Doug Cohen is, and has been, many things.
A pioneer of the turntablism scene; founder of a record label and open turntable showcase; one of the consultant co-designers on the Rane TTM-54; magazine editor; BBQ fiend; wine connoisseur… the list goes on. But his most recent persona seems to have stuck, unshakably, and despite Doug’s versatile background, his next step was nothing you could have predicted.
Doug Cohen makes watches.
When he saw Tableturns, his record label and touring DJ event, fold after the turntablist scene dried up, Doug opted out of the music business rat race. Starting up a fledgling watch company in 2007 on inspiration alone, Doug watched Flüd Watches grow from a tiny operation in his parents’ basement to a thriving concern in the urban watch market.
Frank151 had a chance to sit down with him and talk about timepieces recently; Doug’s answers were anything but reserved. (Ed. note — the views Doug expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Frank151, no matter how hilarious and incisive they might be.)FRANK151: So, why watches? What was it about the idea of starting a watch company that appealed to you?
DOUG: I’ll give you a business answer, I’ll give you a creative answer and I’ll give you an abstract answer. I’ll start with the abstract.
First, when I first started thinking about doing watches, the first name I thought of was Timeless. So cliché. I didn’t do it, obviously. But one of my ideas about Timeless was, like, “Who cares about the time?” In life, the only thing you really have is time. Eventually, your time runs out. You don’t have to pay for time. Time and air, they’re omnipresent in your life.
On a creative level, I was just like, “Man, who the hell looks at their wrist to tell the time?” I mean, I own a watch company, and I don’t even know that my watches are set to the right time. I live with my phone. My phone never leaves my hands. I can just click, see the time, see if there are any new messages. Everyone out there, everyone reading this, we’re all the same these days. You’ve got a cell phone, you’ve got a Blackberry, or a Sidekick, or an iPhone, or whatever the hell you’ve got. And it’s always in your hand.
Especially as men. Women are a little different, because their phones sit in their purses, which is a convenient excuse when their boyfriends call — “Oh, I didn’t hear, it was in my purse.” But that’s neither here nor there.
But, that’s it, creatively. I wanted to bring design back to [wristwatches]…. I mean, take a Rolex. Now, I’m not knocking Rolex, they are what they is, but a Rolex Submariner hasn’t changed in so long. It looks like what it looks like. Buy an Invicta for $100 that looks exactly like the Rolex, to the T, except instead of “Rolex” it says “Submariner.” You don’t care what movement is in the watch. Don’t lie to yourself. Why is that cool? Because it cost $10,000? It doesn’t look $10,000 if I can buy something that looks the same for $100. So I really wanted to bring that aesthetic value, that appeal, to the watch game.
And, on a business level, I just felt like no one else was doing what I wanted to do. I love watches, but when do you meet somebody that has a watch company? You don’t. And that really was one of the main things that drew me to it.
FRANK151: Where did the name, Flüd, come from?
DOUG: We wanted to do something more high-end at first. So we had that whole name, and that’s a whole other thing. I won’t speak too much more on that. But then we said, let’s launch with something more affordable. Let’s launch with something a little more… replaceable… in the sense that it’s a watch that’s there for you to buy and to have, but not for you to be like, “I can only wear this on special occasions,” or “If this gets scratched I’m gonna die.” You know? Just some shit where you could be like, “This is hot. I’m gonna rock this with this.” Take away the pretension from the price point, and bring it back more in style and design and concept.
So, what are we gonna call it? One of my partners, my man Naim, said “What about ‘Flood’?”
And I was like, “Why you wanna call it that?”
And he said, “Because we’re gonna flood the market.”
So we’re like, “That’s the answer. Cool,” but we didn’t want to spell it out, like F-L-O-O-D. So we added the umlaut [Ed. note: that’s the “ ü ” character], sort of as a joke on people.
And let me say, if you think it’s spelled F-L-U-I-D or pronounced “fluid,” then you’re wrong. It’s pronounced “flood,” as in, “my basement flooded.”
FRANK151: How did the initial brand design come about? Tell us about the turntable watch.
DOUG: The first line was… Well, I’m real proud of some of the stuff, but I’m definitely really excited to move on to the newer stuff. I wanted to pay homage to where I came from. And so I was like, “Let’s make a turntable watch. But I want it to be real authentic. I don’t want to print it flat. I want it to be 3-D. I want it to have depth.”
So that was the Tableturns, which I named after the open turntable event I threw, and it sort of bridged that gap in my life. Even though I didn’t want to do it anymore, I knew that everything in life helps you to get to where you are next, and [Tableturns] was such a big part of my life, on so many levels…. I wanted to bridge those gaps, so I came with the Tableturns.
And then I wanted to do something a little bit — well, the same thing idea, but a little bit less obnoxious. I mean, I think Tableturns came out real hot, and I like it even more than I thought I would. When I designed it, I was like, “This is cool [to look at], but I don’t know that I would wear it,” being totally honest. Because it’s true — it’s a turntable. It’s so in-your-face. But because we got so authentic with the detail, and it wasn’t cartoony at all, it comes off much better than I anticipated when I put it to paper.
So, I was like, “Let’s do something with the same idea, but a little more secretive.” So we did the record watch, which is the 33 1/3, which just [looks like] a record that sits on the platter. Most people don’t even know what it is. They just think it has sort of a Movado-ish kind of feel, but they think the dots on the platter look kind of blingy… which… I don’t know why I even used that word. Can we edit that for a different word?
FRANK151: Of course. What do you want?
DOUG: I don’t know. What’s a good word?
DOUG & FRANK151: Flashy. (laughter)
DOUG: But, it’s so when you look at it, and you can recognize what it is, you can be like, “Oh, that’s a record. That’s cool.” So those were some of the original designs. The other designs we put in were the Digi and the Plane, and there was the Crunchtime… and that was definitely a design that was a little more out there… doesn’t necessarily appeal to everybody. But there was even more with the color combos. Then there was the Kharupt, which … well, it was a mistake, so who cares about it? I mean, it was a cool idea, but….
FRANK151: What was the idea?
DOUG: Well, it’s a comic book artist named Khary Randolph, and it’s the cover of his book on the female form, and it just didn’t really….
FRANK151: Wait, tell us about the book?
DOUG: The book is just drawings of women — naked, pretty much — in comic book form. So, that was the cover … But [the watch is] so big. Women loved the watch, but it’s so big; men don’t really like [to wear] it, because it’s a [picture of a] woman’s face. So, it’s too big for women, but not styled for a man. Some women like the size anyway, but… The learning curve with doing watches, as opposed to clothing, is totally different. It’s much easier to make a mistake on a shirt than it is on a watch.
FRANK151: Especially because, in most of the streetwear scene, there isn’t anybody else doing watches, so there isn’t much precedent, in terms of design, that you can look back on.
DOUG: Exactly. So those dimensions, mechanically — they just don’t sit on the wrist the way I would have liked them to.
FRANK151: Have you gone and talked to people who’ve had a lot of experience producing or designing watches in other arenas?
DOUG: Well, now we actually added this cat to the design team named Garry Wallace. He designed watches before he worked with us… So that’s been a huge, huge help to us. I’m an abstract thinker. I can’t think detail to that point. I need somebody else to hit me with a detail, and then I can tell them if I like that detail, but I can’t just sit there and think out every millimeter. That’s just not how my brain works. So [Gary’s] just been a huge help, man, because he really understands the technical.
And you really need that in watches. Again — you can know design and do shirts. You can be like, “I like green. I like white. I’m gonna make a green pattern on a white shirt,” it’s easy. It just doesn’t work like that with watches.
FRANK151: Can you expand on why it doesn’t?
DOUG: Well, using that watch, the Kharupt, the watch was a wide band, like a bracelet, but we made the metal on the watch too thick on the bottom, so it sits really high on the wrist and you can’t tighten it enough, and it just sort of floats. So, that’s a mechanical thing where the technical dimensions weren’t set up exact enough where we knew it would sit well. It’s a lot of learning on the fly, figuring out how to create a piece.
Think of it in terms of — we’re sitting on a couch right now. Now, it’s easy to design a pillow. Stuffing, exterior. But how do you figure out the couch? How wide should couch be? How big should the cushions be? How high should the couch sit up from the floor? I mean, it sounds stupid, but when you’re doing three-dimensional design, of anything, it’s a whole other realm you’ve got to consider, more than doing a two-dimensional thing like clothing generally is.
FRANK151: So, is it just you creating the designs?
DOUG: No. I don’t do the physical drawings. I come up with ideas; the designs, by and large, come from my brain. There’s this other cat named John, he does some of the actual design details, and Garry now… they’ll put the ideas to paper and we’ll just keep working on it and working on it until it looks like what I’ve got in my head. Or one of my partners, Naim and Scott, might come up with something.
But it’s a combination of my influences: graf, hip hop… or even other, older watches. Like, we’ve got this one watch coming with our new stuff that has a cage over it. The original use for a wristwatch was for people in the army, so you could time your battles, your attacks correct. Regular people didn’t need wristwatches.
FRANK151: They had watch fobs.
FRANK151: So wristwatches were originally designed by the military?
DOUG: Pretty much. They were also for train conductors, that kind of thing. But it wasn’t an everyday thing.
FRANK151: The wristwatch wasn’t a consumer product.
DOUG: No, exactly. But because of that, they would put a gate over it the watch, to protect it from shrapnel or rocks or whatever. So, we did a watch that has a gate over it, as kind of a connection to that old school thing. Because I saw that, and I thought, “I like that,” and you still see it occasionally in some high-end watches, but you don’t see that in our price point. So, we wanted to kind of connect that and bring it to the people.
FRANK151: Give it a historical base.
DOUG: And again, it’s just a combination of my influences. We’re doing a wall clock, and we have this guy Jaes, who drew a wall clock where every number is a different graf style. So there’s a story behind every number. It came out really hot. We’re just trying to push those boundaries on what is a watch, what is a timepiece. Brands like Nooka or Tokyo Flash might make these real complicated watches, and that’s cool, but I want to stay within the concept of what a watch is, and change the way you might perceive it to look.
FRANK151: And besides Tableturns, you have a long personal history with the hip hop scene in New York, don’t you?
DOUG: I’m in this crew called TCK, which stands for whatever you want to call it. Top City Krew, True City Killer, Touching C-Kups, The City Kings… whatever you want it to be. We’d meet up, back in the day, at Footworks, which was the original sneaker boutique, owned by Bobbito and managed by Vaz TCK. We’d meet up there and romp up and down, kick it to girls, cause trouble, whatever. TCK is more than a graf crew. At its core, it’s a graf crew, but I never wrote graf in my life, and there’s mad other kids in the crew, from Pumpkinhead, Yak Ballz… Bzar, Kel, Rebel, Scram… Bobbito is in the crew… All kinds of people, man. Sometimes I’ll run into somebody, and I’ll find out that they’re in TCK. We’re all-city. My man Sege, the Mayor of Uptown, is TCK.
We’re just everywhere, always deep. Just a conglomeration of backgrounds — where you’re from, what you do. At the end of the day, we just came together like Voltron and put our stamp on everything. In the late 90s, hip hop in New York was TCK. Whether you knew it or not, we were synonymous with wherever you were and whatever you were doing. I don’t know that there was ever another crew like TCK or there ever will be another crew like TCK, anywhere in the world. You name it, we infiltrated it. It started as a graffiti crew uptown, in the heights, and it became so much more than that. Whether or not you’re aware of it, if you’re reading this, chances are you were impacted by TCK in some way.
FRANK151: I know you guys did some stuff at Magic; are there any other big steps coming up in the works for Flüd?
DOUG: Well, we’re doing Magic again, that’s where all the new stuff is gonna drop. We’re doing a show in Paris in Fashion Week called “Who’s Next?” — which we’re pretty excited about. But really, the name of the game is just to keep letting people know who Flüd is, letting people see what we’re about. Right now, you might have seen us and you’re like, “Oh, they’ve got that turntable watch.” And maybe you’ve seen the turntable watch but you have no idea what Flüd is. We just really want to build that brand, so we can do things, and we can keep growing.
FRANK151: Well, thanks for doing this.
DOUG: Thank you.