Watch Wednesday

Maestros of Materials

Lapo Elkann and Luca Rubinacci team up to bring sartorial flair to Hublot’s Italia Independent lineup.

Lapo Elkann and Luca Rubinacci team up to bring sartorial flair to Hublot’s Italia Independent lineup.

“Sometimes people confuse disruption with destruction,” says Lapo Elkann, the 39-year-old Italian entrepreneur and scion of the multibillion-dollar Agnelli dynasty. “Disruption is constructive if you have a clear idea of the story you want to tell.”

Elkann sits perched on the arm of a leather club chair in the private salon of Rubinacci’s Milan store on Via di Gesù. The room evokes a masculine library in a country manor home, with a floor-to-ceiling marble fireplace, an antique chandelier, hunting trophies, and bookshelves lined with leather-bound volumes. Luca Rubinacci, Elkann’s longtime friend and personal tailor, occupies the chair’s other arm. The two renowned Italian dandies are impeccably outfitted in bespoke suits, their tattoos peeking out from beneath a sleeve or trouser cuff, hinting at their inner rebels.

The esteemed Neapolitan tailoring house founded in 1932 by Gennaro Rubinacci is the source of the vintage fabrics used to cover the straps and dials of Hublot’s latest Classic Fusion Italia Independent collection. Luca represents the third generation, ushering the family firm into the 21st century.

Elkann reviews different fabric swatches.

“Disrupting just to disrupt is not how I do things,” continues Elkann, who enlisted Rubinacci’s help in creating an unprecedented sartorial watch with Hublot. “I don’t like to design just a product, I like to make a difference. Stories are the difference maker. There are a lot of people who do great watches—it’s no longer enough just to have a watch. There needs to be a real story.”

Rubinacci lists among its most famous patrons Elkann’s industrialist grandfather Gianni Agnelli, the late CEO and once controlling shareholder of Fiat, whose lifestyle embodied the spirit of la dolce vita. “Lapo loves to come in my caveau and select his vintage cloths,” says Rubinacci, who notes that Elkann once brought him a pair of his grandfather’s Anderson & Sheppard trousers from 1947 for altering—a task he considered an honor. “I thought if we are going to do this collaboration, we have to use real vintage material. It is the history of Rubinacci.”

The tailor’s vast archives contain some 60,000 square meters of material to choose from. First, the team needed to search for fabrics that were durable enough for a strap but light enough to use on the dial. The diminutive size of a watch dictated that they select patterns compact enough to be seen in a dial’s small confines. They settled on six, including tartans, Prince of Wales checks, and houndstooth checks, one in graphic black-and-white, a nod to Elkann’s favorite soccer team, the Turin-based Juventus F.C., which, like Ferrari, is owned by the Agnelli family.

By happenstance, the fabrics they chose all dated back to the 1970s. “The seventies had guts, and there were very interesting and strong patterns,” says Rubinacci, who was born in 1977, like Elkann. “A lot of people fear strong patterns, but I feel having strong patterns is what made the uniqueness of this watch possible. These patterns are strong, bold, and gutsy—they’re not boring.”

Inside Rubinacci’s Milan location. (Credit: Laurie Kahle)

The challenge of crafting dials with the old wools fell to Hublot, which gained experience with textile-covered dials when it developed a denim range and limited editions featuring Berluti leather. The vintage fabrics are paired with either titanium, King Gold, or ceramic 45 mm cases, which house HUB1143 automatic chronograph movements.

The resulting collection makes an audacious fashion statement that marries classic menswear with contemporary wristwear. One could easily imagine Agnelli, a trendsetting sartorial legend, sporting one on the outside of his shirt cuff as was he was known to do.

Elkann inherited Agnelli’s penchant for living boldly. His playboy passions, however, have presented both triumphs and tribulations, including a drug overdose in 2005 that left him comatose for three days. Part of his comeback involved launching Italia Independent with friends Andrea Tessitore and Giovanni Accongiagioco, in 2007. Their debut product was a pair of attention-grabbing $1,400 sunglasses made from carbon fiber, a material commonly used in Formula One cars, including those at the Scuderia Ferrari racing division.

Elkann launched Ferrari’s Tailor Made program in 2011, bringing a bespoke approach to the automotive marque. His Milan company Garage Italia also creatively customizes cars, boats, planes, and helicopters for clients who cannot be satisfied with off-the-rack design. “For me, the luxury world is personalizing and customizing everything I
think, everything I want, everything I desire,” says Elkann. “I don’t want to be like everyone else.”

Different fabrics at Rubinacci's Milan boutique. (Credit: Laurie Kahle)

Elkann was in the background of the 2011 Hublot-Ferrari wedding three years before the collaboration between the watch brand and Italia Independent was announced. Both partnerships flowed from an encounter Elkann had with another dynamo, Jean-Claude Biver, chairman of Hublot and President of the LVMH Watch Division. “When I met him, I thought this guy is amazing, really awesome,” explains Elkann, who likens the relationship with Hublot to a perfect marriage. “It came together very naturally. Our way of looking at life, at looking at product, at pushing our companies, and pushing what we do are very similar. The energy we put into what we do, the passion, the determination, the drive are very similar.”

In 2015, Hublot unveiled the first Big Bang Unico Italia Independent watches, at Baselworld. In line with its continual pursuit of novel materials, Hublot made the cases and bezels from Texalium, a luminous aluminum-coated carbon fiber. Available in blue or gray, the limited editions came with a pair of matching Italia Independent sunglasses. In 2016, they followed up with a camouflage patterned Texalium design.

Like Hublot, Elkann’s design mantra focuses on creating products that stand apart from the status quo and connect with the client on an emotional level. “When you do a product, whatever it might be—a watch, a car, a suit—you envision something unique, something that is not on the market,” he says. “Something that will be disruptive.”

Lapo Elkann and Luca Rubinacci look over different fabrics.

This story appears in the September issue of Watch Journal, a Surface Media publication.

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