Miami in December – does it get better than this? The locals will agree, but perhaps not during Art Basel, where an estimated 100,000 or more extra people swarm in for the now international art show whose US station is Miami Beach. But I am not at Art Basel right now. I am at Bal Harbor – a ritzy shopping mall on the Northern part of the island where locals go to show off and tourists go to shop. Thierry Guetta (aka Mr. Brainwash) walks up to me with his trademark look that includes a hat and sunglasses. Purple paint has been cleverly, if not meticulously, sprayed to the left lens. His cool-guy black leather jacket is, of course, unscathed by bright colored acrylic paint, but the “I just left the studio” style continues on his jeans, where just enough paint has collected to offer an air of authenticity. Mr. Brainwash is looking very Hollywood today.
People argue whether or not Mr. Brainwash is a protégé or production of the street artist team known as Banksy, whose initial claim to fame arrived in 2010, when pop art fans experienced the film Exit Through The Gift Shop. Today, none of that matters. He is here to show off some images of Eva Longoria looking like his Madonna by way of Andy Warhol by way of Marilyn Monroe – a common theme for his stuff. Everyone from Spock to Michael Jackson has gotten this treatment. I’m waiting for him to do this for Jean-Claude Biver. Thierry has also just got all Jackson Pollack on a Hublot Big Bang UNICO 45 watch. I think it is technically out of warranty now – but that won’t stop it from being sold at auction.
If there was ever serious opportunity for me to produce gonzo journalism in the watch industry it would most certainly be with Hublot, a brand I follow keenly around the world with their antics, watches, fans, and cast of colorful and amusing characters. Say what you will about Hublot – I can’t get enough of the brand that has endlessly provided me with entertainment and variety since the big man Biver took the helm in 2004. Now in Late 2014, some 10 years later, the brand’s minute man du jour is Theirry Guetta’s Mr. Brainwash.
The purpose of the partnership is to help decorate the exterior of the two Hublot stores in Miami, as well as work on some watches – of course. In addition to the Bal Harbor boutique, Hublot took this opportunity to debut a new retail location in the now watch brand-dominated Miami Design District across the water. Mr. Brainwash’s success is perhaps as controversial as Hublot’s in the eyes of some people – and I think therein lies much of the appeal. But Mr. Brainwash is energetic, and he is charismatic, even if he doesn’t have a lot of opinions on what it feels like for street and pop art to have gone from rebellious to the focus of spending from art collectors and galleries around the world. Enough people are eating up his work – whoever is behind it.
As a company, Hublot is unsurprisingly frantic. The team from Switzerland travels a huge amount, with CEO Ricardo Guadalupe being at various ends of the earth from day to day. Asked what he manages to do on a daily basis when it comes to actual work – he responds, “mostly a lot of e-mails and decision making.” Ricardo is actually the quiet man compared to Mr. Biver, who he has been working with for years. Biver no longer has a day-to-day role in Hublot, but rather manages Hublot along with other LVMH watch brands from the top. For instance, it was recently announced that he would be filling in as the interim CEO of TAG Heuer – another LVMH brand. That isn’t a job Jean-Claude probably wants right now, as he has been toying with retirement for a while – but he steps up when he is needed. Hublot has been doing a good job of keeping the fire alive without Jean-Claude, but with Ricardo always out and about, I can’t help but wonder who keeps the peace back at HQ.
I mention the above as a semi-explanation of the fact that Hublot doesn’t always have all the details settled when they announce a new partnership or product. The major question on the table is whether or not there will be a limited production “Mr. Brainwatch Edition” watch. I surmise that there likely will be, and that Mr. Brainwash’s acrylic paint-covered Big Bang UNICO 45 timepiece will likely have future versions with a more permanent type of color application. We just don’t know more than that yet. I also hear that a small number of “Mr. Brainwash painted” limited edition Hublot watches exist, and something will happen with them.
Of course, none of this information is easy to gather in the tightly packed Hublot store where only Ricardo knows the answers, and where celebrities and local journalists are vying for his attention. It’s an Hublot event only like Hublot can throw. aBlogtoWatch contributor Michael “Max” Maximilien is on the scene with me to help make sense of the situation and experience Miami “Hublot style” – which is what everyone needs to really appreciate the brand in full.
If you haven’t traveled to Miami or spent much time in South Beach, then you might not be aware of the fact that it is a battle ground. Oh yes, there is a sincere fight between Audemars Piguet and rival Hublot, whose watches dot the wrists of so very many people you encounter along the way. While Rolex exists like a benevolent force that maintains order in the luxury watch world – keeping everything “OK” as they endlessly spend on marketing to keep wrist watch love high – the young and restless seek out more contemporary luxury sport watches from other Swiss brands. And those brands happen to very often be Audemars Piguet and Hublot, as I have personally experienced, at least in this city. Is there a winner? Everyone is a winner when you have people wearing watches from both brands as clearly both companies are selling product. In fact Audemars Piguet is just down the street as an official sponsor of Art Basel. Miami, in many ways, is big enough for them both.
I never actually made it to Art Basel this year. I probably could have, but that would involve waking up early enough to do so – a feat of effort made unlikely because in Miami there doesn’t seem to be a legally required time to stop serving alcohol, and the party goes all night.
There is enough art elsewhere. The people, the places, the watches. Miami is a great city to be voyeur, and probably a better city to be a participant if you are well-connected or wealthy enough. If I thought LA was status-conscious with its ubiquitous mansions and Maseratis – Miami adds to that the presence of mega-yachts (which just happen to be “parked” in a line like automobiles outside the hotel in a canal). When you wonder why Hublot makes so many limited editions for so many reasons, just think of these buyers and how the concept of exclusivity is a valued commodity. With buyers in town to purchase art and “art,” the Hublot Big Bang Mr. Brainwash begins to make a serious case for itself. There is still a pretty cool watch underneath it all. Our Max sums it up nicely:“The Hublot Big Bang Mr. Brainwash timepiece caries with it all the aspects of true art on the wrist. This is undeniable, whether you like or hate the brand. What is clear – and speaks to our sensibility as watch lovers – is that watchmaking is often attributed to being art – mechanical art with a purpose and a raison d’etre. Brainwash’s art on the wrist exemplifies that meaning for us.
Seeing this watch will stir some emotion, guaranteed… At the end of the day, that’s the best we can ask of any art work, and Hublot seems to have another winner in its hands. If only they can really create that limited edition version. Something tells us the good folks in Geneva will find a way.” hublot.com