Contemporary Luxury Design
Design Talk with Karim Habib, Head of BMW Design, and Eric Carlson, architect of the BMW Brand Store in Paris. 26 September 2012. BMW Brand Store, Paris.
Eric Carlson on luxury.
“Luxury is different for everybody, every individual. As well as every individual in time. Meaning what was luxurious for somebody 100 years ago may not at all be luxurious for people today. So it’s an illusive thing. I think that illusiveness or the fact that it’s different is really the thing that makes it interesting and important.”
“Things that are exceptional are luxurious for me. That’s what I look for in my work and the people that I’m around. Things that stands out from the usual. The other aspect is quality. Anybody looking for something luxurious would insist upon quality at some level.”
“For me, it’s really about finding something that’s suited to me as an individual. An individual place, an individual person, an individual company, an individual city. To find something that’s custom-made like a suit, something that’s about being unique.”
Karim Habib on his personal definition of luxury.
“If we’re talking about luxury, there has to be a certain reward to using that object, to looking at that object, to touching that object. There’s a dialogue between the user and the object. And this experience has its own reward.
For me personally the human aspect is very important in any luxury object or anything that represents luxury. Somebody made it because they believe in something. And to know that it has gone through that process and then is actually an object that’s there, is quite a rewarding thought in itself.”
Eric Carlson on the idea of luxury in the BMW Brand Store.
“The first thing for us was really to find out about what the Brand Store and the BMW brand itself mean on every level. What does BMW mean to the Parisians? How does BMW itself view the brand? We wanted to talk to the people who are involved with making the cars, the people who maintain the space at the executive level. This luxury of being able to talk to all those involved has ultimately provided us with an intelligent basis for our design.”
“Our objective here was to create a BMW Brand Store which is really unique. Unique because the architecture is very unusual for a showroom.
It’s not a classic shoebox proportion space. It’s in the middle of the city in a very important and luxurious neighbourhood on the Avenue Georges V and not the Champs Elysées, with its tour buses and people eating ice cream. The idea was to create a boutique – this is Paris, a shopping city – that’s very unusual for a car showroom.”
“The goal for me is that, when the project is finished, somebody goes: Wow, that’s a beautiful BMW Brand Store! Not an Eric Carson building. I don’t want my signature to be on this. That would be a failure. So really capturing the essence of the place, the people, the experiences is the key. And I think that’s luxury. To just simply apply my personality on everything would be quite simple and not very rich, I think.”
“We’re also working on a project in New York, and it’s interesting to see the difference between how the New Yorkers think of BMW – which is performance, speed, get in, get out, done – versus the Parisians, who are kind of take your time, go through, discover. It’s the same brand but with two different perceptions. And both of them are real. How to adapt the space to those experiences is an example of specific design.”
Eric Carlson on the evolution of luxury shops.
“Over the years, small luxury shops with furniture and decoration became small stores with façades. And then they became flagship stores with a grand style and big façades. And then they became global stores in their own buildings and with big spaces. And then recently, they have kind of flipped around to “la maison” – something more intimate, more qualitative and human.”
Eric Carlson on the architectural concept of the BMW Brand Store.
“One of the objectives here was to create the front space on Avenue Georges V, to create this middle space, and then to create a boutique-style space. You have a variety of experiences. People don’t want to just come in, have a quick look around and then walk out. They want to discover. They want to learn. They want to be educated. They want to understand. That’s how it is now, at any rate. If you’re asking me what is the future – I think with every project, we’re always taking steps towards the future. But I think there is no secret behind it, it’s just work.”
Karim Habib on luxury and BMW.
“BMW is obviously a brand with a very strong heritage. BMW is and always has been an innovator. And the aspect of exclusivity or rarity: BMW is a luxury or a premium manufacturer. You don’t see BMWs everywhere all the time. We do produce a lot of cars, they are industrial products, but these are rather exclusive vehicles. So these three elements are part of what makes a BMW a BMW. And if you will, in that sense it’s easier, maybe, for us to create luxury because it’s intrinsic to the character or the personality of BMW.”
Karim Habib on the design of a BMW.
“Proportions are essential for BMW, as they are in architecture. They determine so much of how you perceive a product. And we work very hard in this respect. Our engineers do everything to make sure that we keep BMW-typical proportions. Take the front overhang, for example. Whatever type of car we make, it’s very important that you get this very compact, very short overhang, and that the big front and rear wheels are really flush with the body. This is actually painstaking work to make sure that every millimetre is right. And that takes time and resources. But it is something we invest in as a company because we believe that’s what is essential to make the BMW experience visible when you look at the exterior.”
Karim Habib on the key moments of the design process at BMW.
“In every creative process, it’s not like you come up with these lines and these lines become the car. It’s not this thing that comes from above and makes you create the perfect car. It’s a process. Every project we do, we basically start on paper. Things are really very hands-on. Then there’s the tape drawing. It’s basically a technical drawing that we do 1:1 on a wall where we place the lines of the future car. And last but not least, there’s the clay model, which is the soul of car design.
Modellers are our direct partners when we design a car. Each designer has a team of modellers who shape what we design. And that dialogue with a modeller is really the secret behind car design for BMW.”
“This is one of the most joyful moments, when you’re all alone in a studio and you’re looking at a car. And, honestly, you have a bit of a conversation with this model that’s kind of speaking to you. And you develop an understanding of positive space, negative space, surfaces – that in itself is reason enough to become a car designer. Obviously, that’s my job every day. I don’t see it very objectively but I think that’s what makes car design – or design in general – unique. Something that gives soul to a luxury object.”
Eric Carlson on the idea of democratising luxury.
“If somebody happens to be at the low end of the average international pay scale and they treat themselves to a very nice dinner once a year in a very nice restaurant and that’s luxurious to them, then that is luxury. It doesn’t mean they eat that every night; they can’t afford it every night. And it doesn’t mean that somebody who does eat that every night appreciates it. So luxury is a kind of individual interpretation. But I think what’s interesting on a more collective level is that we see luxury as this kind of blanket word that we apply to blanket things. Luxury is actually becoming more accessible to people on a lower pay scale.
Meaning if you look at the Louis Vuitton store across the street, there are 1,000-2,000 people that walk through those doors every day and make a purchase. It’s not what Louis Vuitton would have been 10-20 years ago. That’s not to say that all people at the low end of the pay scale can afford it. But I think we see that democratisation of luxury happening. And it’s posing another question: what is real luxury if luxury is widening out at the base? I don’t know the answer to that, but I think for me this democratisation of luxury is an interesting phenomenon.”
Design Talk with Martina Starke, Head of Colour and Trim Design BMW Individual, Marina Gisich, contemporary art gallerist, and Boris Bernaskoni, architect. 26 July 2012, St. Petersburg.
Marina Gisich on the current state of contemporary art in Russia.
“Over the last 20 years there has been a huge upheaval in the Russian art market. Yet there are currently just five or six professional galleries that can draw on international experience. I believe there has to be an even bigger effort and a great deal of personal commitment to raise contemporary Russian art to an acceptable level. We’re working hard at it. It’s a major concern of mine.”
Boris Bernaskoni on the current state of contemporary architecture in Russia.
“As you can imagine, a lot has been happening on the architectural front as well in the last 20 years. We have celebrated many different architectural innovators, and a number of interesting contemporary edifices have been erected in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other Russian cities. Also, there are a lot of Russian architects who don’t work here at all but are involved in international architectural competitions. So one senses a great deal happening here, too. I believe we’re taking great strides forward.”
“If you’ll allow me this comment: the contemporary architectural style as seen around the world has its origins in Russia. It essentially emerged right after the revolution. Today we have a tremendous opportunity to create a new idiom for architecture and design. So I’m very optimistic in terms of modern architecture and modern design.”
Marina Gisich on her personal definition of luxury.
“For me, luxury is the opportunity to be in spacious surroundings, to live in them and to enjoy them. They must protect me and give me the sense that they belong to me alone, that they are large, grand and beautiful. In the end everything is personal. In my view, art is space which I shape by means of unusual things. I can decide what to buy and what to surround myself with. That’s luxury in my book.”
Martina Starke on individuality in automotive design.
“Car design is just as multilayered as architecture. Let’s take the BMW 7 Series: here we have this car with its imposing presence and the spaciousness we expect of this class, which Marina has already spoken about.
We also offer our customers several special editions when they want something exceptional and unique.
Here’s just one example: we had a customer who wanted a special wood from a tree in his garden integrated into the car.
I believe these minute details in the manufacturing process are part of what makes our vehicles so individual.”
Boris Bernaskoni on luxury in contemporary architecture.
“For me luxury in architecture means, firstly, simplicity as opposed to complexity. Today that is very important because everything is getting more and more complex. Secondly, energy – specifically energy in terms of efficiency and savings. The key thing is how the available space can be put to efficient use without consuming too much energy. Which brings us to the third point – space and the ergonomics of space, i.e. the way in which you use space. Because space is a luxurious commodity. Number four would be time, which in architecture is often regarded as a great luxury. Every building is like a very long journey. Sometimes more than ten years pass between the initial plans and their implementation. Which in my view means the designers and architects who can complete a project faster will be ahead of the field. After all, customers want their building to be finished as quickly as possible – faster as well as bigger and better. Fifthly – and for me most importantly – meaning. Today we live in a world with all kinds of different ideas, different messages and different financial providers. With all these information flows, what is important to me is meaning. Every object, every building should have something like a message. Very, very important, very clear and very interesting for everyone.”
Martina Starke on the global universality of luxury at BMW.
“Aspects such as spaciousness or a passion for minute details are relevant to every country. But if we look at the Chinese market, for example, customers there insist on having red details in the car because red is their lucky colour. Or they want special embroidery with symbols.
If you go to the Middle East, there are other colour preferences due to the lighting conditions there. But if we boil it down to the essentials, when it comes to this class of car, everyone wants value retention and the meticulous, detailed premium quality for which BMW is internationally renowned.”
Martina Starke on how the time factor impacts on automotive design.
“Today people spend a lot of time in their cars, which is why we aim to create vehicles that are as comfortable as we can possibly make them. If you sit in a car for a long time, it becomes almost like a kind of living room. And you start to notice the tiniest nuance – you see it, feel it. So attention to detail is very important, especially in the interior of a car, because that’s where you spend your time.”
Marina Gisich on the future development of luxury in art.
“I’m sure that art of the future won’t bestow any great luxury on us. But I do know that we invest our whole energy and every last ounce of optimism into everything we do. Hopefully that will considerably ease the challenging task of taking this movement forward and involving more and more people in the process. If people begin to take an interest in art, they begin to discover an emotional response to it. They then buy art and bring luxury into their home.”
Boris Bernaskoni on the development of the luxury concept in contemporary architecture.
“Architecture should be part of our lifestyle because architecture is like a second skin, a second layer of clothing. That’s why it is very important to me for architecture to be seen as part of society. That’s why every developer, every architect – and indeed anyone who designs anything – should first consider what his or her design or building will do for society. The future of luxury in architecture will be secured if architecture becomes a truly significant aspect of our lifestyle. Every second, every minute, every hour, every day.”
Martina Starke on the meaning of sustainability and connectivity for the future of BMW.
“The BMW Group has been the industry leader in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes for eight years. We are deeply involved in the issue of sustainability and have declared this our major goal for the future. Next year, in 2013, we will be launching the first electric car onto the market. Another important area is connectivity.
Today smartphones connect everybody with everybody. At the same time we are spending a lot of money on our cars, spending a lot of time in them, and we also want to be connected to the outside world while inside them. I can promise that we will continue to produce cars in the future that guarantee driving enjoyment. Needless to say, though, we have to achieve that in as efficient and sustainable a way as we possibly can.”
Marina Gisich on how Russia relates to luxury.
“I’m certain the Russians love luxury. We appreciate luxury and quality because it’s in our nature. We love expensive objects that are stylish and beautiful. Luxury people want to show that they are perfect, which today may be seen as a mistake. But it isn’t always a mistake. Russians display their luxury in an extrovert way.”