There are occasionally collaborations that happen between major fashion brands and watch companies. And that’s exactly what happened during the 1970s when Citizen paired up with French fashion house Yves-Saint Laurent to produce unique wrist watches.
Yves-Saint Laurent started back in Paris in 1962, founded by Yves Henri Donat Mathieu-Saint Laurent. He was born in Algeria but was from French descent. As a young man he then traveled to Paris and was quickly noticed by Christian Dior after he saw the 17-year-old’s sketches. Yves-Saint Laurent would then became Christian Dior’s personal assistant. After a nervous breakdown in 1960, he founded his own fashion house in 1962, quickly getting noticed among the fashion community within Paris! He was notable for introducing the idea of the haute peasant look, based on traditional Russian wear, among many styles. He grew the couture side of his business to a wide array of sectors which include fragrance, home linen, and others.
Saint Laurent sold a portion of the business to Gucci for $1 billion in 1999 and proceeded to shut down the couture side of it in 2002 after his retirement. Back in the 1970s, however, he looked East and partnered with Citizen Watch Co.
Citizen had collaborated with many brands in the past, but not too often a luxury fashion house.
In the 1970s, however, is when Citizen began their collaboration with YSL, producing Yves-Saint Laurent branded watches exclusively for the Japanese market. Citizen produced an extensive collection of dress watches for both men and women in Japan, with prices being high – but not astronomically high; ranging from about 30,000-yen to 50,000-yen. Most watches were designed with elegant square or tonneau case shapes, meant to evoke the elegant nature of the watches branded by the old French fashion house, Yves-Saint Laurent.
While not outright high-end watches, they were certainly in the ‘upper-middle’ range of Citizen’s offerings at the time.
When the Citizen YSL watches reached the North American market, a man named Mitchell Berlin was put in charge, who was formerly at May Co. and Lord & Taylor. This was the first time the Citizen YSL watches would enter the North American market as they had been previously distributed exclusively within Japan.
Citizen was extremely well regarded in the Japanese market – to the extent that it even made sense for Yves-Saint Laurent to partner with them from a brand perspective. Unfortunately however, this strength did not carry over to the North American market. Citizen, then and now, has generally had the same brand value associated with it on this side of the pond, although surely in the 1970s and 1980s it was perceived better than today. Nonetheless, it was certainly not on the level of YSL, and as it happens the collaboration was short-lived in North America, with the Citizen x Yves-Saint Laurent watches disappearing totally from the Citizen catalogue by the 1990s.
Nonetheless, an interesting and even peculiar chapter in the history of Citizen and in the watch industry! A time when the Citizens of the world could aspire to collaborate with the likes of Yves-Saint Laurent.
Visit the Montres Publiques website to read more about vintage watches, watchmaking history, and the watch industry as a whole https://montrespubliques.com/