“Provoke positively” – to whom who wants to arouse desire, has to go beyond boundaries. Interview with Steffen Köhl, Head of Advanced Exterior Design Mercedes-Benz
Project MAYBACH is a collaboration between Mercedes-Benz, Virgil Abloh and Gorden Wagener. Abloh designed menswear for Louis Vuitton since 2018, and Wagener is chief design officer of Mercedes-Benz. Together, they have created a car that is truly unique. In an interview with Steffen Köhl, Head of Advanced Exterior Design, we asked about the specifics and backgrounds of this fascinating and exciting collaboration.
Please describe what spontaneously goes through your mind when you think of Project MAYBACH?
Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the incredible power and creative output that I experienced from the different teams. There was a very special spirit and an incredible amount of international and global thinking, as well as acting, present. This unique experience has stayed very much with me.
What role did Virgil Abloh play in this project?
His history is also international, he was an American, lived a lot in Paris and has connected Europe and America exquisitely well. He had an enormous influence on this project with his experience and his eye for the special.
What exactly do you mean by “very well connected”?
He provided, with his creative thinking and his influential European luxury brand, the connection of many creative working people. As a result, more and more meridians overlapped and the globe became increasingly interwoven through all the influences. There seemed to be no boundaries anymore.
And with what result?
It led to the fact that we had very different designs at the beginning and also very different understandings for the exterior. We had very early, very exciting designs, which were then discussed with Virgil and Gorden. Because of Covid, these meetings often took place in large team calls, so they were rather digital than physically on site. That led to a remarkable observation on my part. Unlike on-site meetings, the digitization led to very concrete objects that could be seen much earlier, not “just” pretty drafts. This sped up the finding process considerably.
What specifications were used to define the design process?
Well, in a sense, in a project like this, there are no “specifications.” That would negatively affect the thinking process. The only thing, one might say, was of course by 100 years of Maybach in connection with the fantastic combination of Virgil and Gorden, a certain elegance was given. In retrospect, we have combined the elegance of the Maybach with something completely new, something offbeat. And since our design philosophy of “Sensual Purity” is all about the harmony of contrasts, we didn’t want to replace this elegance with even more elegance, but instead with something adventurous. This is how the idea to connect Maybach with extraordinary themes like outdoor, glamping and survival came into fruition and to strike new paths.
So I’m interested to know what Virgil’s influence was?
It was Gorden’s idea that this connection fits very well with Virgil’s “Off-White” label. I’m sure he wasn’t just thinking of Louis Vuitton, but of Virgil’s “Off-White” brand in particular, which has a much more straightforward design with clear graphics, suitcases and straps. Virgil is rather a geometric, cubic type, if one may describe him in such a way. And harmonizing this angularity with the elegance of the Maybach was the goal of this challenging task. You can see what the result was.
Please describe in your own words what came out of it…
Take a closer look at the car. Just take a look at the greenhouse. See this incredibly beautiful, black, transparent, almost fluid proportion that flows seamlessly into the hood. seamlessly into the hood. In addition, the deliberate pairing with the boxy design – two opposites which are actually mutually exclusive, allow the elegance of the Maybach to be completely reinterpreted.
You gush…does everyone gush about this vehicle?
Of course, we were aware of the contradictory nature and provocation that this vehicle would cause. However, the shaking heads and the many question marks are already deliberate of vehicles of this kind. Provoking is an essential component. A positive provocation, of course. That triggers discussions and moves people to think and act. If we no longer succeed in provoking with show cars every now and then, we will become irrelevant.
Of course, no carmaker wants to be that.
That’s true. And at Mercedes-Benz in particular, we are increasingly focusing on luxury and electrification. And Gorden once put it this way: A real luxury brand can afford to do something like Project MAYBACH. It even has to. As a classic carmaker, you face limits that are there to please. But when you go from a classic car manufacturer to a luxury brand, then these classic boundaries simply fall away and suddenly you’re the one setting new trends and deliberately provoking new ideas. This is the only way to create an object that arouses the interest and desires of many people. It triggers desires and surprises in a pleasant sense – because it transcends boundaries. And this is of course also the purpose of such a collaboration as we have seen between Virgil, Gorden and all those involved.