A place at Central Saint Martins, followed by a place on the official schedule of London Fashion Week and an Instagram picture of Kylie Jenner in your outfit – cha-ching! You have achieved the hat-trick of an upcoming fashion designer. But for today’s talent, there is a rapidly accelerating fourth flank. Tip: It comes with four-wheel drive.
Yes, automotive collaborations have become the somewhat unlikely but undeniably lucrative business du jour for budding design talents.
You seriously couldn’t miss him at the 50th W magazine showth It hit New York in October, when the likes of Chloë Sevigny, Michaela Coel, Karlie Kloss and Pharrell Williams looked at the new 2023 Lexus RX, inspired by The Wizard of Oz.
A shiny red car was parked center stage at the magazine’s party, which was “presented” (read, paid for) by the Japanese automaker. The star of the show? It’s high camp, Dorothy’s ruby-red glitter slipper-style rims. They were 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’ head of media. “They are open, 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 the only fresh face in London sitting on the bonnet of a car campaign. In November, Christopher Raeburn of eco-conscious East London label RÆBURN was hired to boost the sustainability credentials of the launch of the all-electric CUPRA Born. “I think cross-industry cooperation always brings something unexpected; I certainly learned a lot,” said the designer.
“The task was to bring CUPRA’s first all-electric car to life,” explains Andy McGregor, head of marketing at the company. He saw recycled marine waste (SEAQUAL™) used for car interiors made into catwalk-ready clothing, and one of RÆBURN’s parachute prints splashed the vehicle. “We hope this collaboration will increase how powerful, sustainable and stylish all-electric mobility can be – at CUPRA we enjoy challenging the norms of the automotive industry,” he says.
But that’s not so unusual: fashion and fast cars have been friends for longer than you think. There have been famous partnerships – from the 1979 Gucci Cadillac to the 2016 Paul Smith Land Rover – and in 2021 Ferrari hosted its first fashion show in Milan. Importantly, however, the auto giants were the primary sponsors of fashion weeks around the world (for the benefit of editors, who drive around town with the cars advertised).
Mercedes-Benz has supported London Fashion Week for more than 16 seasons, first becoming a main sponsor in 2010, but has since withdrawn its support. Last December, the German manufacturer also relinquished its Berlin Fashion Week title after 15 years.
For Mercedes, direct collaboration with brands has taken center stage – so far including Balenciaga, Virgil Abloh and Proenza Schouler. And in keeping with fast and furious fashion, their recent campaign in November saw up-and-coming London designer Saul Nash and his dance aesthetic used to create a collection of e-sports tracksuits featuring the Benz logo. The result is visually electric, with a diverse cast of young dancers shown flipping sleek cars.
Like other car spokespeople, Mercedes head of co-branding and branded entertainment Julia Hofmann talks about the “new impulses” provided by the Nash. “Saul’s design, and especially his passion for performance, fit perfectly with Mercedes-Benz’s approach: reaching new audiences through its position at the crossroads of culture.”
For car brands, this is a handy marketing technique to keep on top of. For designers, it’s an overwhelming job: designers are paid to collaborate, and although no one wants to reveal the exact figures, one can guess quite a 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 made the clothes this time, but he doesn’t rule out making custom models.
“If I designed a car, it would be something I could fly in. A sleek and aerodynamic sports car, which could change color according to my mood,” he says. It’s the kind of manufacturing giants with larger-than-life ideas that seem intent on driving forward.