• 2018

Driven by Fashion

How Some Popular Designers Lent Their Fashion to the Car Business.

Attempting to make their mark in the American market, in 1972, AMC tapped Italian designer Aldo Gucci for their Hornet Sportabout interior trim.

The innovative car-maker was hoping that teaming with a popular designer from the fashion world would be intriguing to the predominantly female audience to whom they were trying to sell the car. For a mere $142.00, a Hornet buyer could drive off the lot with both a new vehicle and a feeling of stylish Italian bravado only a name like Gucci could provide.

The Hornet was short-lived. The American Motor Company was acquired in the mid-’90s by Chrysler Corporation. But, the Gucci name has lived on, forever synonymous (at least in the American market) with style and design.

THE TALK OF MILAN

A testament to that endurance was the 2012 model year, when FIAT® introduced their new FIAT 500 Gucci Edition. A vehicle suited for both the highway and the runway, thanks to its iconic Gucci Verde/Rosso/Verde (green/red/green) stripe on the outside and unique touches like familiar GG hubcaps over the wheels. FIAT had trouble keeping up with the demand for the vehicles.

While Gucci isn’t the only fashion company to ever have lent its brand equity to a car company, it is a shining example of how, when the right co-branding happens in the automotive world, everybody wins.

It’s also an example of how companies like FCA US LLC have utilized special edition vehicles to draw interest in their other offerings both in the showroom and on the street. And how the calculated decisions to bond with fashion brands has developed some of the most unique vehicle accessories — and stylized packages — the automotive world has ever seen.

“Fashion has a great influence in many design arenas,” said La Shirl Turner, Chief Color and Trim Designer at FCA US LLC. “I feel like the relationship goes back and forth now. We do look to fashion at times to see what’s the latest trend and how what we see can potentially inspire a project for color and materials. But now, I feel like automotive also has influence on fashion a little bit.”

IMPORTED FROM DETROIT

It was that kind of collaborative thinking that led the Chrysler Brand to develop a John Varvatos 300C in 2013. Looking for a way to appeal to a more discretionary audience with a flare for fashion, the company proposed the idea of putting Varvatos’ name (literally) and fashion sense to work for the 300. Being as that the Detroit-bred fashion designer was quickly becoming a household name worldwide — and that the Chrysler Brand’s Imported From Detroit campaign was at its peak — the bringing together of the two images of each company made perfect sense.

“Working with Varvatos was such a great collaboration because his identity and the brand just fit well together,” said Turner. “They both stood for Detroit. The exterior colors and the interior materials truly represented the Varvatos brand and worked well with the 300. Even the Titanium color that we created for the accent trim feature was influenced from one of his cologne bottles.”

The demand for the Varvatos version of the Chrysler 300C was so great in 2013 that in 2014, the company released an all-wheel drive version. Both came with a standard 3.6-liter V6 that produced 292 horsepower and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Although a 363-horsepower, 5.7-liter HEMI® V8 engine was optional. But, it was in the cabin where Varvatos’ influence was most evident, thanks to black and pewter-colored Poltrona Frau leather with gray stitching, titanium chrome trim and gauges inspired by the designer’s watch line.

“He was very involved with everything we were doing, from the exterior paint to the unique metallic leather to the minor unique details,” said Turner. “We were sharing information back and forth between the studios; he also came to the FCA US Product Design studio to look at proposals. I remember when we were working on the unique leather and the appearance of the charcoal metallic paints, he was very hands-on. Even down to the stitch detail, making sure we were capturing his brand down and not losing the identity of the 300. The communication and working relationship made the whole process easy.”

FINDING AUTOMOJO

In the automotive design studio — whether working on exterior parts or interior accessories — it’s difficult not to be influenced by what is going on in other worlds of industry. There’s just so much out there from which to draw inspiration. And trends in fashion seem to lend themselves nicely to car design.

“In the color and materials studio, we gauge the success of the vehicle when we see it driving down the road,” said Turner. “I guess, for us, the street is our runway.”