Nixon is a premium accessories brand for the youth lifestyle market that, until very recently, wasn’t on my radar at all. The brand was founded in 1998 in Encinitas, California, with a small line of watches that were sold exclusively through specialty boardsport and fashion retailers. They’re now in over 90 countries and include carry and travel bags, leather goods and other accessories as part of their product portfolio.
What caught my eye about this brand has nothing to do with its surf, skate and snow roots or the exotic locations of some of its global offices and retail stores, which include Bondi, Australia and Kuta, Bali. I’m not even a watch enthusiast, so it wasn’t that either. What I found fascinating about Nixon is their unique approach to licensed product design.
Typically, a consumer product licensee is eager to make a big visual splash in the marketplace with its licensed brand acquisitions. More often than not, their products are emblazoned with the property logo, character imagery and the most equitable design assets associated with the brand. After all, this is what fans are looking for in consumer products featuring their favorite entertainment properties, right?
Not true at all for Nixon.
In 2014, Nixon teamed up with Lucasfilm to create a line of Star Wars watches and accessories, dubbed Nixon x Star Wars, that are the epitome of refinement and subtlety in licensed product design. They’ve exercised an incredible level of restraint while designing the Star Wars collection, allowing them to stay uncompromisingly true to their own visual aesthetic. Rather than hitting fans over the head with character imagery or and overt use of iconography, the designs refer to the characters they’re depicting through visual “hints” that can only be discerned by avid fans of the Star Wars franchise.
Take the 51-30 Star Wars watch, for example. At first glance, you might notice the olive green and burgundy rotating bezel, but wouldn’t likely associate it with Boba Fett’s color palette. However, closer inspection would reveal Jaster Mereel’s insignia on the left subdial and Boba Fett’s carbine rifle with “DEAD / ALIVE” on the right subdial. And only the most hard-core fans of the bounty hunter will pick up on the representation of his kill stripes on the dial ring. Wearers will have to remove the watch from their wrist to show the back of the case, which features an engraving of Boba Fett’s helmet along with the Star Wars logo and ”AS YOU WISH,” his iconic line from The Empire Strikes Back.
Even more discreet is the Ranger Chrono Star Wars watch. Its case is made entirely of gunmetal stainless steel. The most telltale details are the subdials, which are inspired by the Millennium Falcon’s main cockpit window and gunner’s window. Even the geekiest of Star Wars enthusiasts may miss the custom molded cannon fire hour and minute hands and hyper-drive inspired second hand. The back of the case for this particular model is engraved with the cockpit window and Star Wars logo along with Han Solo’s famous words “NEVER TELL ME THE ODDS.”
My personal favorite? The 51-30 Leather Star Wars watch, which is a beautiful depiction of the Surpreme Leader of the First Order, Kylo Ren. The rotating bezel is inspired by the silver details of the character’s helmet, while the First Order icon marks 12 o’clock. Seconds are counted off by Kylo’s lightsaber within the subdial and the crown is designed to look exactly like the sizzling weapon’s hilt. Engraved in the back of the black case: Kylo’s helmet and hood, the Star Wars logo and the phrase “NOTHING WILL STAND IN OUR WAY.”
Nixon embraces the same design sensibilities with other products in the Nixon x Star Wars collection. Check out the full range of Star Wars watches bags, belts, and wallets at Nixon.com.
It may not be appropriate for all licensees, but there’s no denying the desire that can be generated among fans when licensed products are designed with a discreet approach. There’s a “cool” factor in owning licensed products that have been designed in this manner. It tells other Star Wars fans that you’re one as well, in a visual language the only they will understand, while showing your affinity for a particular character or story arc. A ”secret handshake,” if you will. Most importantly, products that leverage subtle character attributes and iconography tell the brand story in a way that establishes a powerful emotional connection with only the most loyal and avid enthusiasts.
This is just one example of a licensing collaboration that generates excitement among fans through discreet and tasteful product design. What are some others that come to mind?