Marques and designers combine to create car couture
The world of high fashion has found willing partners in the luxury motor industry, writes Caroline Kidd
Forget Paris, Milan or London. The world's top fashion designers have new toys and they're out playing with them on the road.
More and more designers are tucking in their hems and sashaying their way into automotive styling and design. Frankly darling, you're no one – until you have been let loose on a supercar or a compact city car.
Gucci, Versace, Hermes, Calvin Klein and Orla Kiely are just some of the fashion houses and designers who, in recent years, have lent a creative hand to manufacturers looking to give their cars a posh selling point. The results of these collaborations are so stylish that they may have just rolled off the catwalk.
Of the current crop of designer and car manufacturer collaborations, top of the pile is surely the Bugatti Veyron by Hermes. The car was unveiled at the Geneva Motor Show in 2008 and it costs a cool €1m. It comes finished in special maroon paint with a beige bonnet and matching leather interior.
Branding is important if you are spending that much money on a special edition of an already mouth-wateringly expensive car. The Veyron has special 22-inch alloy wheels sporting the Hermes H logo, an H pattern grille and Hermes printed on the fuel cap, so it does not disappoint.
If the Veyron is not your thing, then why not try a Lamborghini Murcielago by Versace? The car was first unveiled at the 2006 Paris Motor Show and features the Versace Greek key motif on the front and sides of the car. Inside there is two-tone Versace leather, Versace motifs on the seats, and a Gianni Versace Couture plaque letting your lucky passengers know which fashion house stitched your leather seats together.
But it's not just supercars that get treated to a makeover by a top designer. The humble Fiat 500 was tarted up by Gucci and gets a signature Gucci green-red-green web stripe running along the bodywork. Gucci logos adorn everything from the chrome door handles to the mirror covers. In a similar vein, Orla Kiely
lent a hand to Citroen to produce a special edition of the DS3. Her famous leaf and petal designs can be found throughout the car from the decals on the roof to the floor mats in the cabin. And you can even buy a Smart car by Hermes. The car came in 10 colours including Hermes signature orange and inside there is lots of Hermes leather and special "Toile H" fabric.
Teaming up with a well-known designer can be an excellent marketing tool. Victoria Beckham may have made her name by standing awkwardly in a LBD with the Spice Girls, but she has reinvented herself as a fashion designer. The Beckhams are no strangers to Range Rovers and Land Rover, seeing a fantastic marketing opportunity, asked Victoria to help them design a special edition of the Range Rover Evoque.
The car comes finished in matt grey exterior paint with some of the exterior detailing like the roof and bonnet vents finished in contrasting high- gloss black. It's got 20-inch black alloy wheels with some very bling rose gold detailing to set it apart from the standard Evoque.
Of course there have been some howlers. It's not just a case of a simple designer makeover that works every time. Take the Volkswagen Golf GTi Adidas edition. There is a problem here. It's a German sportswear brand that does not exude an aura of luxury. In other words, more off-the-peg than haute couture.
Fiat may have got it right pairing up with Gucci but was Diesel such a good idea? Introducing the Fiat 500 by Diesel complete with denim-effect upholstery and pocket stitching, Diesel badged gear stick and finished in special stonewashed "Midnight indigo" blue paint!
So what's it all about? These cars aren't really cool; being covered from bumper to bumper in designer logos is a bit passe. It's a little like being dressed head to toe in designer clothes with enough branding so that you look like you just might have walked off the set of a Tommy Hilfiger ad.
There is a novelty value to these cars and they're launched at major motor shows to fanfare and the click of a hundred cameras. In many cases they are produced as a one-off for publicity.
Collaborations between a car manufacturer and top designer give an already popular and auspicious car an air of exclusivity. It may not be visible to everyone but the more discerning car watcher will know "that's the Gucci version".
It's also predominantly a certain type of car which gets the makeover. Small cars that appeal to women like the DS3, 500 and Smart (sorry ladies we seem to be consistently easy targets for car manufacturers to market towards) or else the luxury supercar end of the market. Let's just say that when every Premiership footballer has a Bentley, a Lamborghini or a Bugatti, the one that has the H toile effect grille will stand out.
These cars are not always produced just for superficial reasons. Collaborating with a car designer and then auctioning off the designer protege is a good way of making money. Since 2001, MINI has collaborated with a fashion designer each year to produce a special, unique version of its MINI hatchback. The MINI is then auctioned off at the Life Ball, an annual charity event that supports the fight against HIV and Aids worldwide. In the past MINI has teamed up with the likes of Missoni, Diane von Fürstenberg , Agent Provocateur and Calvin Klein.
So what's next for car couture? A Louis Vuitton Porsche with LV logos and matching luggage?
A Burberry Aston Martin with classic Burberry plaid upholstery and complimentary Burberry mac?
Or maybe a MINI by French Connection with FCUK printed all over it . . .