The big interview

Music for the times: Vacheron Constantin joins forces with Woodkid

French music star Woodkid talks about a new venture to support young talent

How does a traditional watchmaker broaden its influence in the wider cultural landscape? The answer for Vacheron Constantin – maker of some of the most complicated and exquisite timepieces to have left any workshop table – is through music. It stands to reason: musical assemblies, otherwise known as chiming watches or minute repeaters which are considered one of the most difficult feats of engineering in the world of horology, are a house speciality at VC. And just like a self-authored “greatest hits” album, the legendary Swiss marque likes to outdo itself with ever-amazing inventions.

You only have to think back to the brand’s 2020 release called “Les Cabinotiers split-seconds chronograph – Tempo”, a double-sided chiming watch with a chronograph function and a perpetual calendar plus a host of functions dedicated to astronomy. Comprised of 1,163-parts, it is a work of art that beggars belief – if it were human-sized, it would warrant its own Marvel movie. It really is that astounding.

A love of music chez VC has led to a mentorship programme that sits completely outside the brackets of its expertise, although only in literal terms. Conceptually speaking, the idea behind this support system – which aims to offer young musicians a helping hand with industry advice and studio time among many other things – syncs perfectly with the MO of the manufacturer, dedicated to preserving rare watchmaking skills and ensuring they are passed through the generations.

The non-profit platform, known as the “One of Not Many Mentorship Program” is an ongoing collaboration established in 2018 between Vacheron Constantin and Abbey Road Studios in London. Helming the initiative for 2022 is French musician, director and all-round polymath, Yoann Lemoine, AKA Woodkid, whose work weaves in and out of multiple genres including illustration, video direction, graphic design, songwriting and production. This has created a springboard of opportunities that have led him to work with the likes of singers Katy Perry, Lana Del Ray and Pharrell Williams, as well as Japanese game designer Hideo Kojima, fashion designer Nicolas Ghesquière and Parisian street artist JR.  

If anything, Woodkid should be cast to play the aforementioned Marvel character, a kind of transmorphic watch/man hero, given his many artistic predilections and creative ticking parts. As “meta” as this sounds, there’s no denying that VC – one of the oldest watchmakers still in existence established in 1775 – is venturing into more fluid and abstract territory with this project, which can only be a good thing. In fact, the company has already shown how music can be used with flair and ingenuity in its timepieces: it was at Abbey Road Studios that Vacheron Constantin organised the recording of the acoustic imprint of its Les Cabinotiers chiming watches, presented in 2020. 

While he waits for his Hollywood call, Woodkid has grasped his more relatable crusader role with both hands, singling out Ewan J Phillips, a young singer-songwriter from the London area, as his bright star, making him the first musical wunderkind to join the VC mentorship fold. Phillips’s new song Say You Never Loved Me is now available on vinyl and streaming services.

Ewan J Phillips and Woodkid at Abbey Road Studios

Ewan J Phillips and Woodkid at Abbey Road Studios

‘I was fascinated by the level of precision and perfectionism’

Here, The Week speaks to Woodkid about this unique mentorship project that combines song with the rarefied craft of watchmaking. 

How did you get involved in this project? What was you initial reaction? 

It’s always very pleasant to collaborate with brands that are about craft and expertise. So I said yes instantly. There is something about the ideology of VC that reminds me of ideals and goals that I have in life as a creator. I was also very touched by the idea of transmission and collaboration of this project.

What have you learnt about watches thanks to this collaboration?

I didn’t know much about watches before to be honest. I was fascinated by the level of precision and perfectionism it requires, especially at VC. I have always been fascinated by the question of time, almost in a metaphysical way, so learning more about how watchmaking is about capturing time in such a small space is something that really inspires me.

You have worked with pop icons like Harry Styles to progressive composers like Philip Glass. What has been your most exciting project to date? 

Maybe composing a track for the Paris 2024 Olympics at the Tokyo ceremony. I have to say this was a great honour but also a great challenge, but I always love to explore new fields of expression. 

Does anything frighten you? 

Yes, being forgotten and the passing of time in general. Failing also, or conveying the wrong message. But I get better at dealing with it!

You are undoubtedly a polymath, what would you like to work on that you haven’t yet? 

I’m always very interested in anything creative. I recently collaborated on the creation of a perfume, which was extremely exciting and new for me. I would love to develop my skills towards video games now.

Can you tell me more about Ewan? What made him stand out? 

He has a timeless pop sensibility, it has do to with the way he sings, the way he writes. I always like when someone’s music can travel eras. And he has a great voice, which is always an amazing tool to work with. 

Can you tell me what you think mentoring means?

I’m not sure excatly, but I know certain things from my personal experience as an artist. As someone who has worked with many other artists, those are the things that I love to share. I think I know about identity and emotion, which are two things that are essential to be a great artist.

What advice would you give anyone who wants to support a young talent if it’s not financially? 

We all know things, to be sure about what you know, and what you are an expert at, you need to be aware of what you don’t know, and have the humility to accept that you are not mastering every field. It’s not about knowing everything or having an answer to everything. It’s a lot about identifying your expertise and qualities. We are all expert at something.

Did you have a mentor? If so, who?

I’ve had a few yes, My first manager was very referential for me, I also have friends that I admire and that I borrow a lot from. The knowledge of the people you love for their intelligence and their point of view is very valuable.

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