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YSL’s Moment in Time

PARIS -- Tom Ford loves wristwatches. He has about 25 in his personal wardrobe, including antique timepieces, no fewer than five Rolexes and at least one Boucheron.<P>"Today, I have on an IWC watch. Yesterday, I wore a Gucci one," Ford said. "I love...

PARIS — Tom Ford loves wristwatches. He has about 25 in his personal wardrobe, including antique timepieces, no fewer than five Rolexes and at least one Boucheron.

This story first appeared in the June 10, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“Today, I have on an IWC watch. Yesterday, I wore a Gucci one,” Ford said. “I love watches because it’s really one of the few pieces of jewelry a man can wear.”

And soon Ford will make a new addition: his first watch design for Yves Saint Laurent, which will be unveiled at the Ritz hotel here today and make its debut this fall in YSL boutiques and select jewelry stores.

“I have the very first one from our production reserved for me,” he said in an exclusive interview. “I wanted to make a watch that I was dying to wear. And I wanted something that was really identifiable because of its design, not because of the logo.”

Striking it is: a tank style warped into an eye-teasing asymmetrical shape that wraps neatly around the wrist. “When you put it on your arm, it is very distinctive,” Ford said. “It is classic and you can see the classical references. But then it is literally twisted. I wanted it so that people could look at your arm and know immediately that it is a YSL watch.”

The Rive Gauche timepiece is the latest element in Ford’s overhaul of the French house since taking up the ready-to-wear design reigns two years ago. But watches are not a new category for YSL. They’re part of the legacy of licensing when the brand was controlled by designer Saint Laurent and his business partner Pierre Berge. Watches were initially licensed to Cartier and then sublicensed to Citizen, which churned out $95 YSL timepieces.

The watch license was one of some 152 contracts eliminated since Gucci Group took control of the company in 1999 and began its repositioning effort. Ford said he remembers watches produced by the house in the late Seventies and early Eighties, but “it was not a particularly significant business. The good news is that no one has a strong recollection of YSL watches.”

This meant that Ford felt he was starting with a clean slate, repositioning the watch at price levels where it would compete with the likes of Chanel and Hermes and the opening price points of brands such as Cartier. The Rive Gauche watch will retail from about $1,400 to $7,000.

“It’s a serious watch; it’s a real watch,” he said. “It’s consistent with the kind of watches our customers would wear.”

The watch comes in three sizes: the large is mechanical and the two smaller sizes are quartz. In total, there are 35 variations, considering the choice of gold or silver cases, three possible face colors and a range of straps and bracelets. Ford said he prefers the woven leather band, which has a “slightly rustic, bohemian quality to it.”

He declined to give sales projections for YSL watches, but asserted that the growth potential in the category is “huge.” Watch sales at Hermes, for example, leaped 13 percent last year to total $110.9 million.

The watches are slated to bow in 44 YSL boutiques in late July and two months later, in about 70 select multibrand jewelry retailers in the U.S. and Europe. Ford said he has not yet decided if the range will be expanded for the watch fairs in Switzerland next spring. “If we do add styles, we’ll do it very slowly because the goal is to create the YSL signature and to give us credibility in the watch market,” he said.

YSL timepieces will be manufactured in Switzerland through Gucci Group’s luxury timepiece division, but with some different suppliers, given the more upscale positioning than Gucci timepieces.

The launch will be backed by a dedicated advertising campaign, recently shot in New York by photographer Albert Jiordan. Ford declined to specify the budget, but said YSL would devote 60 percent of its sales target to the campaign, bowing in a range of September fashion titles. In general, watch brands invest 10 to 15 percent of revenues in advertising. “We’re giving it a big push,” he said.

The ads will be straightforward close-ups. “I just wanted people to see the watch,” he said. “I think it’s unique enough that it doesn’t need any tricks.”

Asked if any watches will make a cameo appearance in the YSL ready-to-wear campaign, Ford said “no” and laughed, given his reputation as fashion’s penultimate marketing man. “It’s not about strapping all the products you can on the models,” he said. “I hate to be that blatantly commercial, believe it or not.”

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