This past fashion month we’ve seen loads of bold designs and presentations. But besides the fashion, there was another design product category that was discreetly pushed into the center of attention: cars. While car launches normally happen in the context of automobile fairs it seems to be a new thing to introduce and market your car where bloggers and fashionistas take street style photos. Cars have clearly gone fashion. But what is it that makes the worlds of fashion and autos attract each other?
For the launch of the new Volvo XC40 compact SUV the automobile brand chose Milan Fashion Week to showcase a car that is allegedly inspired by urban fashion. It was presented in the “80 hours Milan c/o Volvo Cars” pop-up store. But why would you present a Swedish car at a fashion event in Italy? It’s all about target groups. At Milan Fashion Week Volvo hopes to introduce its novelty to young and stylish consumers who wouldn’t mind a new luxury SUV as much as they don’t mind a new luxury handbag either.
Ralph Lauren, on the other hand, had no problem staging a see-now-buy-now fall/winter ‘17 runway show in his private garage full of vintage sports cars. While some might accuse him of showing off his affluence others highlight the deep connection of car and fashion design that Lauren wanted to express. The fact remains that with only 300 hundred guests and a large collection of fancy cars Lauren created an exclusive event well covered by the media.
Media coverage might also be a driving motif for British automobile brand Jaguar to collaborate with Italian fashion brand Palm Angels for their “Lonely Hearts Club” party series during Milan Fashion Week. After Palm Angels had first launched the format in Tokyo this summer to present its FW17 collection, the event was reinvented as “Lonely Hearts Club Palm Angels for Jaguar.” An exclusive club designed by Palm Angels’ creative director Francesco Ragazzi hosted the preview of the new Jaguar E-Pace.
Again, fashion vibes–supported by party guests such as Off-White’s creative director Virgil Abloh and multiple rappers–set the right atmosphere for a rather luxurious car that targets stylish consumers: "Jaguar continues on an evolutionary path–both in terms of content and communication–that increasingly brings the brand closer to a contemporary, dynamic and increasingly connected target. It is no coincidence, therefore, that this new partnership coincides with the Italian preview of the new E-Pace, the sporty sports car with an unmistakable style, designed for a dynamic audience that wants to stand out in terms of style, without sacrificing design and performance," said Daniele Mayer, president of Jaguar Land Rover Italy. Palm Angels and Jaguar will continue their collaboration with fashion collections dropping in 2018.
The palette of possibilities to collaborate of course doesn’t narrow down to events and presentations. Nissan India recently partnered up with Italian fashion company Benetton to create the “Nissan Micra Fashion Edition.” The goal was to introduce some Italian design to the Indian market: “The New Micra brings together Japanese technology and European styling in a package that makes it one of the best premium urban hatchbacks at an attractive price point,” said Arun Malhotra, managing director at Nissan Motor India PVT. Ltd. The limited edition Micra as a “new fashion statement” comes in black and orange, with the main focus put on orange details in the car’s interior. Color blocking accents on the headrests are supposed to be reminiscent of the typical United Colors of Benetton look.
On the European market design collaborations between automobile manufacturers and fashion brands are also becoming a thing. In summer 2017 German car brand Smart and sneaker store Asphaltgold partnered up to create a 500-piece limited edition of the Smart Fortwo model. The “Smart Brabus Edition Asphaltgold” comes with a limited edition of the “Nike Air Max 1 Ultra Flyknit iD by Asphaltgold” that can only be purchased in set with the car. The companies claim to share “an authentic, exclusive appearance in the metropolis,” a love for street culture and the urban lifestyle. The reason to collaborate therefore lays in the shared identity of two brands. “Our smart special model in combination with the Asphaltgold sneaker perfectly stages the urban lifestyle,” said Kirsten Ehrlich, head of sales and marketing Smart Germany.
For the partnership between British heritage brands Barbour and Land Rover the bond also lays in a shared identity. What distinguishes them from other collaborations between car and fashion brands however is the way they don’t identify with the ever-changing, trend-obsessed world of fashion. “We aren’t a fashion brand, so it isn’t a fashion brand in collaboration with a car company. It’s an outdoor clothing brand collaboration with a vehicle that is thought for the outdoors, for the countryside,” says Helen Barbour, Barbour vice chairman.
The first collaboration of the two British icons was launched in 2014 - and it seems, the fit works just fine as the partnership now continues into FW17. Together, the two brands reinterpret a 1995 Land Rover defender Barbour style that accompanies a fashion collection exclusively sold at outdoor retailer Orvis for the US market. The two-season collaboration “Barbour for Land Rover Defender” kicked off in New York on September 28 from where on the custom car will travel down the US East Coast, taking pit stops at Orvis stores before being raffled to one happy Land Rover and Barbour fan.
For Helen Barbour, the Barbour heiress who has been involved with her parent’s business her whole life, a similar DNA is the raison d’être for the company’s team up with the car maker: “Our collaboration is because we share the same brand values when it comes to target markets, the importance we place on functionality of our products–we have that common ground. It’s more a collaboration of two iconic British companies who share the same values and the same target markets and want to produce something together because it makes a good fit.”
Even though Barbour and Land Rover highlight not taking part in the fashion circus, they nevertheless share a quintessential characteristic of the fashion target group: the affinity for status symbols. In the end, that’s the common denominator of luxury fashion and big cars.