger and living intensively one’s passions. “Rebellion can’t be a concept but a way of living,” he says. “In my case it means being able to start creative projects whenever I want with absolutely no limits or taboos. I look for intensity and freedom and I fight for this, whatever the consequences. Rebels are also there to provoke and pester people because they make no deal, no arrangements. I don’t find that in most of the watches pretending to be rebellious.” Actually, for Yvan Arpa, watches are fascinating objects. He loves the efforts and skills necessary to create one and their philosophical dimension, which is capturing time. But for Arpa, they first serve his own needs to resist an image of luxury. One he finds calculating, opportunist or hypocrite. “This vision has an echo. My customers understand this radical approach of living out of security zones and that some people are looking for that. Like Voltaire, who I esteem a lot, I am ready to loose everything to remain free.”
The Breeze of Freedom
Even if they are antagonists, heroes and rebels are the inspiring figures of the moment. To paraphrase the famous mythologist Joseph Campbell, they all put their own life in second place to achieve what makes the most sense for them. The watches work then as talismans, which carry a bit of the courage of these individuals. It just went one step further with tattoos. Indeed, watchmak- ers had never celebrated ink in the skin. Thanks to some select progressive brands, the new codes of contemporary warriors are apparent.
Watchmaking has been known to celebrate alternative kinds of beauty and art; it is normal then that, heroic or rebel, tattoos would come to them. But this doesn’t answer the question of who are the real rebels of today? Their passion to live without limits remains distant from the desires of the majority… they create a breeze of freedom through their choice of objects.
“Rebellion can’t be a concept but a way of living. In my case it means being able to start creative projects whenever I want with absolutely no limits or taboos.”