Fashion and car worlds mix and match in trend-setting shapes and designs for 2017

Mercedes brings in smoother bodies while Ferrari rewrites interior design, and Rolls embodies a new generation of automotive ateliers

PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 July, 2017, 5:06pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 July, 2018, 9:53pm

Fashion influences seem increasingly pronounced in the car world this year. At April’s Shanghai Auto Show, Mercedes-Benz presented its rounded Concept A Sedan with the purr and pout of a Parisian atelier. The sedan “shows that the time of creases is over”, Daimler design chief Gorden Wagener said. “With its perfect proportions and a sensual treatment of surfaces with reduced lines, it is the next milestone of ‘sensual purity’ and has the potential to introduce a new design era.”

Such comments suggest retro grilles and curves are back, along with bulging bonnets and bigger wheel arches. Mercedes-Benz also reminded Shanghai how the Concept A Sedan “expresses self-confidence” with deep “eyebrowed” headlights – and reaffirmed the increasing importance of bonnet “make-up” for cars.

Luxury cars in Hong Kong already have daytime running-light “eyeliner” and “mascara”; but look out for more interior cabin “mood” lights made of tiny, colour-changing electronic bulbs.

Audi’s new A8 in Barcelona last week revealed the marque’s advances in LED and OLED light designs, and the sophistication could spur other makes into more dynamic, more communicative grille and tail-light configurations.

However, watch out for BMW’s hexagonal headlights. Launched for the Bavarian marque’s mainland-only 1 Series saloon, they might set a new preference for angular “Chinese” headlight designs.

Ferrari also shaped car fashions on July 5, when its futuristic, limited-run J50 won the top Red Dot design award. The Ferrari GTC4Lusso also received distinction in Essen, largely because its Dual Cockpit Architecture turns the grand tourer’s cabin into a less driver-centric, more inclusive social space.

This plush, potentially trendsetting interior design allows the GTC4Lusso’s front passenger to control her own 10.25-inch HD capacitive touchscreen.

The model’s central tunnel also acts like a table or “a bridge” between front and rear passengers in wraparound seats, arguably turning the Ferrari into more of a mobile salon.

Car upholstery continues to improve, but Maserati and Ermenegildo Zegna in Geneva raised expectations in cabin luxury with their Levante Show Car collaboration. This sport utility vehicle has a 275-horsepower, three-litre diesel turbo V6 and a competitive Q4 intelligent all-wheel-drive system.

However, the marque has also luxed the SUV’s cockpit in “Chevron” beige “new conceptual” 100 per cent silk fabric with a “Natte” pattern on the door panels; a “Jersey” variant on the roof lining and sun visors. The success of the Maserati and Zegna collaboration in March could encourage more marque and label collaborations.

Citroen’s luxury unit, DS, did just that this spring, when it applied Parisian atelier touches to a compact – and created the fashionista must-have DS 3 Inès de la Fressange Limited Edition.

With a French blue body, white roof and “Inès Red” touches, it ushers a new trend in brighter, more adventurous compact cabin designs last seen in red, baby blue and Gucci Fiat 500s.

The DS-Inès collaboration also introduces red-white-blue “airmail” livery to rear window pillars. Powered by a PureTech 110 block with a six-speed automatic gearbox and stop and start, the limited edition could be a distinctive bestseller in label-mad Hong Kong, but its availability could be tight, even via a parallel importer, as only 200 models were sold in right-hand-drive Britain in May, for £21,830 (US$28,349) apiece.

Rolls-Royce seems the trendiest marque on the block. It keeps saying its owners are younger, although baby-faced Rolls-Royce drivers seem hard to find in Hong Kong’s “mature” car market.

Even so, in Geneva, it presented the Rolls-Royce Ghost Elegance, the first luxury car to be finished in “Diamond Stardust” paint, a shade created from 1,000 diamonds in a clear resin. Its spread leaves the stones undetectable to the touch and raises questions whether Rolls-Royce might move its know-how into jewellery. After all, last autumn, Germany’s Daniela and Annette Felder created a dress from the carbon fibre used in the BMW i3 and i8.

However, Rolls-Royce went full-tilt for Chinese fashionista at the Shanghai Auto Show in April, with edgy Black Badge customisations for the Wraith and Ghost (also presented at this year’s London Fashion Week) and a Ghost Sartorial Collection for the China market.

However, the Rolls-Royce’s “Dawn stole the show in white and a choice of red, blue or gold roofs and matching trims. The richest might be tempted to buy all three as the convertible variant represents “simplified, classic style”, the marque says.

“As featured on numerous catwalks throughout London Fashion Week, colour blocking, said to have originated from the artwork of Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, is a bold trend that sees opposite colours paired together to make interesting and complementary combinations,” Rolls-Royce says.

“This current fashion trend features as the main garment on the car, a brightly coloured canvas roof that unfolds in a ‘Silent Ballet’.”

Rolls then took automotive fashion to new levels in May at the Concorso d’Eleganza at Villa d’Este, in northern Italy, where it revealed how rich customers can now set automotive trends.

One devotee liked the swept-tail of 1920s Rolls-Royces so much that he asked the marque’s coachbuilders to make him one. It obliged – and probably set a trend for more tapered cars with yacht-like lines. The Sweptail might also have encouraged the super rich into more adventurous, competitive customisation, while Rolls-Royce reaffirmed its atelier role at the bespoke car’s unveiling.

“Sweptail is the automotive equivalent of haute couture,” said Giles Taylor, director of design at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.

“It is Rolls-Royce-designed and hand-tailored to fit a specific customer. This customer came to the House of Rolls-Royce with an idea, shared in the creative process where we advised him on his cloth, and then we tailored that cloth to him. You might say we cut the cloth for the suit of clothes that he will be judged by.”

Meanwhile, Bentley has customised its Bentayga for fly fishing, and now falconry, with special marquetry, storage and even special, in-cabin perches for the sport. Aston Martin also brought its own “haute-motor” couture at Auto China, when it launched its AMR performance arm. The marque also presented its upmarket custom unit, “Q by Aston Martin – Commission”, that makes individualised cars such as the 2.09 million yuan (US$309,000) V8 Vantage S Great Britain Edition “specifically for the Chinese market”. Limited to just five examples, the edition suggests the car bespoke world is increasingly competitive, and luxury car trends have stepped up a gear this year.