Simple luxury

December 2003

Milus, a cult brand for adepts of uncompromising design, nearly disappeared. Yet, it reappears as the same company, yet profoundly transformed. The design has been softened. The sensuality has been heightened. The materials have become noble. Milus has created a new luxury – simple luxury.

Starting in the mid-1980s, Milus made a reputation for itself in the milieu of hard and pure design. Paul Junod, at the head of what was still a family business that had been founded in 1919, was a pioneer in presenting watch collections that were very innovative and whose design incorporated a rare rigour based on uncompromising principles of aesthetics.

But, being ahead of everyone else did not necessarily mean that commercial success was waiting around the corner. Following the decision to offer his creations at very affordable prices, Paul Junod then had to reach the critical mass necessary to achieve financial equilibrium. However, mass distribution was a major difficulty for a small independent enterprise.

In the mid-1990s, Junod's ideas were literally 'stolen' by the new global 'fashion' brands that expropriated this pure and simple design and made it their own (there is no need to cite names, as you will recognize them with no problem). For these brands, with large international distribution networks and global marketing, reaching their critical mass was much easier.

In the beginning of 2000, Junod was nearly forced to throw in the towel and admit he was beaten. He had superb products and more ideas than he could count, but access to markets was becoming increasingly difficult. All that he had worked for was in serious danger of disappearing forever.

But then, a rather unexpected solution was found. The Hong Kong-based watch group 'Peace Mark' (Aerostar, Aspen, Beverly Hills Polo Club, Bill Blass, Cornell, Fiorucci, Mini Clock, Montana, Pierre Cardin, Sergio Valente, Umbro, Wheel Watch) showed its interest in taking over the brand as it was being redefined by Jan Edöcs, a young manager who had worked alongside Paul Junod for many years. An agreement was reached to save the company. Paul Junod withdrew from the management team, ceding his place to Jan Edöcs, but maintained an independent position as designer for the 'new' Milus brand.

This was the beginning of a new era.

Leaving the ghetto

Jan Edöcs understood the potential of Milus' unique position in the realm of design and also realized that the brand had to leave the 'ghetto' it was in. In other words, he felt that the brand could maintain a “consistent and recognizable language” while taking into account the necessity to soften and personalize the design, making it more sensual and intimate using the noblest of materials…

Times had changed. There was a tendency towards more formal decoration and ornamentation, stone-setting, colour and sensuality in materials. Milus therefore had to move upmarket. Still conserving the principle traits of its appearance, the brand would offer a new approach to the product, to its environment, to its image…it would move into the realm of luxury. But 'luxury' as seen by Milus would still englobe the brand's basic values.

Interior richness

The luxury of Milus is a 'simple' luxury, if we might use this phrase. It is not ostentatious. On the contrary, it expresses a fine interior quality. This simple luxury conveys the 'interior richness' of the person who wears a Milus timepiece rather than being a 'statement' of 'exterior wealth' or 'social status'. This is the basic strategy underlining the new positioning of the brand.

Milus' new advertising campaign is designed to transmit these ideas and values by showing faces that are identifiable (an artist, a fashion designer, an interior designer, a photographer…) yet that are not 'star-like'. Above all, the product would be photographed 'eyes shut' in order to express its 'interior nature'. Luxury, according to Milus, has very personal meaning. The exterior appearance of the object must reflect the interior qualities of closeness, warmth, choice and intimate identification.

The test of the marketplace

This new and original positioning must stand the test of the marketplace. The main shareholder, Peace Mark, has offered the necessary financial backing for the brand to develop over the long-term, however, it does not play an active role in the day to day operations of the company. While the necessary funding is available for a global launch, Milus is taking as much time as necessary to be successful. It has resisted the temptation to expand rapidly into many markets at the same time.

Present at BaselWorld 2003, the brand will also be at BaselWorld 2004 and is now looking at key markets. “We will only sign distribution contracts with partners that present a clear and defined concept and who are committed to a long-term relationship. We have refused all propositions dealing with the short-term. If we claim to be unique in our category, it is imperative that we be credible.”

During 2004, Milus will gradually move into its first markets. In Europe, the brand's historic market is Austria-Germany, where it is establishing its own sales structure and service. Only 10% to 15% of retailers that currently represent the brand, i.e. whose status is judged sufficient, will be able to carry the 'new' Milus.

Also in Europe, Milus is going to establish or strengthen its position in other choice markets: Switzerland, obviously, because it is indispensable in terms of image; Great Britain, a market in full expansion that should welcome the originality of the proposed products; and Spain, the other historic market for the brand.

In Asia, Hong Kong is the second 'home market' of Milus. Even in this region, the brand's Chinese investors (undoubtedly influenced by the failures of certain past ventures involving other Chinese investors with Swiss brands) have given the Milus management team carte blanche to do as they see fit. Recently Milus organized one of its VIP 'pre-launches' in Hong Kong that it intends to use in all its markets. It involves getting people talking about the brand before the first product is placed in stores. To listen to the brand's managers, the concept is working and word-of-mouth talk of the brand is spreading. The first sales are expected this spring in Hong Kong, while the brand is keenly eyeing opportunities in mainland China, which should become a very important market for Milus.

Another region being considered is Japan where a similar pre-launch will be organized in the near future.

A place unto itself

Well, so what about the products themselves? Milus says that it occupies a place“apart,” that “won't compete with other distributed brands of the group but that will have its own niche.” About 75% of the offer is oriented towards the feminine market. The new Milus collection is made up of six basic lines and a special family of 'talking pieces'. Each of these families, whose names come from mythological constellations, offers a series of different models with a very characteristic form. The oval Monocera is carved from a single piece of metal. The Eridana has a very streamlined case. Ophoia is a veritable sensual sculpture. The surprising Persea has a central case supported by three rods. Then there is the softly angular Aurigos, and the perfectly classic Xephios.

In addition, a series of aptly named Talking Pieces completes the collection. Stone-set and decorative, these exceptional watches demonstrate the particular way that Milus creates its simple luxury. How to categorize it? The somewhat cold rigour of Milus over the last two decades has given way to new warmth. The forms conserve the essential simplicity but they have been softened. They are more sensual, more delicate, more precious.

Only steel, yellow or rose gold, sapphire crystals and the highest quality leather bracelets are now used. Careful attention to detail is seen in the polishing, the indices, and fold-over clasps. These timely 'sculptures' are soft and harmonious to the touch. The austerity of yesteryear is gone, yet the stylishness of the lines and volumes and the creativity of the shapes have all remained. The stone-set Talking Pieces perfectly illustrate the new concepts for 'simple' (real) luxury.

In the future, Milus has many plans that push the envelope of watch 'decor'. It also has been thinking about another client, the male consumer. Here, too, the brand has no ambitions to take the place of any other, merely to simply carve out its own unique territory.