Grammy-award winning musician Lenny Kravitz has established himself as a quintessential rockstar figure and musical provocateur. As of 2003, he added another accomplishment to an already lengthy list: he opened Kravitz Design, a creative firm focusing on commercial and residential design. With a client list that includes Swarovski, Fred Segal, Leica and more, the musician has well and truly shifted career paths.
His latest collaboration comes in the form of a limited edition Rolex conceptualized in partnership with Swiss timepiece makers Les Artisans de Genève. Like anything Kravitz does, it's an epic piece of work on par with that never-ending scarf he stepped out in all the way back in 2012 #NeverForget.
We caught up with the musician turned design maven to discuss inspiration, design and his most treasured timepieces...
What is the ethos behind Kravitz Design?
For me it's about creativity. We work in so many areas - we do interiors, architecture, products, wallpaper, carpets, lighting and graphic design. We also do branding, creation and packaging. It's really about using our creativity to beautify and inspire. When I'm doing interiors - especially the ones where you really have full creative freedom - it's about creating an environment for people to feel so comfortable and at ease. We want them to become inspired to live and feel better.
Are there particular time frames or design movements you draw from?
I've been into all kinds of things, but funny enough, when I first got into design I was very into Art Nouveau. That sort of sparked my interest in design - I was into Majorelle and all those people. Where I am now, the thing I continually go back to is Mid-Century Modern, both European and American. I'd say that period of the late '50s through the '70s is my favorite.
What was the design inspiration behind the limited edition Rolex?
For me a watch is a really beautiful instrument. I don't so much care what time it is but I do love watches, and I love how they're constructed. I've always been a fan of vintage Rolexes and I own a few. The Daytona is a classic watch. When you think back to guys like Steve McQueen, cats like him had these beautifully designed sport watches. I wanted to do something like that. I wanted it to be beautiful and elegant but at the same time very down-to-earth.
I wanted it to be something you could strap on and wear every day. That's why I went with the leather strap as opposed to a metal bracelet or a gold and steel strap. What I like about the leather is that as you use it, it creases the material in the same place, and the oil in your hands start to change the color and you get this beautiful patina.
It's just very simple and it's also sort of a companion to the Leica camera I designed in brass and black lacquer paint. When I have them both - they're the two things I have with me most of the time - they fit together.
How did you honor the vintage Rolex inspiration while still adding a modern touch?
Well we did something interesting which hasn't been done with a Rolex before. We had the classic Daytona but on the back you can see the movement. We also blacked it out so where the gold would be on the strap we used black gold, and also blacked out the face.
We also created the stereo box. When you buy watches they tend to come in these big boxes that end up in the back of your closet or at the top of your shelf where you'll never see them again. I thought it would be interesting to turn the box into something that you could actually use.
Do you often find yourself referencing music in your design?
Absolutely, but sometimes in a very abstract way. For instance, I was doing this house in Paris and the inspiration for the house was Helmut Newton, Yves Saint Laurent and Miles Davis. Now what does that mean? I know what that means: It's about tone and color and mood and a certain piece of music. So when I was building this house I was inspired by Miles Davis's scores from the movie Ascenseur pour l'échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows). There's a composition called "Florence sur les Champs-Élysées" and that ended up being the theme to the house. That piece of music with all of the imagery Miles Davis, Yves Saint Laurent and Helmut Newton, evoke made a complete picture.
When you think of Helmut Newton and his photos in the '70s of these nude women in opulent Parisian settings, or when you think of Yves Saint Laurent and his flair for style, color, shape and form, and his own interiors - his apartment was absolutely amazing - then you think of the music of Miles Davis and put it all together, that was the palette for that project.
Sometimes we'll be working on a project and let's say there are these very sultry, very sexy, moody colors like chocolate brown and coffee or burnt orange or burgundy, I'll say something like, "You know what, we need a little more Isaac Hayes." I know what that means because when you think of Isaac Hayes' voice, when you think of that deep baritone, it creates a visual.
Maybe that's because I grew up in New York City in the '70s with my parents who were friends with all of these actors, musicians and artists. I grew up around Miles Davis, I grew up around Duke Ellington, I grew up around Sarah Vaughan; I grew up around all of these people and we'd go to their houses. The inside of their homes were never about money.
An actor might be doing Off-Broadway and they might have a studio or a one bedroom apartment but it was the way they put things together. These peoples' houses looked like a million bucks and it was because they had taste. It was because they knew how to find things and make things and reclaim things. That's how I started designing - I started by picking things up off the street and repurposing them. So to answer your question, music definitely inspires my design all the time.
Do you have a favorite project?
They're all fun and they're all challenging. When you have a lot of money it's challenging, when you're working on a smaller budget it's just as challenging and just as fun. Our CB2 project was exciting because we're always working in such a luxury world and making furniture that's very, very expensive. We thought it would be really great to be limited and have to say, "This thing is going to cost 75 bucks or this thing is going to cost $200." The goal is to still make things that I could be happy with and use. I've even got my CB2 table - the little gold one with the wood top - right here next to my $50,000 Paul Evans console and they completely complement each other.
Everything that I make I use. I have two CB2 lamps here in my kitchen now. If I'm not using it I'm not making it and if I'm making it I'm going to be involved every step. Good design is being able to put a $100,000 thing next to a $20 thing. If it looks right and it works then it works. It doesn't have to be expensive; it's all about the high meets low for me.
You've been collecting for over 20 years, what's your most prized timepiece?
I'd have to say my favorite watch - just because of sentimental value - well, there are two of them: One is a Seiko watch of all things, from the early 70s. That was my father's watch and he wore it to work every day. My dad was a journalist with NBC news in New York City at Rockefeller Center. I keep his watch next to a picture of him.
I also have a Cartier watch. I forget the model number but it looks like the tank except it's fatter and longer. The point is it belonged to Bobby Short. Bobby Short was a singer and pianist who performed for 40-something odd years at the Cafe Carlyle at the Carlyle Hotel in New York City. He specialized in Cole Porter and Gershwin and sang all the great show tunes of the old days.
He was quite an elegant man who I saw often in childhood. Anyway, he wore a tuxedo every night with these beautiful slip-on tuxedo shoes in velvet. He would wear no socks and this Cartier watch. So after he passed away I got his watch and now it's on my mantlepiece in Paris. It's something that's very special to me.
Find out more insight into how luxury watches our made check out a behind-the-scenes look at a Rolex customization process here.