A place at Central Saint Martins, followed by a slot on London Fashion Week’s official schedule and an Instagram pic of Kylie Jenner in your outfit – cha-ching! You’ve scored the upcoming fashion designer hat-trick. But for today’s talents, there is a fast-accelerating fourth flank. Hint: it comes with four-wheel drive.
Yes, a car collaboration has become the somewhat unlikely, but no doubt lucrative, deal du jour for budding design talent.
You seriously couldn’t miss it at W magazine’s 50th New York bash in October, when the likes of Chloë Sevigny, Michaela Coel, Karlie Kloss, and Pharrell Williams all ogled at 2023’s new Lexus RX model, inspired by The Wizard of Oz.
The glossy rouge automobile was parked up centre stage at the mag’s party, which had been “presented” (read, paid for) by the Japanese car manufacturer. Star of the show? It’s high camp, Dorothy’s slipper-style ruby-red glitter rims. They had been designed by none other than London-based creative director Harris Reed.
“We were looking to connect with a specific subset of RX drivers,” says Lisa McQueen, Lexus’s media manager. “They are open-minded, diverse, creative, thoughtful, and confident.” The gender-fluid fashion collaboration was “very successful in reaching and creating an emotional connection with our target audience,” she confirmed.
And Reed is far from London’s only fresh face to perch on a bonnet and chic-up a car campaign. In November, Christopher Raeburn of eco-conscious East London label RÆBURN was brought in to boost the sustainability credentials of the all-electric CUPRA Born launch. “I think that cross-industry collaboration always brings something unexpected; I certainly learned a lot,” the designer said.
“The brief was to bring CUPRA’s first fully electric car credentials to life,” explains Andy McGregor, head of marketing at the company. It saw the recycled marine litter (SEAQUAL™) used for the car interiors crafted into a catwalk-ready outfit, and one of RÆBURN’s parachute prints splashed across the vehicle. “We hope this collaboration will amplify just how powerful, sustainable, and stylish all-electric mobility can be - at CUPRA, we delight in challenging car-industry norms,” he says.
It is not so abnormal, however: fashion and fast cars have been bedfellows for longer than you might think. There have been famous partnerships – from 1979’s Gucci Cadillac to 2016’s Paul Smith Land Rover – and in 2021, Ferrari hosted its first fashion show in Milan. Importantly, though, automobile giants have been primary sponsors of fashion weeks worldwide (to the benefit of editors, who are shuttled around town by the advertised cars).
Mercedes-Benz supported London Fashion Week for more than 16 seasons, first becoming title sponsor in 2010, but has since withdrawn its support. Last December, the German manufacturer also dropped its title support of Berlin Fashion Week after 15 years.
For Mercedes, direct collaborations with brands have taken centre stage instead – so far including Balenciaga, Virgil Abloh, and Proenza Schouler. And in line with the fast and furious fad, their recent November campaign saw up-and-coming London designer Saul Nash and his dance-ready aesthetic tapped to create an E-sports, Benz-logo tracksuit collection. The result is visually electric, with a diverse cast of young dancers pictured flipping over sleek cars.
Much like other automobile spokespersons, Mercedes’ head of brand collaborations and branded entertainment Julia Hofmann speaks of the “new impulses” Nash provided. “Saul’s designs, and especially his passion for performance, seamlessly fit to the Mercedes-Benz approach: reaching new audiences through its position at the intersection of culture.”
To the car brands, this is a nifty marketing technique to keep on the cutting edge. To designers, it’s irresistible business: the designers have been paid for the collaborations, and though none would disclose exact figures, one can assume a fair few digits. For reference, the Mercedes-Benz Group recorded a net profit of 11 billion euros in 2021.
The future of fashion cars looks bright. Nash only got to make the clothes this time, but does not rule out creating a bespoke model.
“If I designed a car, it would be something I’d be able to fly in. A sleek and streamlined sports car, which could change colour to suit my mood,” he says. It’s the type of larger-than-life idea manufacturing giants seem set on driving forwards.