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From Chanel, a Diamond-Studded Timepiece that Blurs Gender Lines

By Angelyn Kwek

The Chanel Boy.Friend now comes with a strap wardrobe of interchangeable straps that allows for personalisation.
 
The Chanel Boy.Friend now comes with a strap wardrobe of interchangeable straps that allows for personalisation.

Coco Chanel left an indelible mark on feminine style specifically by introducing a sporty, casual chic aesthetic as the new standard in the post-Great War era, freeing women from a lifetime of corsets — and the antiquated gender roles of the last century.

A non-conformist ahead of her time, Chanel’s legacy is the inspiration behind many of the maison’s iconic motifs, such as the matelassé pattern famously exhibited on the 2.55 handbag to the camellia flower stylised into brooches and fine jewellery pieces. The former came about from the quilted stitching of the leather saddles she had noticed during the many equestrian events she attended with her partner Boy Capel, while the latter was her favourite flower.

Chanel’s design ethos was to choose materials for their comfort, underpinned by her goal of achieving freedom of movement as her ideal wardrobe was one that supported her active lifestyle of travelling and playing sports. It was also the impetus behind her appropriation of men’s clothing, cutting, re-sewing, and tailoring them to her svelte frame. This eventually led to her working with jersey and then tweed in the 1920s, when her fashion house was established. Memorably, she even said, “I’m most at ease in an old suit, but not in those heavy, rouge materials... Oh no! Not at all... In fact, it was I who taught the Scots how to make lightweight tweeds. I promise you I had a tough time convincing them!”

Likewise, the origin story of the Boy.Friend watch takes its cues from the masculine wardrobe that was so dear to her. Chanel was credited with popularising the “borrowed from the boys” aesthetic when she commandeered a shirt from her partner’s closet. The late founder’s inclination toward androgyny, combined with the design of the Première, the maison’s first women’s watch, led to the birth of the Boy.Friend collection in 2015.

At once contemporary and classic, the Boy.Friend is an emblematic timepiece — a watch made for a woman that holds masculine appeal. It appeals to the senses with its strong, refined lines and a signature octagon shape that pays tribute to the legendary Chanel No. 5 flacon and to Place Vendôme.

A new offering from the collection is a medium model of the Chanel Boy.Friend in steel set with 64 brilliant-cut diamonds.
A new offering from the collection is a medium model of the Chanel Boy.Friend in steel set with 64 brilliant-cut diamonds.

The watch fits in with the style of Chanel muses like actress and filmmaker Kristen Stewart, model and music producer Caroline De Maigret, and runway regular Freja Beha — women who have a personal style that blurs the line between the feminine and the masculine.

A stylistic vocabulary similarly reflected in the Boy.Friend, subsequent permutations of the watch have seen the icon take on textures and materials more commonly described as robust, hardy and tough. In 2017, it was reworked in a Black Tweed motif on an engraved metal strap where the bracelet was created by weaving steel threads to mimic the richness of real tweed fabric. The technical prowess involved was such that the finished strap retained a flexibility that allowed it to be wrapped comfortably around the natural contours of the wrist, despite the Tweed motif being deeply and precisely stamped onto said strap.

And with the perfectionism and attention to detail à la the Chanel métiers d’art collections, the charismatic Boy.Friend doesn’t just come dressed up in couture straps; its sleekly curved watchcase outlined with bevelled edges is complemented by an opaline dial with a fine guilloché finish centred within the oblong frame. Available in three sizes, the large editions measuring 37 x 28.6 x 7.7mm house a manual-winding mechanical movement along with a small seconds counter on the dial, while the medium and small versions, sized at 34.6 x 26.7 x 7.3 mm and 27.9 x 21.5 x 6.2 mm respectively, are equipped with a high precision quartz movement. Purists who live and breathe the art of haute horlogerie will also be delighted to know a highly technical version exists — the Boy.Friend skeleton watch, where the exposed movement is the centrepiece, constructed just so to sit within the dial to give the appearance that the intricate mechanism is lying on the skin when worn.

The watch’s “borrowed from the boys” aesthetic pairs perfectly with more masculine tailoring, while lending an edge to more feminine pieces — in keeping with the spirit of founder Coco Chanel.
The watch’s “borrowed from the boys” aesthetic pairs perfectly with more masculine tailoring, while lending an edge to more feminine pieces — in keeping with the spirit of founder Coco Chanel.

For this year, Chanel has chosen to enrich the collection with two novelties crafted in steel: a small model, as well as a medium embellished with 64 brilliant-cut diamonds. Taking the love for this androgynous silhouette one step further, the watches feature a new interchangeable strap system that allows the wearer to personalise their Boy.Friend to suit any and all occasions. Of course, this means an entire strap wardrobe has been launched. What marks a departure from the usual selection of straps however, is the fact that the maison has made a firm commitment to no longer use exotic leather for its watches. The decision was based on the increasing complexity of sourcing exotic skins that meet Chanel’s high standards in terms of both quality and ethics, which factor in concerns such as traceability guarantee and the breeding conditions of the animals.

While this significant move towards sustainability sees the retirement of semi-matte Mississipiensis alligator straps, there is no lack of stylish choices, what with a new range of coloured straps in calfskin, alligator motif or quilted motif, tweed and tweed motif in beige gold or steel to play around with. Perfect with jeans, great with a jacket, and just sublime with an evening outfit, slipping on the Boy.Friend watch goes beyond the celebrated androgynous aesthetic so adored by Coco Chanel, it is a statement that breaks and re-makes the codes of gender dressing in your own image.