Lenny Kravitz on Design, Repurposing Rich People's Toss-Outs & Not Being The 'Asshole' He Plays on TV
Lenny Kravitz flew away from winter. The New York native is currently tucked away in the Bahamas working on, well, a lot. And much of it likely would come as a surprise to most who admire the Grammy Award-winning musician for his catalog of rock hits. Most recently he collaborated with acclaimed watch brand Rolex. Modeled after their classic Daytona, the LK 01 is a limited-edition (55 total) Rolex that Kravitz designed with Geneva indie house Les Artisans De Genéve and is sold exclusively at Colette in Paris, France for $41,855.
At any given moment, Lenny and his staff at New York-based Kravitz Design might be working on household essentials—a chic doorknob series here, a cool camera there. Or something massive, like 75 Kenmare, the downtown NYC condominium he's lent his aesthetic to which they’re putting the finishing touches on.
During a chat from the Bahamas, the singer, actor and full-fledged designer talked to Billboard about the LK O1, why he furnished his first home with rich people’s toss-aways, and how he’s totally not the jerk he plays on Fox’s Star.
It seems like most artists move at their own pace and not on regular people time, so it’s interesting that you’re partnering with a watch brand.
[Laughs] I’m not one who really cares what time it is. I kind of live on artist time. But I think watches are fascinating instruments. And the vintage Rolex has been something that I’ve admired, so when the opportunity came along to do my own version of the Rolex Daytona, I did it. And it’s the watch that I wear now. It’s just such an iconic piece. It’s a historical watch worn by great icons.
The Barenia calf leather band has this tinge that gives it both a rugged and regal feel. Why was that important to you?
Back in the ‘70s my dad would have these watches with these really cool, sport leather bands.They were meant to be really sexy, but also really masculine and sophisticated. So I thought, you know, everyone wears bracelets. For my aesthetic, having the leather band—especially the shape that it is, it’s not straight as you see it. It’s straight where the bands are and then it widens out where the watch is and then it goes back again.
The thing I like about it is each time you put it on and each time you strap it, you’re putting your personality into it. Every time you touch it over the years, the oils in your hand get into the strap. It’s going to change color. It’s going to get rich and it’s going to get better with age. Just like a a leather jacket. It’s about breaking it in. So this watch, just by virtue of having that band, will create that and have more of a personal feel.
It becomes lived in.
It’s about all that. Which is why everybody’s making distressed things now. But it’s more fun to distress it yourself. It takes time though. When you do it, you remember how you did it and where that rip came from or, “God, I’ve been wearing this jacket for 10 years. This is why it’s worn here.” I always like the decay of things. Even in architecture, when the buildings get old, when the wood begins to age and gray or get darker. I love that metamorphosis in things.
A Rolex has kind of become the go-to arrival piece. What are some of the things you bought when you felt confident financially confident?
Hmm, maybe like three or four years after my first record [Let Love Rule], I started to get things like that. Because the first thing I got was property. [My thought process was] “If I never make another dime, I’ve got a place to live.” When I had the freedom to actually walk into a shop and buy things—because I hadn’t been able to buy anything of years. I moved out when I was 15 and I living on the street and on couches in people’s house. There wasn’t much buying. It was about surviving.
So after that, I got a Harley Davidson. I rode that motorcycle everywhere. Then I got a Rolex down here in the Bahamas in Nassau. Then I got a great stereo.
With all the traveling and touring you’ve done, you’re a world citizen. How does seeing the world inform your style?
It’s all about traveling and exposure and seeing things each place that you go. You learn by your journey. Travels, reading and beautiful photography. Seeing what influences artists you appreciate. Seeing things first hand. That’s the education. Seeing that in this place only this material is made. In this place, this jewelry is made. Then you find the things that work for you and incorporate them.
There’s a legendary picture of you in NYC with a massive scarf on. Clearly, you’re not bundled up like that now.
That thing will not go away! What’s funny is that they’ll blow it up and make the scarf even bigger than it was. It’s so funny. That thing just keeps on popping up. But yeah, that was a cold-ass day. I’m in 70-degree weather now. So it’s all good. I am not wearing that scarf.
Let’s talk about Kravitz Design. Most of your music fans likely don’t know you’ve crafted more than songs. When did you get the itch to create in other realms?
Kravitz Design officially started in 2003. But it had been going on long before that. I just hadn’t opened up an office yet. I had always been into design aesthetics without really knowing about it. Growing up I was always aware of my environment. My surroundings. The way I would do my room, the way I knew it would make me feel. I was a kid, but I would do it my way. The music. The lights. After I did my first record and I had my first place, I couldn’t really afford to get what I wanted. I would find things on the street. People in New York were always putting out couches and chairs and tables. You’d see stuff on the sidewalk that rich folks were putting out there. It was shit that was still decent. You’d bring it home and then you’d customize it, repurpose it. Make it different. That’s how I started. That’s how I started. And then it just grew from there.
Now we’ve grown into a company. We’re doing condominium buildings, hotels, furniture, carpets, accessories, lighting. Wallpaper. There’s a collection of door handles we just did. Graphic arts. All kinds of things. And also, private homes. I enjoy it as much as making music.
The great Philippe Starck encouraged me. He saw my work in Paris years ago and hooked me up with his team and business people and said, “You really should be designing.” So I give him a lot of thanks for the encouragement and the push. We’ve collaborated twice on the SLS Hotels and on a chair for Kartell. He was a great help. And he’s become a great friend.
Some might assume you simply just approve ideas that are already formed. What kind of designer are you?
If I’m not hands-on and I’m not in it and feeling it and I’m not inspired by it and I’m not going to use it, then I don’t do it. I think people were surprised to see me on location with the hard hat on with the construction team. Because, yes, a lot of people just look at a finished product and say Yes or No or, “Make it lighter” or darker. For me, it’s about the process. The creating is the fun part. Just saying Yes or No to something? That's fine, too. You’re curating. But for me, I like to have fun with the creation.
Who has more style: You, Roland, or your Hunger Games character Cinna the stylist.
Oh, I do. Absolutely. Though they’re all pretty cool.
You never take more than three to four years to put out new albums. Strut came out in 2014. You working on putting one out this year?
Oh yeah, there’s one coming this year. I’m working on it right now.