Meet the tattoo artist who designed a watch for Hublot
In 2016, Hublot presented a new Big Bang model that looks nothing like the what it has done. That watch, the Big Bang Sang Bleu, came with abstract geometrical lines all around, not just on the dial but also the bezel and the leather strap. It also has no hands, telling the time with rotating polygonal discs, and for the first time, Hublot uses a different set of typeface for the hour numerals. This awe-striking watch was the brainchild of Hublot's then-latest collaborator, Maxime Buchi, who's the founder of the Sang Bleu creative agency. Buchi is a Swiss tattoo artist and creative director who has dabbled in everything from graphic design, typography, clothing design, and publishing. His work has covered the bodies of thousands, including A-list celebrities the likes of Kanye West, Adam Lambert, and designer Rick Owens. His partnership with Hublot continues into 2017 with new variations of the Big Bang Sang Bleu now in King Gold and stainless steel with diamonds.
We noticed that a lot of your designs are centred on abstract, geometric shapes. What drew you to this style of tattooing?
It's a mix of things. I'm interested in many different things. Always been quite a multi-interest person, but what I found is that sort of abstraction has always been attractive to me. As a kid, I was always obsessed with science and science fiction; I wanted to be an astrophysicist. I was obsessed with stars and science from the conceptual aspect but also remember looking at equations, sheets of paper with formula on them, and thinking how beautiful they were. One of my uncles was an architect and I loved looking at architectural plans. I always liked lines, things that are abstract and line-y.
When and how did you incorporate them in your designs?
I always had that attraction but I couldn't say I always worked in that style. I did a lot of other stuff. I also like classic painting, expressionism, sculpture, installation, contemporary art, and then I got into typography... It's only later, progressively, that I got into graphic design, graphic expression, abstract painting and so on, and then even later when I started tattooing, I started being more aware of the so-called sacred geometry aspect, a term I don't like so much but it means anything that's abstract — shapes, geometry, et cetera — that expresses something more spiritual rather than scientific. You find it in alchemy, Buddhism, Islamic iconography... it's universal. So I started realising the universality, the crazy extent of geometry in general. As it's something I always felt to be attractive, I started applying it to tattooing and it worked pretty well. It seems to be a valid expression in tattooing and so it became something I specialised in.
Who does your body art?
I mostly go to two people. The first person who tattooed me was also my master. He taught me to tattoo, Filip Leu. Another person, also one of my main inspirations ever, called Thomas Hooper. Basically my back is Filip Leu and my front is Thomas Hooper. More or less. With quite a few souvenirs from other people but that's mostly it.
Tell us about your day-to-day.
I'd say 70 per cent of the tattoos I do are challenging and interesting. Even small tattoos can be very interesting, from weird or extreme stuff like tattooing a face or a full body suit on someone, to tattooing celebrities, the paparazzi coming to stalk you... That's what's amazing about tattooing. Every day there's something weird happening. All the time, you'll always be confront by incredible new things.
How has this profession influenced your own identity, the way you dress, and the things you like?
I have been more interested in style than fashion because style is culturally specific while fashion is like Paris, Milan... I am interested in fashion now, but when I grew up I was more aware of style, not fashion as such. Hippies and goths, punks, how they dress... When I was a skater I wanted to dress like a skater. It's a way to connect with people. Even tattoos, what do they mean, who gets tattoos, et cetera. It was a kind of social communication, a way to express your identity, trying to understand how can I use it as a tool to express myself. I started with streetwear and hip-hop stuff, then got into fashion. It's all socially relevant to who I am, where I grew up, being European, near to France. I always like luxury, the world of expression of refinement and power. I was progressively educating myself in fashion.
Whose works in fashion do you admire?
I like a mix of very high fashion cross with a certain classicism. I love designers like Thom Browne because he does the most incredible shows but at the end his work is quite conservative. I really enjoy this. I've never connected much with the whole luxury-meets-rock-and-roll-type thing. I have no interest. If I want to do streetwear, or a more pop thing, I want the real thing. I don't want a fashion brand to sell me ripped jeans. I want the real thing. I would wear sportswear crossed with a luxury bag or a luxury watch. My glasses are Saint-Laurent but then I wear a Nike cap or shoes and a t-shirt I designed myself. It's really about my identity.
What else do you like?
I always like Prada for a nice balance of classicism yet really high level of fashion innovation, but I think people like Ricardo Tisci, what he's done with the menswear at Givenchy has been amazing, the kind of luxury streetwear he managed to create, or what Rick Owens has done by creating a new silhouette, creating a whole new world, has been amazing as well. I have a lot of Rick Owens stuff but I would never dress in the Rick Owens silhouette because it doesn't suit me at all. The other reason is that it's not me as a whole but the spirit of it I really like. That's what I'm hoping to achieve with my own designs, like the spirit of what Vêtements is doing.
Has anything in fashion inspired or influenced your work?
I did a collaboration with McQueen a few years ago. What I want is to represent in my vision something that represents the lifestyle and people like me, which is what I did with Sang Bleu magazine, when I started it. There's a brand, Cottweiler, that is currently also one of my favourites; they're friends as well they do fantastic work in menswear. There's a very interesting scene of young designers in London in particular. We did a presentation for LFW the other day that went really well with some Swiss designers. I'm working on a collaboration with Alyx Studio, they're doing some fantastic work, also collaborating with Damir Doma, a really interesting designer. But then you know on all kinds of levels I grew up loving the works of artists like Josef Beuys. I love fine art, the very abstract and sculptural, like Pierre Huyghe. I like different painters, Oscar Tuazon, architectural beautiful work, this Swiss artist called Fabrice Gygi, not very famous but one of my favourite artists ever, who really brought something in art that is so close to what I would like to achieve. I'm very inspired by fine arts even more than everything else and the spirit can be applied to many different things.
What's the overall experience been like, working together with a brand like Hublot?
It has been amazing. The whole team has been nothing but keen to try and make any idea work. Their efficiency and open-mindedness made it by far the most pleasant collaboration experience I've had so far.
How did you arrive at the final design of the Big Bang Sang Bleu?
It is a shape that I constructed using the very structure and design of the Big Bang shape. I wanted to push it as much as I could, but without adding new design elements as such. Only expanding lines and structures already existing.
What do you like best about the timepiece?
The way the light reflects on the discs.
At which point did Hublot give its input, which you felt made a strong impact on the final product?
By simply deciding to go for the most extreme idea I had!
What's the difference between a good tattoo artist and a great one?
What makes a great tattooist is someone who thinks a tattoo for a person, not just applying a design that they want onto anyone. Someone who's able to find and say, "this is what you need" for you, who manages in a few minutes that they get to meet a person, to find the right thing for that person. Of course it has to do with the design but the design is a means to an end, it's a brick for a house. What counts is not the brick but the house. If you've done a good tattoo, you have improved, enhanced a whole person. You haven't done a good design; you've made a whole person better, or look the way they want to look. You are a facilitator, you need to work for that person and amplify and express who that person is, with just whatever you have at disposal. If you're an aesthete, you don't just apply your aesthetic to just anyone — a person is not a canvas — but you create an extension, an enhancement, of the person using your skills. This is what great tattooing is.
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