Marc Newson may have designed everything from chairs to the interiors of private jets and spacecraft, but he’s very particular in his car preferences: ‘I love old cars of a specific type, the right era, the style, the design from a cultural point of view, and that mostly means Ferrari. Or perhaps a Maserati.’
And because for Sydney-born Newson Italy’s post-war manufacturing resurgence, il miracolo economico, was ‘the golden age, the birthplace of contemporary design’, he’s owned two Ferraris from the period, the first a 225 S and, these days, an 857 S (‘an obscure, little known racing car’).
There is, he reckons, ‘a certain kind of magic’ to Italian automotive design that comes from that rich history: ‘One of the great things about Italian design generally – and to a degree it is still true – is that industry was led by individuals and family businesses, so things can happen quickly and spontaneously. You can get things done.’
Sitting in Ferrari’s Knightsbridge Atelier, Newson, like Director of Ferrari Design Flavio Manzoni alongside him, bemoans the lack of courage in most modern car design (present company excepted): ‘One has more choice but it is all very homogeneous and, to a degree, soulless. For me, brands like Ferrari are not only more pleasing fundamentally, they are also a lot more necessary.’
Why necessary? ‘There are lots of practical considerations [today] that are more rigid and demanding: regulatory, safety… There’s infinitely more bureaucracy. To retain individuality like Ferrari has is very commendable. We need to be fearful of the marketing departments, the focus groups of the world, but they are the realities we live with, unfortunately. Courage is important and you need to exercise your will if you feel you are right.’
A belief in sculptural beauty is essential, and Manzoni is definitely a believer. ‘A Ferrari must be sculpture in motion, a work of art. The problem is how to reconcile these two aspects: the beauty and the complexity of the project.’
One of the great things about Italian design generally – and to a degree it is still true – is that industry was led by individuals and family businesses, so things can happen quickly and spontaneously. You can get things done
As a designer, Newson has to be aware of a brand’s values and distinctiveness. The skill is to innovate while retaining brand distinctiveness. His work is now found in museums’ design collections the world over and, like a vintage Ferrari, can command record prices at auction. ‘There’s always the suggestion that you are a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, but if you are an industrial designer, more than ever you need to have an understanding of contemporary culture. The level of cross-pollination between different design disciplines, even architecture, is becoming blurrier.’