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      03-20-2014, 01:38 PM   #1
Law
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C/D Interview x Chris Bangle: Retrospective Thoughts

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C/D: You quit BMW in 2009. Any regrets?

CB: Seventeen years in that job is a long time—three generations of most models. For this next phase, my wife and I started a design company in Italy. But, in truth, every design is a car design. There just aren’t the old clay models around.

C/D: You once said your cars don’t look good in photos. Why?

CB: If, for instance, you’d never seen a Porsche 911, then suddenly saw only a side view of the car, well, it suffers—one of the most unusually proportioned vehicles ever. For complex cars, you need to take that “memory walk” 360 degrees around the car, and then you see how the different themes are connected.

C/D: Who most influenced you?

CB: Giorgetto Giugiaro was a designer’s designer, pushing the relationship between form and function, always respecting manufacturing processes— the VW Golf, for example. Then there’s Marcello Gandini, who could design an abstract supercar as an ultimate statement—take the Countach, for instance.

C/D: Who are your clients nowadays?

CB: Lots of different companies. Hennessy came to me to do a new V.S.O.P. cognac bottle, an iconic form that hadn’t been touched in a long time. You’d better not screw it up! It reminded me of designing the Mini. And I’m the master designer for Samsung. I’ll leave it at that.

C/D: As China’s car market grows, will its styling preferences begin to outweigh Western preferences?

CB: The Chinese span the spectrum of design, from mega-boring to wacky beyond belief. They’ll attach wings to the back of a Smart! But what they like best is to have a brand’s respectability, and to do that, you have to have a palatable consistency. I think they’re missing a chance to create an aesthetic that is uniquely Chinese, their own look.

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C/D: Do you own a copy of each car you designed?

CB: No. What’s in my garage is boxes. But I do own a BMW X6, and my wife drives an X3. And somewhere I’ve got a Fiat Topolino and some scooters.

C/D: You describe current car design as “mannerism.” What do you mean?

CB: It’s a term used by architects, when they take their own imagery, symbols, and designs and play with them and exaggerate them and repeat them as if they’re the only ones who are getting the joke.

C/D: Is anyone being original?

CB: A few. The guys at Citroën.

C/D: Is the anything-goes concept car dead?

CB: No, there are a few things they sometimes pull out of the hat. But the premises are still the same. They’re not trying to change people’s idea of mobility, not trying to rethink the whole aesthetic of the vehicle. There’s always a greenhouse as a predefined area and the same arrangement of the seats. The great concept car is still waiting to be made.

C/D: Do you still sketch cars for fun?

CB: I sketch cars all the time. I try to understand the mental processes at work when you change things. I found a late-1700s coach design, done in paper in France. The surface changes on it are phenomenal: a tumblehome as powerful as the Pyramids, then it reverses so it’s wider at the top than the bottom. Show me a vehicle today that has those cojones.

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C/D: Your 7-series, launched in 2001, engendered the “Bangle Butt” label. When the car sold so well, did the sniping end?

CB: People now say, “Hey, you were right after all,” so that’s gratifying. But that story is old. I’ll leave my butt where it is.

C/D: Is it possible there are iconic car designs yet to be created?

CB: Not impossible at all. “A culture is measured by the questions it asks.” That’s a quote from a frustrated physicist whose project got canceled. You can measure car designers the same way: “What questions are you asking?” When Oscar Wilde first saw Niagara Falls, he said, “It would be more impressive if it flowed the other way.”

C/D: Does the DeltaWing interest you?

CB: Well, it’s less the shape that intrigued me and more the idea that someone revived the Reliant Robin.

C/D: Anything you’d have done differently in your life?

CB: Maybe become trilingual? Or be like my aunt, who can play the accordion upside down on a card table? I should have started my sketchbooks earlier, sooner than 1977. If there’s gonna be a test after life, it’s nice to have taken notes.

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