Thomas Du Pré de Saint-Maur on Chanel J12: A Watch Born Out of a Desire

Thomas Du Pré de Saint-Maur, Chanel’s Head of Global Creative Resources, shares the vision behind Chanel’s campaign for the J12.

Thomas Du Pré de Saint-Maur

The J12 watch from Chanel was born out of a desire. The story began when Jacques Helleu, artistic director of the house, decided to create a watch especially for himself. While drafting his first pencil lines, Helleu imagined it as timeless, sporty and all black. His inspiration came from the two worlds he loved most; automobiles and sailing. He greatly admired the chassis lines of racing cars and, above all, the regal silhouettes of the America’s Cup racing class, the J12—hence the name of the watch.

Long story short, the year 2000 became a milestone in Chanel’s watchmaking history with the launch of the J12 collection. As the first Chanel sport watch, the J12 revolutionized the world of watchmaking as it comes in black ceramic. Not only that, it was crowned the first watch icon of the 21st century.

Back to the present, almost twenty years after the collection’s creation, Arnaud Chastaingt, director of the Chanel Watch Creation Studio gave the J12 a makeover. Of course, he did so without touching the core identity that built the J12’s legend and ensured its continued success until today.

Furthermore, Chanel also launched a campaign with ten notable faces including Keira Knightley, Ali McGraw, Lily-Rose Depp, Vanessa Paradis, Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, Carole Bouquet, Liu Wen, Anna Mouglalis and William Chan.

The campaign’s immense success can be credited Thomas Du Pré de Saint-Maur. Back in 2008, he joined Chanel as Marketing Director of the Fragrance & Beauty Division. Then in 2013 he was appointed as Head of Global Creative Resources for the same division, as well as the Fine Jewelry & Watches division.

“There’s nothing linear in the way we experience time, it’s made of every single second of adventure, and this is precisely what we tried to capture in the campaign”

Like Gabrielle Chanel in her time and Jacques Helleu in his, Thomas Du Pré de Saint-Maur upholds the unique spirit of Chanel: “A way to capture what is in fashion, while remaining faithful to a certain French idea of classicism. To try to simply be right for your time, to be a part of your time, a part of today.” This sensibility, this instinct of what is apt and this aim to build bridges between worlds, cultures and stories have motivated him since his arrival at Chanel.

At Baselworld 2019, Chanel showcased the re-launch of its iconic J12 model coinciding with the model’s 20th anniversary, with a new automatic movement manufactured by Kenissi, a Swiss manufacture in which Chanel recently acquired a stake. Thomas Du Pré de Saint-Maur talks about all that and much more with DAMAN during the festive fair in Switzerland.

DA MAN: For the new J12 model, the campaign for this watch is titled “It’s All About Seconds.” What’s the story behind it?
Thomas Du Pré de Saint-Maur: It reflects on how we all personally experience time, what happens every second. There’s nothing linear in the way we experience time, it’s made of every single second of adventure and this is precisely what we tried to capture in the campaign. For Chanel, time is self-creation. The only thing vital about time is what you make of it. Important moments, big moments, every decision that you make, every minute, defines who you are and will dictate your next move.

DA: What were some of the challenges you faced while conceptualizing and working on this particular campaign?
TDP: It’s always interesting and challenging to work on a watch campaign. For instance, the watch industry consistently talks about their products. It’s always about technology, power, and movement, and to stand out from all of that is always an exciting challenge to me. I mean, I always try to think of what we can say about embracing the reality of the watchmaking industry, which is precision, accuracy, but also at the same time, talk about something that defines us in our own terms, versus the others. This gave us the start of our creative reflection, which is there’s something quite exciting about time.

DA: We were intrigued about your statement “there’s something quite exciting about time.” Could you elaborate on that?
TDP: Basically, we all live through the same time. It means the same for everybody. Case in point: A second is a second, a minute is a minute, a year is a year. But none of us has the same experience through time. You see, it’s interesting how something that is so defined—time in particular—gets to become something so different from one person to another.

DA: So, the sense of looking at time is what you want to capture?
TDP: Yes. This is what we tried to capture in our campaign: The sense of looking at time in a very objective way and measuring it which is what watches are for and how we experience time, which is always in a matter of seconds. This is because whether you talk about an actual watch and its movement, it’s all about seconds, since accuracy starts with delivering the right amount of seconds, minutes, and so on.

DA: How did you choose the muses that starred in this campaign?
TDP: When we chose the faces in the campaign, our reasoning was not to cover all the audiences, cultures or age brackets, but that these faces would represent the notion of “if time is self-creation, this is a reality that concerns everybody.” Hence, we used a variety of people to convey the message that in each singularity, in every person, there’s something that unites all of them.

DA: What’s the message that you want to tell with all of these muses who all come from such different backgrounds?
TDP: The idea of having ten muses from different backgrounds, cultures and races, is to represent the one thing we believe in: That time applies to everybody. It is the sense of universality that is Chanel.

“The idea of having ten muses from different backgrounds, cultures and races, is to represent the one thing we believe in: That time applies to everybody”

DA: More importantly, how do the ten muses relate to the campaign?

TDP: All ten of them have intense, true and genuine relationships with Chanel. This means not necessarily those with the longest relationships with the brand, such as in the case of William Chan and Liu Wen, as opposed to Ali McGraw who was the face of Chanel No.5 back in 1965, which is 54 years ago. The ten muses then describe their personal experiences with time, what are that count, the seconds that made a difference, those moments that lasted a few seconds but felt like an eternity, moments that are truly genuine, honest
and unscripted.

DA: Last but not least, how do you relate the campaign to the product—the new J12?
TDP: It is related in one way, that the watch measures time. I feel that there’s a sense of purity in the campaign, with no set design, its shot in black and white, with minimal styling, giving it a sense of serenity and calmness which I feel is represented in the watch. The watch is not overly designed, simple and yet delivers perfection in measuring time. There’s also a sense of power in the campaign and in the product as well, without forcing too much relation between the creative campaign and the product.