by Adnan Arif
Four years ago, a frustrated creative took a chance and released two limited edition watches. Today, Matthew Waldman is the man behind Nooka, a fashion forward brand that has enjoyed a lot of love from the media and celebrities alike. He’s even featured in a new book called Design Enterpreneur by Steven Heller and Lita Talarico.
Recently, I got the chance to catch up with him:
Wrist: When I first interviewed you back in 2004, you had just parted ways with Seiko and were about to launch a limited edition Nooka despite some skepticism from some of the people around you. Looking back, How do you feel about your journey so far?
Matthew: The journey has been utterly amazing! I had no expectations when I produced the first 2,000 pieces and even thought that I might end up with a bedroom full of future gifts to give out the rest of my life! From that I now have a thriving business with offices in new york and tokyo, get fan mail, and have my designs on people I admire.
Wrist: Nooka has been a media favorite. it gets a lot of publicity and has made its way on the wrists of many celebrities like T.I, Alicia Keys, Kanye West, among others. Have their been any notable celebrities that you met or became friends as a result of your Nooka project?
Matthew: Although it may look strategic, most of the celebrities you mentioned found Nooka on their own, which to me makes it even more meaningful.
But because of that, I don’t have a chance to develop any relationships with them. I was invited to a kanye west concert as a ViP, but no one explained that the pass was best used to go back stage when the opening acts were playing! We tried to go back stage after the show which wasn’t allowed so that was a missed opportunity, but I now know for next time.
I have also become friends with miho hatori, who was with the NYC based band Cibo matto in the 90s and has released 2 amazing solo albums since then. she has a very philosophical approach to her music and she understands the story behind my designs with no explanation, which is pretty amazing.
Wrist: You never set out to be the watch guy 5 years ago. Do you feel like one now? How do you feel about your position in the wristwatch industry?
Matthew: I don’t feel like the watch guy because Nooka is not really treated as a watch brand by both our customers and retail stores. Positioning Nooka as a fashion brand has been well-received.
As for my position in the watch industry, I’m a minor player by any standard. We are still a small, self-financed start up with lots of growth potential.
Wrist: There is a stereotype for digital watches as mass selling purely functional non-fashion pieces. Even Hayek avoids digital for his cheaper Swatch line. There are very few brands that have tried to break the mold – Ventura tried with its high-end Swiss made digital watches, Casio recently became a retro fashion icon purely by accident and not because of any intentional branding on their part. And then there’s Nooka. What is your opinion on the subject?
Matthew: Honestly, watches are a dying product that will only survive as jewelry or fashion. a watch maker may not have the experience or perspective to be a fashion designer.
For me, Nooka is the end product of a design process i started with web interfaces and intuitive design, not a “let’s design a watch” mindset.
In actuality, I am the new consumer, so I design for people like me, people who want something new and fresh. It’s interesting that you mentioned Ventura, as they just recently went under. I was a great fan of their product, but they were not good communicators. It’s a shame to see a great brand die like that.
I’d actually have no problem consulting with these larger companies as I respect what they do and would love to license some of the citizen technology for future nooka designs.
We wanted to do something with Ventura, but they never returned a call or emails. perhaps the people who bought them will be more receptive?. i feel there is still a lot of room for healthy competition. [ I do not include brands that simply copy what i am doing].
Wrist: You once mentioned to me that you wanted to make a Nooka Phone watch. is that still on the cards or are you now more focused on fashion?
Matthew: I’d prefer to design an actual phone, not a phone-watch. I’m confident I can make it happen in 2 years, but it’s not the kind of product to do without a partner who has that experience.
Wrist: You’re a artist as well. Can you tell us about your own work?
Matthew: Psychologically, my fine art is a vehicle to express frustrations with society in a subversive and indirect manner.
On another level, I love working with new materials, colors and themes in an unconstrained context. this frees up the mind and creates new spaces for me to design better products.
Wrist: You and Nicholas Hayek have both positioned your watches as wrist art that tells time. Him, with his mechanical monstrosity and you with your digital abacus. Any comment?
Matthew:No matter how many hours of work or jewels a fancy watch may have, it’s not art simply because it’s expensive.
Art has a different set of definitions. Art is a creation that elicits an emotional response from the viewer or provokes new thought. Nooka, in its unconventional graphic system, challenges people to rethink the ordinary. I truly believe that it is both good design and fine art. But then again, I am the creator behind it.
Moreover, Nicholas is a billionaire, and I live in a rented one bedroom apartment in lower manhattan!
Wrist: Your art has revolved on fantasy and futurism, one of your recent columns for a japanese magazine revolved on the vanishing remnant of futurism in new york and your current positioning with Nooka is sci-fi inspired. How do you feel about how the future seems to have moved to the East, what with the developments in the Middle East, India and the Far East?
Matthew: Nooka has always been a product of futurism and sci-fi optimism.
I don’t agree that futurism has “moved to the east.” true, there are incredible architecture projects in the Middle East, but they are not 100% local affairs.
The architects are for the most part from NYC, London, Nederlands, and Switzerland. Even the construction workers are imported! These types of things always move where the money is.
I certainly am impressed with the vision of government of Dubai for creating these structurally amazing cities. but honestly, can they really turn into vibrant urban centers and generators of innovation like NYC, Tokyo and London without the critical mass of a large population and a liberal social structure?
Futurism isn’t anything until “local” = “global”.
That said, it saddens me that NYC lacks both the vision and funds to move into the future, but it’s important to realize that NYC is neither a national nor a regional capital in terms of tax revenue. the lion share of NYC’s tax dollars goes to Washington! maybe one day i can run for mayor or governor?
Beijing looks like it’s got the balance right by putting incredible amounts of money into both infrastructure AND arts programs. you will soon see movies coming out of studios in Beijing with international creative crews. let’s see how well Beijing matures as a 21st century city.
I can actually write about this subject for pages and pages so I’ll stop myself by saying that I’d love to visit the Middle east and see all this development first hand. I may also go to beijing this winter.
Wrist: Nooka has done a lot of collaborations. Any more on the horizon?
Matthew: Yes! I love collaborations. we have something with kidrobot coming up as well as something with hellz bellz [a US women's street wear brand] coming out this winter.
Wrist: Finally, what exciting new things should we expect from Nooka?
Matthew: Our line of non-time related accessories will launch in 2009!