Branding by Design: The Impact of Fashion on the Automobile Industry

by James D. Roumeliotis

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Lamborghini Boss

In the book, “Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation”, author Sally Hogshead stated that marketers must strive to fascinate people beyond the bounds of rationality. Companies must activate such mental triggers as lust, mystique, power, trust, and vice.

Though the marketing and branding folks are relied upon for their artistic output to create a buzz and compel consumers to buy, the industrial designers of car brands work diligently on fashion inspired creations for new model launches.

Like an outfit, an automobile should wrap its owner in a new outer shell, both protective and decorative. Premium cars like extraordinary clothes, invoke a whole new life as the glamor of both comes from the promise of escape and transformation.

The automobile as eye candy

Fine arts, fashion and luxury brands have long crossed paths creating a blend of culture, merchandising and branding. The similarities could not be more striking with cars and fashion. Seems European auto designers have always had this ethos ingrained as demonstrated with their design flair. The Italian industrial design houses such as Pininfarina, Italdesign and Bertone are renowned for churning-out architectural inspired automobile designs. In the past and present, Pininfarina has been employed by a wide variety of high-end automobile manufacturers, including Ferrari, Maserati and Rolls Royce.

Italians are very proud of their brands such as Panerai or a Lamborghini. They epitomize the essence of style. Even smaller motorized vehicles such as the Vespa convey savoir fair with simplicity.

Fiat & Gucci: complementary collaborators

The Fiat 500 is no exception. Once again, the firm is partnering with Gucci. The 500C by Gucci is offered in two colors, white with satin chrome accents or black with shined-up chrome bits. On both, a black soft-top covers occupants. Gucci’s color scheme signature runs down the middle. At all four corners sit 16-inch alloy wheels sporting the Gucci double-G logo in the center. Inside, a Gucci print adorns the seats and the fashion house’s moniker can be found sprinkled liberally throughout. When Fiat revealed the hardtop version of the Gucci 500, more than 3,000 pre-orders came flooding into the automaker’s website.

Bob Lutz prior to his retirement at GM

After holding top executive positions at BMW, Ford, Chrysler respectively, Bob Lutz had a very good idea what a car company and its car models should look like, which he didn’t find when he was hired at GM in 2001. Within days of arriving at GM, Lutz began reviewing the future model lineup and was shocked to discover that none of the models he reviewed, as he put it, “had any charm or ornamentation to delight the eye”.

The Cadillac CTS (2001 model) “lacked any charm or warmth.”

In his experience, there was an internal battle between the design team, what he regarded as “the car guys” vs. “the bean counters”. Read here the people in finance. Although now retired, Lutz can proudly claim that he was instrumental for the changeover to a sleeker line-up. GM sales figures show it has succeeded in generating committed buyers.

Fast forward more than a decade and this time Cadillac has moved its headquarters from the automobile manufacturing capital, Detroit, to the trendy SoHo district of Manhattan so as to establish a new brand identity in this luxury international city — as it yearns to convey a global avant-garde identity. At a New York Fashion Week party, in September (2015), celebrating Public School, GMs luxury brand enticed its onlookers with a sneak peak of its successor to the brand’s best-selling SRX SUV, by utilizing a hired helicopter to fly across the Hudson River carrying a XT5 SUV on a platform underneath it. More on this here

The Rolls-Royce Wraith – high fashion on wheels

The latest motor carriage to be inspired by the world of fashion and film is the epitome of luxury cars – Rolls Royce Motors with its 2013 coupé Wraith model. The automotive brand to the well healed describes this 624bhp, $285,000 priced two-door as a debonair gentleman’s GT – a highly refined, luxurious and exclusive like its stablemates, but more dramatic and exciting than any of them. To add more pizazz, the designer edition of the Wraith model will be customized with the finest materials as per the customer’s specific taste and choices.

According to Giles Taylor, director of design at Rolls Royce, “There’s a sense of effortless grace and elegance, but at the same time something more contemporary and daring.” The interior is equally elegant and sophisticated. It is flawlessly outfitted with fine silks along with inspiration drawn from haute couture as evidenced by hints from the materials, color palettes and the techniques applied. It is the ideal combination of power, style and drama.

Two supermodels along with their new fashion statement -- the Rolls Royce Wraith.

Two supermodels along with their new fashion statement — the Rolls Royce Wraith.

Branding by design

Product design is key to a great brand. Design is the elemental differentiator with competitors. Eye catching sex appeal builds the emotional bond and turns owners into enthusiasts.

“It’s all about integrating design and brand,” says Joe Doucet, founder of Joe Doucet Studio.

“We need to cease thinking of them as different disciplines. The essence of the Apple brand comes through its design. Take the logo off a BMW and you still know it’s a BMW.”

Design also needs to be part of the strategic plan from the start, embraced by the CEO and across the Board.

“A brand is not your logo or ID system,” says Robert Brunner, founder of the design shop Ammunition and author of ‘Do You Matter: How Great Design Will Make People Love Your Company.’

“It’s a gut feeling people have about you. When two or more people have the same feeling, you have a brand. You get that feeling via smart design, which creates the experiences people have with the brand. Everything you do creates the brand experience; ergo design is your brand.”

Striking success at Audi

Premium brand Audi has come a long way with a big streak since its prolonged slump in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Today, the firm continues to surpass its own benchmarks. As one proud owner succinctly stated, “It’s elegant without being ostentatious.”

If you think fashion”, new Audi cars are akin to a well-put-together outfit. They are considered “classics” upon release. They are prominent not only for their impeccable sophistication and styling but also for the brand’s hard found creative innovation. Luxury and comfort are blended in a seamless mix. New technologies and taste trends are calculated to coincide with market shifts. The firm’s signature LED highlights reshaped an entire industry to become the standard.


Hyundai’s economic aesthetic appeal

In automobile parlance, Hyundai is a relative newcomer to this game, but the firm has learned quickly and converted previous Toyota and Honda evangelicals to switch. Jessica Caldwell, a senior analyst with, claims that Hyundai is operating from a much older playbook.

“What Hyundai did was nothing new,” she says. “They developed the oldest formula in the book: Have a good design at a good price.”

Caldwell further states that she’s surprised that other car companies haven’t caught on to Hyundai’s “secret” sooner.

“That, to me, is Car making 101,” she says. “You would think that it’s not that hard to figure out. And I just think it’s interesting that people think that Hyundai’s success is so surprising. But, if you look at it, it’s not at all. I mean, of course people are going to buy something that looks good and is not expensive. I think, regardless if you’re buying a refrigerator, a shirt, or a computer, that formula is always going to work.”

Lookout for the Fashion Patrol

As Fashionistas and celebrities piled into New York City during the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in February, the fashion police were out in full force. To capture attention, MB deployed its “fashion force” in CLS 63 AMGs four-door sports coupe painted in police-livery black and white, with sirens and yellow flashing lights.

It was fast enough to stop anyone in the middle of a styling faux pas. The ultra stylish police officers, though, were more interested in looking-out for some of the city’s most fashionable citizens, who were rewarded with a ride to their next destination. Other participants won prizes, which included seats to the highly prized fashion shows themselves.

“Mercedes-Benz has a natural affinity with the world of fashion with cars that appeal to those with a strong sense of style,” said Lisa Holladay, manager of brand experience for Mercedes-Benz USA. “The 2012 CLS 63 AMG four-door coupe is the perfect vehicle for the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Force initiative with its fascinating design and significant curb appeal.”

Along with its affinity in the fashion domain, Mercedes also has a micro-site, named “Avant Garde Diaries” depicting scenes and visual stories of its cars with fashion industry icons.

Victoria Beckham and the Range Rover Evoque

Victoria Beckham, the former pop star and wife of renowned footballer David, has earned critical acclaim for her finely tailored, ultra chic fashion line, winning the Designer Brand of the Year award at the 2011 British Fashion Awards.

Likewise, her special-edition, 200 unit, Range Rover Evoque line boasts a hand-finished matte grey paint, 20″ black alloy wheels and rose-gold detailing. With Rover head designer Gerry McGovern, she spent 18 months on the SUV working from elements like jewelry and textile. The results are distinctive. She was reported stating that the car must appeal to both men and women.

Applying design cleverly makes a difference with brand perception. Thus, a fashion design culture needs to be strategic, not an afterthought.

When you consider the planning, demands in the fashion and car industry are similar. Grab the customer’s attention. Use innovation and design to generate passion and commitment. By doing so, you are able to build brand loyalty with staying power and revenue generation. Who knows, you could be at the forefront of starting a new cult!


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1 Comment

Filed under Branding, Business, Luxury, Marketing

One response to “Branding by Design: The Impact of Fashion on the Automobile Industry

  1. My predictions in this/above article were spot on (according to this article.
    “Luxury Auto Brands Increasingly Turn to Designers to Fashion Lifestyle Brands”

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