The day after Cortina Watch and Hautlence hosted “An Evening with Eric Cantona & Hautlence”, an exclusive event for clients, watch enthusiasts and members of the media, the football legend himself, as well as brand owner of Melb Asia Limited, CEO Bertrand Meylan, sat down for a chat at the Majestic Hotel.

Both men had spent the previous night entertaining guests, discussing the brand’s 2018 novelties and obliging football fans with selfies and autographs, but they showed up refreshed and prepared to talk about their partnership, and Hautlence’s new limited edition watch collaboration with Cortina Watch.

“We had a dream one day, and we created the Gentlemen Rebels Club and thought, who would be the best person to become its ambassador? The only name that came to our minds was Eric Cantona,” began Meylan, recalling the first moment the brand thought up the partnership.

“We are a small company with limited resources so we wondered ‘how do we get in touch with him?’ So we googled and found the email for his theatre agent, and soon we got a reply from his brother Jean Marie. We were introduced and Cantona liked the idea – we went with the approach that we don’t just want to use your image, we want to use your personality which was an important part of the partnership.”

Cantona, who achieved worldwide recognition and admiration playing for the Manchester United Football Club, quickly got on board with the idea, but he also expressed his interest in contributing in the creative department – his design contributions resulted in the creation of the Vortex Primary and the Invictus Morphos timepieces.

“The first thing he said was I don’t just want to use my image, I want to be a part of creating products, I want to be a part of the design team,” said Meylan, who says that growing up, he was a big fan of Cantona from the time he played on the French football teams.

HL Vagabonde Cortina Watch Limited Edition in rose gold

In a partnership that is approaching its fifth year and has been renewed for another three, both parties couldn’t be happier and according to Meylan, the only challenge is keeping up with Cantona’s limitless imagination.

“So for us, it’s amazing, the funny part is, every time we spend time together, a big part of our conversation will be about what else we can do and always what are our limits – his mind goes everywhere!” said Meylan with a laugh. “We still need to have feasible ideas, and we are currently working on a couple of extremely interesting and very new things for next year which I think will reflect a lot of who he is and what he is about.”

Cantona enjoys working with the team, who find his ideas refreshing as he doesn’t come with a background in watch design and therefore approaches ideas and concepts from a different perspective.

“King Eric” hung up his football boots in 1997, but his lasting impact is still felt to this day – everywhere he goes, he is recognised by all and is stopped every five minutes by fans for photos, according to Meylan.

Since his retirement he has taken on several endeavours, including acting – both on stage and on the screen – his cinema career started in 1995 with Le Bonheur est dans le pré, and since, he has starred in many films, notably Looking for Eric by Ken Loach.

He expresses his comedic side through Eurosport’s The Commissioner of Football skits, which can be viewed on YouTube.com, and frequently puts up humorous posts on social media, including pulling pranks on unsuspecting victims on his Instagram account. One of his more recent stunts involved pretending to run off with a pair of shoes from a traveller sleeping on a bench at the KL International Airport, right after disembarking from his flight.

“I like to feel alive, I like to try something exciting and take life how it is – which is a bit of a circus ,” said Eric, who also collects art, paints and even has his own line of organic t-shirts which he designed.

The charismatic Cantona commands attention even as he sits quietly sipping his tea, listening intently to his partner’s responses before composing his own.

On his partnership with Hautlence, Cantona loves expressing himself around the idea of time.

“I think I feel like part of the family, as Bertrand say I don’t have a limit but I know that with them there are some limits but most of the ideas are possible, and inside that limit we will try to find freedom, which is a great sensation,” he enthused.

Cantona says his design inspirations just come to him, and they are a way of expressing himself – to him his “work” doesn’t feel like a job.

“I don’t feel like it is work, for me it’s all about passion. I have this opportunity and it’s vital to express myself,” he shared.

As for Cortina Watch, the brand’s partner for the past six years, both parties felt it was time to come up with an exclusive collaboration, in the form of the HL Vagabonde Cortina Watch Limited Edition.

“We’ve been working with Cortina and I find it very important in today’s business that it’s a family relationship before business, our fathers were working together and now it’s the next generation working together,” said Meylan.

“This year we wanted to go a bit further by designing a watch together, and when they saw the Vagabonde in SIHH they wanted to do something special with the model,” said Meylan.

“They wanted the 5N red gold case, we did a different design with them and that was a very interesting process as well because it was designed with their customers in mind, we wanted to create more contrast, while keeping the DNA of the brand strong, but with a new approach.”