When it comes to determining the time these days, there are a number of high tech options at any woman’s disposal, from her cell phone to her iPod, BlackBerry or Palm Pilot. Nevertheless, watches continue to go beyond their functionality to bedazzle consumers, and now a whole new group of designer brands is taking note.
In the past year alone, more than a half-dozen brands have inked watch deals, with high-wattage names like Michael Kors, Jennifer Lopez, Perry Ellis and, most recently, Marc Jacobs leading the charge and giving main-floor regulars such as Anne Klein, Kenneth Cole, Guess and Emporio Armani some new competition.
Jacobs and Kors, along with Bollman Hat Co., makers of Kangol hats, have sealed licensing deals with Fossil. Lopez’s Sweetface Fashions has teamed up with E. Gluck for JLo watches. SII Marketing International, a division of Seiko Instruments, is hoping its line for Perry Ellis will build on renewed interest in the brand now that hot designer Patrick Robinson is in charge of the creative direction. Also, Givenchy is getting refreshed through a new distribution deal with the SWI Group.
But can designer clout turn into big sales when main-floor watch real estate is already at maximum capacity? A hot name with an established commercial audience in other product arenas, such as apparel, doesn’t necessarily guarantee the public’s appetite for a watch emblazoned with the same name.
“Everyone wants to go where there have been significant successes,” said Charles Kriete, president of the Geneva Watch Company, maker of several highly successful licensed watch brands, including Kenneth Cole and Tommy Bahama. “Everyone envisions being the next Gucci, but it’s rarely that easy.”
Kriete added that there needs to be a clear message. “You need to be able to practically picture what the watch will look like even before it’s made.”
For newcomers to the watch business, this is an ambition they all hope to achieve.
Robert Duffy, president of Marc Jacobs, acknowledged that the development of Jacobs’ watchesmay be an evolving process.
“I recognize the challenge from when we first started working on watches [for Louis Vuitton],” he said (Jacobs also designs the Louis Vuitton collection). “The details are key: A strap or detail on the face becomes a signature.”
He added, however, “I know one thing: Every time we’ve gone through this process, you learn as you go.”
Duffy couldn’t be too specific about the details of either the Marc Jacobs Collection or the Marc by Marc Jacobs watch lines, both of which are slated to bow in May of next year, but he did say their own love for watches was part of the reason why he and Jacobs decided to proceed with the license.
“We experimented with watches at Louis Vuitton, and they have become very interesting to Marc and I,” said Duffy. “Neither of us started wearing a watch until we were 30, but in the last 10 years I’ve started collecting them. We all wear watches; it’s an emotional decision.”
Duffy said both brands will include women’s and men’s watches and that they will expand upon the aesthetic of both the collection line and the diffusion line.
“Collection is really known for understated fashion. It’s about luxury, but not with a bang — more like a whisper,” Duffy said.
For Marc by Marc Jacobs, he said, “We’ll have a blast; we can go crazy with whatever colors or prints we do each season.”
Duffy said the watches will go into Jacobs’ own stores, then into key Jacobs retailers like Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus.
Andy Hilfiger, president of Sweetface Fashions, said he’s not worried about main-floor competition. He compared the ebb and flow of brands in the watch world to the rotation at Top 40 radio stations. “Just like with the radio, a new song comes on, another one goes off.”
Hilfiger said adding watches to JLo’s product categories was in response to the popularity of the watch, as well as an effort to expand upon the line’s lifestyle statement.
“Part of it is about building the whole lifestyle, but in both the music and fashion worlds, watches are a big accessory,” Hilfiger said. “Everyone wears cool watches. Jennifer is definitely a big watch wearer, and the designs reflect Jennifer’s lifestyle.”
The watches launched at better department and specialty stores this month for holiday, and the looks draw from Lopez’s glittering stage style, with many bright colors and crystal accents. The line will range from $70 to $195 at retail.
MICHAEL MICHAEL KORS
Michael Michael Kors watches, which hit major department stores this month, also build on Michael Kors’ lifestyle, accentuating what many have called his “carpool couture” sensibility.
“Michael Kors brings a sense of realistic fashion,” said Alex Cushing, brand manager for Michael Michael Kors at Fossil. “It’s achievable and understandable, yet sexy and still fashionable — and also has a ton of quality and value.”
Cushing said the line focuses on classic round and tank shapes, some with chunky buckle closures. Other features include day/date calendars, full working chronographs and a signature second hand in orange, a favorite Kors color. Retail prices range from $80 to $150.
Stuart Cameron, director of marketing and design at SII Marketing International, said this will be the second time that Perry Ellis is offering watches bearing the company’s name, after a previous license with Genender International ended about four years ago. This time around, however, pricing is more competitive, with the watches retailing from $75 to $110.
The design will also better match the classic feminine positioning of the apparel collection, which has received positive reviews in recent seasons, although Cameron was quick to point out that the watch collection isn’t translated directly from the apparel, but rather “tells the overall story.”
“We asked ourselves what it is about a woman that is appealing; we looked at curves and lines,” Cameron explained. “The feeling is sort of Audrey Hepburn for today.”
Cameron described the Perry Ellis watch line as being centered around classic styling, with a lot of attention to detail.
“We worked closely with the team at Perry Ellis and came up with exclusive details,” he said. “We tooled everything from scratch. The crowns are unique, the hands have nice details, and the colors and dial treatments have a sheen that is very subtle.”
The 22-style women’s line, along with the men’s line, debuted at wholesale during the August accessories market, and is expected to turn up in main-floor departments for spring.