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ART EXPERT Takashi Murakami

– How did you first get in touch with the Hublot Brand? – The first time I encountered Hublot was 17 years ago in 2004, when the deputy editor of the magazine Brutus asked me to accompany him to the Baselworld. At the time I was interested in complication watches, so I eagerly accepted the invitation and ended up exploring the watch fair for five days or so. The venue was Messe Basel, same as the art fair. The art fair greeted you with rows of flat white walls, but the watch fair was so much more spectacular, with a commercial atmosphere. It was really another world, with three-story booths inside and champagne being served at almost every booth. Hublot’s Miwa-san, with whom I am currently working very closely, was already there at the time and she treated us very well at their booth. She even invited us to Hublot’s dinner. The deputy editor advised me that I needed to be in formal attire for such an occasion, so I rented a proper outfit from a place by Lake Léman and attended the dinner. We were picked up in a limousine and taken to a chateau deep in the forest. Once we stepped out of the car, we were treated like celebrities, getting absorbed into the chateau, the dinner venue. There were no self-serious speeches given; instead, industry people and collectors were quietly discussing watches in astonishing depth, and I was blown away by the extremely tasteful event. Miwa-san took care to greet us at our table. I would give 200 points out of 100 for that brilliant party. So, my first encounter with Hublot was nothing short of perfect.

– Can you guide us through your collaboration with Hublot? – My friend Fed Tan (of fashion marketing agency, Social/Capital) in Hong Kong messaged me, I think about three times back in the fall of 2019, that Michael Tay of The Hour Glass was hoping to meet with me about a collaboration with Hublot. I had already done a deeply involved watch collaboration with a Japanese independent watchmaker, Hajime Asaoka, and it was a complication watch, so I thought perhaps that was enough for me. But after receiving many fervent requests for a meeting, I agreed to it, albeit hesitantly. When I saw Miwa-san at the meeting, I gasped: I was immediately taken back to the dinner at the chateau deep in the Swiss forest, and sincerely regretted having repeatedly declined her meeting requests. Whether to do a collaboration or not, however, was a different story. My wish was to be involved in watchmaking at the level where I could design a completely original piece, and my decision depended on whether that was possible. When I explained this at the meeting, Miwa-san said it was absolutely possible, and that she wanted me to visit their factory in Switzerland so that they can prove it. So I visited and toured the factory in early 2020, and was absolutely, truly blown away, seeing how it enfolded both the super high technology and artisan techniques and values. I was convinced that it would be possible for them to make the kind of watch I envisioned, and so I humbly decided to go forward with the collaboration. And now, less than a year after that visit, the watch is complete. I am so delighted that I got to collaborate on a watch in the best possible way I had hoped.

– What were the difficulties you encountered when working on this project with Hublot? – There were virtually no difficulties; it was all excitement. I love factories, so visiting the factory at Hublot’s headquarters in Switzerland had pushed me to the pinnacle of my enthusiasm. I found the computerized, automated cutting of crystal sapphire especially fascinating, so I am eager to find out whether or not that process was involved in my collaboration piece.

– Your signature smiling flowers are featured on the dial. What’s the story behind it? – People think of the smiling flower when they think of Takashi Murakami, so it was an obvious choice. The one thing I did request was to go all black on our first collaboration. This was because the very first impression I had when I learned about Hublot was its signature black rubber belt. And they made my wish come true.

– As an artist, what does time mean for you? I think our job as artists is to always strive to be a punctuation mark in history. I aim to make each of the ideas and techniques I create become a historical milestone, focusing on how they would be perceived after my death. I think about my artworks’ expiration dates in the span of 100 or 200 years.

– Can you please explain us who are the main characters of your work and why you decided to create them? Flowers, Kaikai and Kiki?

– Aside from the flower we used for this collaboration, I have dozens of characters, including Mr. DOB, Kaikai and Kiki, Oval, and Mushrooms, each with its own story and expansive world behind it. The very first character I created was Mr. DOB: I combined Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog, Doraemon, and other characters, applied the letters D and B on its ears, and continued to metamorphose it. It has now become something of a self-portrait. Each of my characters is packed with its own birth story and peculiar logic.

–Hublot’s motto is “the art of fusion”, you are also fusing low culture and high arts, was this something that made you start this collab with the swiss luxury watchmaker? – First and foremost, it was the enthusiasm of Miwa- san and others at the headquarters. Second was the timing. It just so happened that my company’s design team was starting to function at an optimal level, with a potential to handle complex requests. The condition was ripe.

– Thank you. This concludes the interview. Thank you for recalling all those events from long ago. – The party at the chateau was absolutely unique even at the time. I admire Hublot’s attitude, always trying to take on new challenges while being firmly grounded in the European historical background.