Sunday, September 7, 2014


Infiniti faces a unique challenge as a luxury automotive brand. The fads of the fashion world are increasingly influencing how vehicles are designed and styled. manufactured products, such has automobiles,  computers, automobile interiors, office materials, A tiny minority of people can create an explosion of products. And that’s because it’s a tiny minority of a very big number. That’s the beauty of the whole thing. If you put the tools of production in the hands of millions of people and only one percent of them turn that into entrepreneurship, that’s still thousands of new entrepreneurs, new companies and new product categories that wouldn’t have otherwise existed. All of these skills are necessary to create an effective, appealing product. 

Walking into the recent GILT City + Infiniti event at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York, it was immediately obvious that this wasn't a standard vehicle event—this was another experience entirely. Once allowed inside, attendees entered the lavishly decorated space, received a glass of champagne, and were invited to experience the cars up close. There were no auto journalists in sight; they were instead replaced by Manhattan's fashion elite. Drab suits and slacks made way for daring thigh-high crocodile skin

This wasn't the official Q50 reveal; that happened back in Detroit last January. This event was, however, a far clearer picture of what Infiniti wants to be than any auto show could ever reveal.

On the surface, the partnership between Infiniti and these two designers may seem like just another in the overstayed trend of celebrity creative directors. But digging in deeper reveals that this partnership is much more that of a spokesperson, and the effects of this partnership have already influenced the way Infiniti thinks about its own design.

The worlds of fashion and automotive design are far more similar than one might think, particularly in the luxury space. Fashion designers strive to create timeless design—something that feels fresh and current now but that the consumer will be just as comfortable wearing ten years from now. Auto design is similarly challenging. Designers need to consider that while some buyers will turn around a lease every two years, many cars will remain in driveways for a decade. Both need to consider the combination of soft materials and hard finishes, the use of various metals, how color plays into design without becoming overbearing, the quality of the materials, and how things feel to the touch. For luxury automotive, designers need to strike the fine line between fashionable and daring vs. a long product life and everyday use. With the costs of R&D and the highly-competitive landscape, it's a very expensive line to find.

"The design of the cars is always paramount," said Keith St. Clair, director of marketing for Infiniti USA, in a recent phone interview. "The curb appeal will always be critical. To buyers, their cars, they're expressions of themselves. The cars essentially serve as fashion."

In that sense, there is no better partner for a luxury car brand than a fashion designer. Unlike celebrity "creative directors" who typically carry little to no experience in product design, these two men have built their careers on it. That the panels are also covered with fabric marked by square, convex bumps ties into yet another fashion trend,.In a market where Infiniti is trying to appeal to the fashion-savvy, it's a smart move to go directly to the source.

"You just look at the latest architecture and it blends into the environment,'' Lai says, noting the former's luxury New York apartment building that has a rumpled stainless steel skin resembling a piece of fabric blowing in the wind and the latter's design for a private San Diego residence that looks like a space station. This isn't to say it's always automotive designers looking to other industries for inspiration, rather than the other way around.

For Mark Armstrong, creative director for Blue Sky Design - a multidisciplinary firm that designed not only the portable cauldron that was used in the Sydney Olympics relay in 2000 but also Qantas's new check-in areas across the country - car dealerships are often his first port of call when brainstorming a new product.

''If we want to create a feeling of luxury, then spending some time inside a Bentley or Rolls-Royce [showroom] is really good,'' Armstrong says.

Reflecting on this partnership, Browne said, "I went into this project almost as if I was designing a made-to-measure suit—everything from selecting the materials and colors to tailoring the upholstery to fit the curved lines of the interior, and also making sure the hallmarks of my design aesthetic are still reflected throughout."
One of those hallmark elements is a completely chrome exterior finish, including the wheels. In an industry where chrome finish usually equates to gaudy and overdone, like Justin Bieber's notoriously hideous Fisker Karma, Browne's Q50 is surprisingly attractive in person. The chrome finish reads a bit darker and smokier than most of the in-your-face executions out there, and it's an appealing contrast to the understated, masculine interior featuring Browne's signature red, white, and blue striping and stitching. It's clear that Browne understands how to employ "everything in modesty" in his well-balanced design.

Posen, a strikingly slender man wearing a head-to-toe red velvet suit that perfectly complements his car, gained notoriety after designing a dress for Naomi Campbell in 2000 that quickly exchanged hands among fashion insiders. He has since joined Project Runway as a judge and is a go-to designer for starlets such as Natalie Portman, Beyonce, Cameron Diaz, Claire Danes, and Kate Winslet.

Posen's Q50 features a 1930s-inspired red interior, clearly appealing to a woman who loves a bit of glamor behind the scenes. On his distinctively feminine design, Posen said, "I had in mind the woman who's going to drive this car: She is feminine, confident and sophisticated. The woman for whom the Infiniti Q50 is designed is not dictated by trends. She enjoys the transformative power of fashion, but she's not defined by it."

The most striking feature out of either cars, however, was the paint finish on Posen's exterior. In stark contrast to the rich, lush reds of the interior, the exterior features a tonal ombre gray—transitioning from light to dark from the front of the car to the rear. Beyond the color shift, the top coat also shifted from a soft-touch matte finish to a gloss. Photos hardly do it justice, and the finish is truly stunning in person.

The standard automotive design process is an insular and repetitive one, often highly guarded in R&D centers with little collaboration with anyone from the outside. While there's no doubt that the auto designers are at the top of their game, it's easy to get comfortable in the traditional process. Injecting these two fashion designers into the process forced them to step out of their comfort zones and try new things. Posen's vision for the paint finish, for example, required over 30 coats of paint and clear coat to achieve the desired effect, something that had never been done before.

Both fashion designers noted that they gained a new found respect for auto designers, particularly in regards to designing around legal and safety regulations. After all, these two cars may be someone's daily driver .

"On our side of the fence," St. Clair said of the reactions from the Infiniti design team, "our lead designers are very much inspired by each of the elements, and its effects can already be seen in future concept sketches. Clearly, a few things in the cars were very inspirational for the team."The fashion designers forced the Infiniti team to think differently, and those effects will be seen in vehicles are designed and styled future designed.

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