Saturday, August 15, 2020

A Few Minutes With the Black Badger - James Thompson

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Steve Jobs
As a now world-renowned contrarian, I appreciate the people out there who chart their own 
course. For the most part, the thinking in the watch business is beyond antiquated. To paraphrase from Michael Lewis and Moneyball, more often than not the decision making paradigm is governed by picking the option that is least likely to fail, rather than the one that might just be crazy enough to work.  In essence, the potential pain and associated anxiety of looking bad drives most of the folks in Watch Town down the path of least resistance. Well, as the advertising revenues of Tempus Fugit will bear out, I am a fan of anyone who is ready to tilt at the occasional windmill or two.

And now, without further adieu, a few minutes with the Black Badger himself, James Thompson - 
Courtesy of James Thompson
(James Henderson) - What was your first watch? Was it a gift? Is there a story behind it?

James Thompson (Black Badger) - Hmmm when I was about 10 I got a Swatch Radar from my parents for Christmas. I recall being a little offended that I got a “small” one while my older brother got a large one. No wonder I bought a bigass Bell & Ross BRO1 as my first “real” watch around 2008. A tank that i absolutely adore.
Courtesy of Bell & Ross
Henki - When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

James Thompson - A pilot. Top Gun was the first VHS tape we got growing up, and my brother and I would watch it every single day when we got home from elementary school. My mom still knows all the dialogue from overhearing it hundreds of times. I didn’t discover art or design until after high school

Henki - Where did you go to school? What did you study?

James Thompson - I bounced around a bit with what I thought I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. I studied advertising production as I have a massive love for good tv commercials. I did a masters degree in industrial design between the Emily Carr Institute in Vancouver and HDK design school in Göteborg Sweden where I live now.

Henki - How did you acquire your "nom de lume" - Black Badger
James Thompson - Honestly? I thought it sounded cool and kinda SpecOps. I think I read too many Tom Clancy novels. I didn’t take it very seriously in the early days but now that I am where I am, the name kinda fits. I'm trying my hardest not to fit in.

Henki - How did you get involved in the watch business?

James Thompson - I was messing around with custom watch straps with Carl Evans of GasGasBones in the UK. This got me in friendly with Bell & Ross and Graham watches. Those were my first awkward steps in the industry. I’d say Stepan Sarpaneva has been the biggest mentor for me along the way though. He’s not a scary as most think, ha ha!
Courtesy of James Thompson
Henki - And while we're trying to get to know who the Black Badger (the designer) is, what exactly is Black Badger the business?

James Thompson - Meh who knows. Call it a materials orphanage and we can go away friends here!

Henki - In some ways, for some people, it seems like you came out of nowhere. Could you shed a little light on your journey from Canadian art student transplant to global watch sensation?
Courtesy of David Svensson
James Thompson - I think it really was just a case of the right place at the right time. I’m kinda like the Forrest Gump of design. And by keeping to my own aesthetic and not trend-chasing, it’s let me establish a rather strong visual identity in a relatively short timeframe.

Henki - Now as a fellow Northern Youth who found himself in Scandinavia, I have to ask - was this a plan, an happy accident, or something else?

James Thompson - Ha ha I was in the process of flunking out of my design school in Vancouver and was really looking for a totally different direction. We had a Swedish exchange student with us and I just loved the way Scandinavia approaches design. Much more holistic and thought-out, rather than just cool sexy shapes. I dig that way of working.

Henki - What is the best part about the work you do with watch brands?

James Thompson - I truly love pushing established brands out of their comfort zone. It tends to rivitalize the brands themselves, lets the maybe shake some dust off. And hey if it all goes to shit they can just blame it on me. Ha ha!

Henki - I realize that I might be in the minority here - but I thought that the Tag Heuer Coffee collaboration was the Witches Britches!  
Were you surprised by the reception?
Courtesy of Bamford Watch Department
James Thompson - That’s my wife’s favorite piece I’ve ever done actually. Both the visual look and the story behind it. The fact that it’s made from coffee isn’t super earth-shattering but the appearance and the detail of the dial I think is super interesting. Some people just thought we were taking the piss and joking around. Not at all the case. Introducing unconventional materials into modern watchmaking is what pays my rent, so no I don’t play around. Especially when it’s someone else’s brand I’m guest-starring with. But some of the online comments were just idiotic. People like to take shots at George Bamford and I really don’t tolerate that in a public setting. Purists won’t like what we do, and that’s fine. They weren’t invited to the revolution anyways.

Henki - If you weren't doing this, what do you think you might be doing?

James Thompson - In another life I would have been a chef I think. I get super inspired by all these fantastically creative people who travel the world and create amazing recipes from local and exciting ingredients. I mean have you heard Anthony Bourdain go off about a certain cut of meat, or Jose Andres making a Michelin-Starred dessert using Doritos and broccoli or something insanely unexpected. Pure alchemy and I love it.

Henki - What advice do you have for the next Black Badger out there?
James Thompson  - My weather-control device is almost complete...

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