NEW YORK — Longines set the bar pretty high when it called Andre Agassi its “ambassador of elegance” — especially for a guy who pooh-poohs any idea of being a trendsetter in terms of fashion.
“I’ve been called worse things, I assure you,” the tennis great said, adding that his wife, Steffi Graf is much more elegant than he’ll ever be.
“I’m a pretty practical guy,” he said. “I don’t have a great deal of sophistication when it comes to putting wardrobes together or knowing what to wear with what, but I can tell you when it’s comfortable, I like it.”
Agassi was at the Longines boutique at the World Trade Center Tuesday afternoon to help the Swiss watch brand officially launch its Conquest V.H.P. collection to the U.S. market.
The line is among the most accurate quartz wristwatches in the world, according to Longines, and boasts “very high precision” movement and accuracy within five seconds or less a year. They also have the ability to reset their hands after impact or exposure to a magnetic field using gear protection detection system.
While the technology of the Conquest V.H.P. may be unique, for Agassi, it’s more about how it feels on his wrist.
“It’s pretty sleek,” he said. “I don’t feel all high maintenance with it. It feels like part of me and doesn’t feel like I can only wear it if I dress up.”
Juan-Carlos Capelli, vice president of Longines and head of international marketing, said the brand has worked with Agassi for a decade and is still enamored with the way he lives his life, particularly as it relates to his off-the-court accomplishments. Agassi, the former number-one male tennis pro who dominated the sport in the Nineties and early Aughts, founded the Andre Agassi Foundation for Education in 1994 in his home town of Las Vegas to help disadvantaged youth.
Capelli said of his ambassador of elegance: “Elegance is an attitude and what you have inside shows your values. After his career was over, he could have played golf and gone to the beach, but he and his wife take care of others, and that’s an elegant attitude.”
In exchange, Agassi said that he has retained his association with Longines for reasons that go beyond timekeeping. “What connects with me is their interest in doing good in the communities in which they serve and do business,” he said. “They started by coming to my school in Las Vegas and they’re not just helping with my mission, goals and objectives, but they’re really interested in it. That proactive interest brought to mind that we could probably do something pretty special if your goal is to effect communities through education — what I care about — and tennis too. They’ve been so good to the sport that I just saw it as being a great win for a lot of people to start the relationship.
“And 10 years really only happens if everybody involved does what they say. You don’t just talk the talk but you live it and they’ve been a fantastic partner and continue to be.”
In addition to his philanthropic work, Agassi is also doing a little high-profile coaching on the side, helping tennis champ Novak Djokovic with some of the nuances of his game.
“I’m trying to help. It’s not a job for me,” Agassi said. “I refuse to take jobs at this stage of my life. I kind of get to do what I want and I follow the path that gets lit up. I can’t say there was any grand agenda [with Djokovic] except I’m always looking for ways to stay involved in the game. To be very clear, Novak is a very special person and reached out to me in a special way. And it’s problem solving. I found myself pretty interested in helping him solve the calculus of his own mind and heart. Hopefully I’ll have a lot to bring to the table from real experience.”
While Agassi likes to keep a hand in the game that brought him to worldwide fame, he’s pretty sure he wouldn’t be able to compete against today’s best players.
He said the biggest difference between today and when he was dominating on the court is “the spins that people are using. That’s partly technology, part athlete, but when you change the spin in the sport of tennis that is so geometry-driven, you change the rules of engagement. So certain rules stop applying with certain angles and shots you can hit. My game would have a hard time translating at the highest level now because of that element alone. And then you’re looking at athletes that are just bigger, stronger, faster and there’s more science behind making sure you can recover and go the distance. I was ahead of my time in my preparation but it’s come a long way.”
So rather than focusing on tennis, he’s homed in instead on his schools in Vegas.
Since the shooting at Mandalay Bay last month, Agassi said the mood in the city has been “sobering for everybody — just the reality of how we have to live. But when it’s so close to your backyard, it does reflect who we are as a community, how we’ve dealt with it and how we support one another through it — from the blood banks to the donations. That includes my children who wanted to go down and help any way possible. We’re a community of 2 million people and I think the world knows it now when they show up that there’s a lot more to us. And unfortunately, we share a lot more in common with many other places in the world the pain of tragedy.”
Ironically, Agassi made those remarks at the Longines’ boutique at the World Trade Center, a development that was rebuilt after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Capelli said while the boutique got off to a slow start when it opened a year ago, its fortunes are “improving, and we feel very comfortable for the future. A few months ago, it was empty down here, but now it’s full of people.”
He also said despite the challenging business climate, Longines is poised to have a record year. “This year will be the first or second most successful in our history,” he said, a history that dates to 1832. “And we’re expecting next year to be the same.”
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