Porsche Design’s CEO Juergen Gessler keeps brand at the forefront of luxury
Q. From the moment you became CEO in 2007, what did you identify as the key challenges, and how did you solve these problems?
A. When I joined, the brand maintained [collaboration] with about 30 licence partners, ranging from fashion to eyewear and accessories, and included pocket knives, navigation systems and power tools. The brand's core was blurred, so we started to cut down the licences under the Porsche Design name to half a dozen to sharpen the image for which our luxury brand has been known since 1972 - iconic style.
Q. Porsche Design Group started out producing car-related accessories but branched out to include everything from mobile phones to a bespoke billiards table. How do you decide on the type of product to create, and how do you make sure it stays true to the brand's identity?
A. Our brand has always been about everything but cars right from the beginning. It all started when Professor Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, the designer of the 911, left the car company to pursue his very own design business - Porsche Design. The brand's products have been timeless, functional and puristic. All products follow the same clear, honest and uncompromising principles. They have to prove our very own definition of luxury: we call it "engineered luxury". For us, luxury represents the perfect combination of design, function, craftsmanship and usage of the finest materials.
Q. The group opened several concept stores worldwide to celebrate its 40th anniversary. How do you balance the appeal of an in-store experience with the convenience of online shopping?
A. Look beyond the luxury industry. A few decades ago, people predicted that the internet boom would destroy traditional publishing houses, newspapers, magazines and books. They still make good money today. Alternatively, take the music industry. MP3 music files have become most important for the industry and are only a problem for traditional music publishers, which did not adapt fast enough to the new demands.
We can also transfer this pattern to our industry. Traditional retail channels will still be required to build brand awareness along with innovative online channels. The most important thing for any brand is to remain flexible, stay abreast of trends and adapt quickly to new requirements and standards.
Q. In an industry that's so often about flashy gimmicks and luxurious add-ons, how have you made sure that the group balances form and function in terms of product design?
A. For many years, the luxury industry presented itself in an opulent, lavish and pompous way. Those times are long gone and we are seeing a shift in customer expectations. People nowadays demand authenticity, sustainability and no furore. Demonstrative luxury is a dead duck. For Porsche Design it never existed. As the world of luxury changes, our products and brand will take the spotlight.
In our ideal Porsche Design world, the whole object has to be considered within its functionality, with form and function taking equal significance. One does not work without the other. In saying this though, one also doesn't follow the other. A truly good product has to fulfil both aspects in order to become a long-term success: aesthetics and function.
Q. What would you say was your most inspired decision since you joined the company?
A. To focus on our heritage. From 2003 to 2007, the company tried to position itself as a 'men only' brand. However, back in 1977 the initial sketch of our legendary aviator shades had been drafted on a female face. Women's watches and accessories followed. Just think of the legendary sports shield which has become iconic because Yoko Ono wore them all the time. Therefore, in 2010 we decided to again offer Porsche Design to our female customers, with products dedicated solely to their purposes and style.