- Cindy Livingston
It was twenty-five years ago that those colourful and trendy Guess fashion watches were presented to an incredulous international audience at prices hitherto associated with plastic watches.
Guess was a success and by the end of 2000, nine years after the brand’s first appearance at Baselworld, the timepieces were to be found in 12,000 retail locations in more than seventy countries.
In 1997 Cindy Livingston went a step further and launched the brand Gc. Whereas the Guess brand follows trends from everything from architecture to automobiles, Gc is inspired by the high-end Swiss watch industry and follows those trends aimed at young people who are moving away from fashion watches and want something better at an affordable price before they are able to pay for a Rolex, Hublot or Cartier.
WHO WAS THAT LADY?
I first met Cindy Livingston, without knowing who she was, when I asked one of the receptionists on the bustling Guess booth if someone could show me the latest collection and give me some technical information. A short time later a very attractive and charming blonde lady, dressed in white (or was it grey?) appeared and literally walked me through the collection in the display cabinets. On leaving the booth I discovered from her business card that she was in fact the President and CEO of Callanen International, the subsidiary of the Timex Group responsible for the marketing and distribution of Guess and several other branded watches.
I returned the following year accompanied by our then Art Director, Jacques Schmitz, who, armed with a sophisticated camera, captured for posterity a charming photograph of Cindy leaning on the reception counter alongside a bouquet of roses.
Hopeless with dates, I asked Cindy recently when all that took place and she said it was somewhere between fifteen and twenty years ago. Since then, I have made the annual pilgrimage at Baselworld to see the latest Guess and Gc collections and have a chat and a coffee with the Lady herself.
In the evening of the opening day of this year’s show, Sequel held a retirement party for Cindy. I expected a few moist eyes but apart from a brief moment during Cindy’s thank you speech, it was far from a maudlin affair, it was a celebration of her achievements accompanied by loud music, dancing, food and free-flowing wine. Then came her speech …
“Well, what can I say, 27 great years, 125 million watches later, 3400 watch designs, 2 million faxes, 5 million emails, 3000 conference calls, 3 million miles, 68 board meetings, 48 international meetings, 25 Basel fairs and 4,288,083 Facebook fans. Mind boggling for someone as young as me don’t you think?”
There were references to her colleagues, distributing partners and friends and then Cindy concluded with, “I want you all to know that retirement from a great job and a great company with great people who are your friends is an incredible gift. For those of you who know me well and how I live my life, I do not intend to waste one precious minute, I have places to go and things to do. But before I leave you tonight I want to share with you my favourite retirement quote: Retirement means it is only time for a new adventure.”
YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW
The following day I sat with Cindy on the Guess/Gc booth and asked her what had been the most gratifying part of her role as a CEO.
“Well certainly the most fascinating part of my work was introducing a fashion watch brand to the international markets, taking it into a hundred countries, maintaining its image and tweaking it to fit into the different lifestyles. The company created a brand with a personality and that stems from the people who work there.
In the 80s we began with one brass case and two sizes with an embossed strap and a printed dial. Today the products have developed and evolved beyond recognition; the difference is like chalk and cheese. We’re now into 3-D printing and wearable technology.” Then came the inevitable: So what are you going to do now?
“I’m going to maintain my Swiss residency, my apartment in New York and my home in Bali. I’m going to be a vagabond. I love Switzerland and Europe but I have to figure out what I want to do. I may come back into the watch industry if it involves people I love or respect, or I may never come back. One possibility is to work in consultancy or marketing, maybe become a board member of companies that interest me.
One thing is for sure, for the next six or
seven months I’m going to be involved
in fund-raising for Hillary Clinton in her
campaign for the American presidency.
It’s something that I’m passionate about
it’s something different - there are no products involved.
After that I’m going to spend more time in Nusa Dua, Bali, where my late husband and some friends built a fabulous house on a clifftop overlooking the Indian Ocean. I love the country and the people, they’re very hospitable and they have amazing design talents and I love their floral arrangements. I can relax there, it’s a very spiritual place - I even have four temples on the property.” Cindy Livingston was a rare pearl in the watch industry, not only because she was a trendsetter who brought colour and zest to a lacklustre industry, but also because she was a lady in what is predominantly a man’s industry.
Inevitably, the show will go on. Somebody will take over the helm of Sequel, of Guess , of Gc, but Cindy Livingston will never be replaced simply because she was, and remains, unique.
Yes, the show will go on … but it will never be the same.