Gucci’s courting of millennials and Generation Z continues apace with the release of its latest watch, born of creative director Alessandro Michele’s “fascination with the skateboarding community”. The Grip, as the quartz watch is called, takes its name from the tape that skaters use to stop their trainers slipping on the decks of their boards – and in terms of wearer experience refers to the way the watch and strap are designed literally to grip the wrist firmly. But forget the wearer experience for the moment. This watch is all about the aesthetic.
Gucci has coined a word to describe it: “retro-futuristic”, Piero Braga, the president and CEO of Gucci timepieces, tells me. That’s just about right. The Grip’s face is a plate of metal with, cut into it, two rainbow-shaped apertures showing hours and minutes on dials somewhat reminiscent of a set of bathroom weighing scales.
Sitting in the bar at The Lanesborough hotel – and cutting a most un-skater-like figure – Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri explains what Michele has brought to the Gucci table. “The evolution he has overseen in the past five years is very much this looking at the past and blending the vintage with something super-modern. One of the things I was most impressed by when I met Alessandro was his capability for collecting antiques for his house, referring to historians and old philosophers, and then being attached to something completely new that was the opposite – the yin and yang.”
The yin and yang: vintage and new; street culture and luxe; cash from a bit of well-curated chaos. Who is the watch aimed at, I ask?
“Being totally genderless, of course, this speaks more to younger generations, the millennials, than the others,” says Bizzarri. “But it can be worn by anybody. We never thought about segmentation. The beauty of our brand is that entering our shops we have the daughter and the mother shopping together, maybe buying the same thing, but having a vision of how they can use it very differently.”
Daughters, mothers, sons, fathers – it’s important that they all keep coming through Bizzarri’s doors. Michele has doubled Gucci parent company Kering’s profits since he began in 2015. In the first half of 2019 Gucci revenue totalled €4.6bn out of Kering’s total of €7.6bn. Fashion watches have been, since Gucci began, a vital pillar in that revenue stream, says Bizzarri, but he’s not hiding from the challenges the future presents. Yes, social media has enabled brands like Gucci to reach a wide audience at speeds not dreamed of before, but the same Instagram generation now touching adulthood is probably going to prove very difficult for the watch industry. We compare notes on how our daughters just aren’t interested in wearing a watch to tell the time. Why would you when you have a smartphone? In business terms, it’s a significant snag waiting down the line.
“That’s the generation that is going to disrupt the watch industry going forward,” he says. So, what’s the biggest challenge in terms of continuing to innovate and pull in that audience? “Making watches into a kind of jewel you play with,” he says.
Bizzarri returns again and again to . the importance of luxury being fun. It’s Michele’s calling card and Bizzarri embraces the risk-taking that having fun entails. It’s a corollary of life in the era of Instagram, where people expect to be surprised on a daily basis: “While in the past you couldn’t accept any mistakes, to be luxurious today you need to be quick and accept that there will be mistakes. You can’t have too many controls.”