The Perfect Accessory

It seems that haute horlogerie is enjoying a right old flirt with haute couture, and Marie Claire’s Jess Wood couldn’t be more delighted.  

As accessories go, timepieces have always inhabited their own rather separate (Swiss-made, naturally) ivory tower. Standing apart from the hurly burly of ‘It’ bags and ‘this season’ shoes, they’ve traditionally been viewed as the kind of investment that should by definition be timeless – after all, if you’re going to spend thousands of pounds on a piece that you hope to be wearing for years to come, the vagaries of fashion shouldn’t come into it. Or so the thinking goes – yet this most season-less of items is tiptoeing into the spotlight.

Gucci’s new creative director Alessandro Michele has sparked the most seismic shift in fashion since Phoebe Philo gave the world a minimalist makeover at Celine six years ago. Michele was a relative unknown, plucked from the house’s accessories atelier, and given the top job three seasons ago. His appointment stunned the fashion world – for an insider with an untried track record to be put in the hot seat at one of Italy’s biggest houses was an even bigger risk. But for Gucci, the risk has paid off – and how. Thanks to his long experience with accessories, Michele has brought them front and centre in his new vision of the Gucci girl. His colourful, vintage-inspired magpie positively drips with jewels, embellished gloves, net fascinators, embroidered bags – and now, watches. Alongside the glittery glasses and pearl-encrusted knuckledusters stalking the AW16 catwalk, the Diamantissima-esque watch took pride of place, its red and green striped strap clearly visible under a fur-cuffed sleeve.

In this, Michele is leading the way for a new wave of fashion-inspired timepieces that echo the codes and motifs of catwalk collections. Flame-haired singer and fashion pin-up Florence Welch has been announced as the first-ever bona fide ‘ambassador’ for Gucci watches and jewellery. Wearing a G-Timeless automatic, embellished with a perfectly eclectic mix of decorative bees, a heart and stars, Welch has spoken of her love for the ‘magic’ Michele is creating.

A host of other collaborations are also underlining this new relationship between the worlds of haute horlogerie and haute couture. This year, Jaeger-LeCoultre is celebrating the 85th birthday of its iconic Reverso model with an interpretation by Christian Louboutin, the shoe designer responsible for some of the world’s most exquisite (and not to mention high) heels. The Reverso is loved for its classic Art Deco lines, but Louboutin has brought to this blank canvas some signature flamboyance and a host of creative references – the covered galleries of Paris, the carved wood lattice work of North Africa, East Asian stones… “For Louboutin, a watch is inseparable from its strap, as these two elements form a whole,” says a Jaeger-LeCoultre spokesman. “He envisaged the Reverso models in the same way that one creates a jewellery collection.” So one version features an iridescent green, blue and purple dial and strap that mimic the carapace of a scarab beetle – the same effect seen on one of Louboutin’s signature shoe designs. His shoe designs often play with transparency, flattering the skin while relegating the shoe to a subtle backdrop role. He brought this idea to the Reverso, designing one iteration with a transparent strap that makes a perfect match with the mirror-style back dial.

Meanwhile, at Hublot, a house known for combining traditional watchmaking with avant-garde techniques, a partnership with historic French gentlemen’s’ shoe brand Berluti is bearing fruit. The Classic Fusion model has been adorned with Berluti’s Venezia leather, using a complex process to neutralize organic components. The Classic Fusion Berluti All Black has a nero grigio Venezia handmade strap inspired by the art of scarification, and marked with the signature ‘Gaspard’ incision of Berluti. The Scritto has straps carved from Venezia Scritto calf leather with writing inspired by 18th century calligraphy, with the tobacco bis hued leather also gilding the dial.

At Chanel, the relationship between timepieces and the house codes has long been clear. When the Premiere (the house’s first womens’ watch, created in 1987), was introduced in a new triple row version, it made its debut slung around supermodel Cara Delevigne’s wrist on the ready to wear runway. Chanel’s new BOY.FRIEND launches in September. With an octagonal face that pays homage to the iconic Chanel No5 perfume bottle, the piece plays with the idea of masculine allure for women, a theme very much in the fashion air at present. The BOY.FRIEND Tweed features a steel bracelet with the namesake pattern, a clear link back to the classic fabric that Chanel has made its own.

So are watches set for a more fashionable future? Ultimately, the secret of bringing the two worlds together isn’t in turning the ultimate investment into such a statement that it becomes disposable, or – shudder – dated. Instead, it’s about picking up on the recurring motifs that run through all of a house’s most iconic designs – the Chanel tweed, the Gucci green and red stripe – and finding ways to incorporate them subtly into the horlogerie collections. In future, perhaps timepieces will no longer inhabit a separate universe. Instead, they may exist more comfortably on Planet Style – eternally fashionable, without being seasonal. Just as Coco Chanel might have said.