Interview: Virgil Abloh and Gorden Wagener imagine a new kind of luxury design

G-Class by Mercedes-Benz AG & Virgil Abloh

Project Geländewagen is a fictionalised G-Wagen/G-Class racecar, stripped of all clichés of opulence. This experimental project is the collaborative work of the Mercedes-Benz creative chief Gorden Wagener and Louis Vuitton’s menswear artistic director and founder of fashion label Off-White Virgil Abloh. The product they have imagined together is the antithesis of the polished and flawless world of luxury to offer an alternative approach.

Intrigued by the possibilities of injecting a little of the theatre of fashion to the more subdued world of motoring, I set up a remote interview with the two creative directors to see how the ideas expressed here could potentially entertain the future of Mercedes cars. I also asked what the lessons they may have learned from this pandemic and the approaching climate crisis.

Take a look at what they have to say here

All images © Daimler AG

Mercedes design chief Gorden Wagener on how he plans to take the brand into the sustainable era

Daimler chief design officer Gorden Wagener with Vision AVTR at CES 2020
Daimler chief design officer Gorden Wagener with Vision AVTR at CES 2020

As chief design officer for Daimler AG, Gorden Wagener has the complex task of directing the design for Mercedes, Smart, AMG, Maybach cars, among other brands within the group. Lately, he has been consumed with the new EQ electric sub-brand and with such experimental cars as the Vision AVTR. Here he explains his mission to me.

Electric luxury: Mercedes-Maybach Vision 6 Cabriolet

Vision Mercedes-Maybach 6 Cabriolet studies the ultimate in luxury electric driving for the Mercedes-Benz pinnacle sub-brand. Exhibited at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance this week, it recalls a more innocent time when coachbuilders sculpted hand-finished, exclusive cabriolets. To me it is a smile and a nod to my favourite era, the world of Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, the French Riviera, “To Catch a Thief”… Read the full story here.

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Top five creative moments in car design in 2016

As we start to bid farewell to 2016 and welcome a new year with all its fresh promises, I started to put together a list of my top five interesting speculative car design moments of this year. BMW Group’s Vision Next 100 collective of concept cars for MINI, BMW and Rolls-Royce was the first to come to mind as these vehicles are a bed of vibrant ideas, begging to be explored. Then came Bentley, and the marque’s softly radical approach to the future of luxury in the world of ecological, autonomous driving.

Tesla, of course, had to be included for its dismissal of the strict automotive codes in so many ways – with the products, the people, the stores, the approach. Jaguar Land Rover ‘s impressive contemporary life cannot be ignored.

And Volvo, for as skeptical as I initially was about the company under a very different ownership, the brand has really moved forward in new and exciting ways to remain Swedish in spirit yet rather than be a Scandinavian parody, the marque now represents a nation that is global, connected and therefore exciting.

There are, of course, others doing equally interesting work too – Lexus with its uniquely brilliant vernacular, Mercedes-Benz and its confident design language, Maserati’s successful venture into new segments, Audi’s clear visual language, Volkswagen’s brilliant electric world car proposition. But five was my number so…

… here’s my list and in no particular order: via ForbesLife

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
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What is luxury? Mercedes-Benz design director discusses

The concept of luxury has evolved to include a much more complex set of values. Time, authenticity, legacy, access, resource, journey, skills and memory – these are just some of the concepts joining the more classic terms associated with luxury. And going forward, when the car becomes essentially a high-tech gadget in the age of autonomous driving, what will define true luxury?

In the fifth of our interviews with some of the leading creatives, Gorden Wagener, director of Daimler AG design and responsible for Mercedes-Benz offers his thoughts.

Design Talks. How do you see Mercedes-Benz car design responding to the concept of modern luxury?

Gorden Wagener. Sensual Purity as the expression of modern luxury – that is the design philosophy of Mercedes-Benz. Our aim is to create clear forms and smooth surfaces that act as a stage for the high tech while arousing emotions.

People are after something genuine, experiences that are both emotive and authentic. The interior in particular is a living space that is characterised by sensuality and luxury at Mercedes. Purity is modernity while sensuality is the very opulence, beauty and pleasure inherent in beautiful forms and high-quality materials such as soft leather.

DT. How will this be unique to the marque?

GW. The uniqueness of Mercedes-Benz design lies in the combination of sensuality and purity, of luxury and purism. Although seemingly a contradiction in terms, these opposites are also deeply rooted in our DNA.

Our design philosophy perfectly encapsulates this fundamental aspect of the brand – the bipolarity of intelligence and emotion. Rationale forms one half of the brand essence, of which Carl Benz is symbolic, with the other half influenced by Gottlieb Daimler and the era of the early racing cars and classic cars. This is why excitement, desire and pleasure are essential to the brand.

DT. Your recent series of concept cars, in particular the F 015 Luxury in Motion, is an intriguing study into the possibilities of car design in the age of autonomous driving. How do you see the future of car design in the context of driverless cars?

GW. The aim of autonomous driving is to ease the burden on the driver in many situations, for example in heavy motorway traffic. And when the car can drive itself, the interior above all takes on a whole new meaning. It becomes a space in which you can do many of those things that you are currently forbidden from doing while driving or that you simply cannot do because you have to drive the car.

The car becomes the ‘third place’ where you can work, relax or invite your friends into the car via video conferencing. This provides wonderful inspirations for the designers because the car of the future offers both possibilities: a lounge-like atmosphere as well an automotive experience.

DT. How will it impact on exterior design?

GW. The exterior design will also change. The looks should emphasise and possibly even indicate autonomous driving. Through the use of technology and design elements we can raise the awareness and looks of autonomous cars.

On the F 015 Luxury in Motion, for example, the LEDs on the front and rear interact with the surroundings so others see the car is driving autonomously. And it has no edges, lending it the sensually pure form that is a Mercedes-Benz hallmark.

Nargess Banks

Read our previous interview on the subject of modern luxury and car design with Bentley design director Stefan Sielaff, and Jaguar’s creative lead Ian Callum here.

Read more about the F015 Luxury in Motion and Mercedes-Benz design here.

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Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
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