For years watchmakers were the masters of hype in menswear. Celebrate the droves of watch fanatics who would make the pilgrimage to Baselworld annually just to catch a glimpse of a brand new Hublot, or Patek Philippe slapping an eight-year waiting list on its famous and vetting customers like they’re on the FBI watch list.
However, for all their ability at making people want their goods really, really poorly, there’s a new kid on the block, and this upstart is arguably even better in driving hype around its brands.
Over two decades ago streetwear was a mere pimple on the face of style. Today it’s the face, as passionate queues of excited fashionistas wait around the block to cop the latest Supreme fall or the freshest Yeezys. For some it’s become an obsession, only matched by people watch fanatics sitting across the area.
And at streetwear, the watch world has seen a chance, not just to share a number of streetwear’s limelight but also open itself up to a young demographic seemingly out-of-touch together with all the beefy heirlooms they see their fathers covet so highly.
The first love-in involving the watch world and streetwear began in 1997 as G-Shock, the high tech off-shoot of Japanese watchmaker Casio watches awakened with the much lesser-known at the time Stussy, a surfwear brand which has climbed to become part of their triumvirate of streetwear brands alongside Supreme and Palace.
It’s seemingly kickstarted a surge of powerful streetwear and watchmaker collaborations in the slick monochrome aesthetic of Japanese streetwear new Fragment being worked to the equally slick Tag Heuer Carrera, to US watchmaker Timex joining up using Carhartt WIP. Elsewhere, we have seen Hublot work with renowned street artist Shepard Fairey and G-Shock adopting the drop model using a never-ending collection of collabs from the likes of LA streetwear brand X-Large.
What is the key to nailing those alliances then? “I believe that meaningful collaborations can only occur when manufacturers are sharing values and if each can benefit from the other’s uniqueness,” says Carlo Giordanetti, creative manager at Swatch, that has just launched a collaborative set of timepieces with cult Japanese streetwear new A Bathing Ape.
“In Coping with BAPE we adored their legacy, we adored the idea to bring Swiss made and Japanese trademark style and we were attracted by BAPE’s ability to transform camouflage into a real signature road classic.
“Watches with this strong story to tell are character and fashion enhancers. Streetwear today is a powerful expression of freedom and individuality and for customers who prefer to make announcements a cooperation of such kind is the best reason to bring a watch to their own wardrobe of announcement bits.”
Collaborations have been a mainstay of streetwear. The general yardstick, Supreme, has been able to operate with high fashion (Gucci, Louis Vuitton) just as easily as it lends its street cred to mainstream behemoths such as The North Face and Levi’s.
Both have extensive dual century histories and can lay claim to top-of-their-game craftsmanship — John Smedley at knitwear, Brooks Brothers in tailoring. And all Supreme had to do was come along and stick its box logo on the high quality garments, creating a massively hyped collection in the process and all while giving its young audience an introduction to two brands it would never normally have had anything to do with.
In case streetwear can do exactly the same with Luxury watches — and on ancient evidence, it can — then it will draw a fresh and hungry audience right into a centuries-old hype machine.