Master Designer

Words by Ann Marie McQueen

7 min read

Aston Martin’s chief creative officer Marek Reichman talks luxury sports cars, how shoes influence interiors – and the one supercar he wishes he could have designed

Ask Marek Reichman about his favourite Aston Martin, and he doesn’t hesitate. “Without a doubt, at the moment, the Valkyrie,” says the British carmaker’s executive vice-president and chief creative officer.

Aston Martin’s Marek Reichman

March will be sure to provide some exciting moments for Marek, the company, and lovers of Aston Martin design and engineering worldwide. That’s when Aston Martin will reveal its latest supercar at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, running from March 7 to 17. Dubbed the ‘son of Valkyrie’, the car has been code-named Project 003, a nod to the company’s longtime association with the James Bond franchise – sparked when the DB5 first appeared in the 1964 film, Goldfinger. The company has already teased a rear-view image of the sleek, mid-engined model, which was developed with the Red Bull Racing F1 Team’s Advanced Technologies division, and is due to be released in 2021. Although it’s designed for racing, the third hypercar to follow Valkyrie and Valkyrie AMR Pro is expected to be more suited to the road than the previous editions –perhaps, for the first time, with a little space for luggage.

“Keep your eyes open at Geneva, you’ll see a lot of our future,” teases Marek. “And I think it is important to mention that we are on the third car in our second-century plan, in which there are seven. So over time, we will show obviously
the next four cars – the sequence.”

It’s the kind of challenge that an industrial designer like Marek, who has been with Aston Martin for more than a decade, relishes: revamping an iconic brand without losing its sense of place and history. Under his guidance, Aston Martin has produced memorable models, including the DBX Concept, Vanquish Volante, Rapide S, and DB11. Marek says that to be a successful designer, one has to not only understand the brand, but formulate future plans that everyone involved in the production process can get behind. “We are very much aligned around the love of beautiful,” he explains. “So everything that we do, past, present, and future, is based around the principle. I think beauty is something that transcends time and gender. It is simply the answer everyone is looking for in an object – you want it to look beautiful and last a long time.”

Aston Martin was founded when an English businessman named Lionel Martin partnered up with an engineer named Robert Bamford and began production from a small London workshop in 1913. The company was named after Lionel (Martin) took on the Aston Clinton Hill Climb race, in Buckinghamshire, England – and won. All these decades later, 53-year-old Marek is still involved in the process, from inception to delivery, and so the aesthetics are his entirely. But as is the case with any form of industrial design, beauty cannot be purely skin-deep. “Obviously, I have to work very closely with my engineering counterpart to ensure the cars are as performance-oriented as they are beautiful,” he says.

When Marek took over the design department at Aston Martin, there were just five people working in a rented space. There are now two design studios and a team of 120 people. “The challenge has been growing the team and meeting the needs of the second-century plans, in terms of different design aesthetics, and across all products,” he explains. Coming from Range Rover, where he worked on iconic designs like the Rolls-Royce Phantom and Range Rover MKIII, at Aston Martin, Marek encountered an entirely different ethos. The feeling of shifting to a company that has been making sports cars for more than 100 years was “just the best”, he tells us.

An Aston Martin craftsman hand-trims a leather seat.

The performance levels of the products are far more relevant to their designs, Marek explains, with F1-type technology and materials. “I would point to the Valkyrie, it is probably the world’s most efficient car in terms of power-to-weight delivery,” he says. “So it makes a difference to make something perform, versus designing something within a certain segment, either luxury or off-road luxury.” Although Marek has furnished an accomplished career, one man cannot be everywhere, at every time. And so explains his professional jealousy towards the Italian car designer Marcello Gandini and the team at Lamborghini. The one car he wishes he had been able to work on was the Lamborghini Miura, the first supercar with a rear mid-engined, two-seat layout. The Lamborghini Miura began its seven years of production back in 1966 – the same year Marek was born in Sheffield, South Yorkshire.

“It changed the face of supercars, and still today it is one of the most elegant and powerful supercars that ever existed,” says of the Miura. He wouldn’t change a thing about it, either, admitting that he was “envious of Gandini and what he did.” These days, the company is continuing its long tradition of involvement in global pop culture, whether it’s Agent 007 driving the DB5 on cinema screens, or working with the British menswear retailer Hackett, founded by designer Jeremy Hackett in 1983. Throughout the dozen years, Aston Martin and Hackett have worked together, Marek has developed a personal relationship with the designer. The process can be challenging, he says, what with fashion’s seasonal demands and the three-plus years it takes to develop and produce a car.

Photography: Nick Tydeman

“Fashion obviously has a different turnaround to the automotive industry, so we keep supplementing ideas with our thoughts,” Marek explains. In turn, fashion’s influence on carmakers – and Aston Martin design, in particular – can be seen in the smallest details. Marek points to the interior leather work on the DB11, a grand tourer the company began to produce in 2016, as an example. “We have something we call brouging – where you find small holes within the leather, and at the back of those holes there is either a contrast leather or a complete tone-in-tone leather, and that idea comes directly from the world of making shoes,” he explains.

“If you look at the top of an English shoe, say an Oxford shoe, you get the tiny holes , and that is called a brogue.” He goes on to explain that many of Aston Martin’s interiors have been inspired by the world of saddle making, and the hosiery that is involved in the process.

“We translate that,” he says. “If you look back at Hermès, the company was a saddle maker, and a lot of that technique in stitching, bonding and welding leather together comes from the world of fashion, through saddle making.”

It’s similar when it comes to textiles, with Marek making reference to Aston Martin’s past collaborations with the Royal College of Art. “Pattern-making within textiles is very, very, important,” he says. “Whether it was purely visual or purely from the grip, we do a lot of work to develop materials that have a direct influence from the fashion industry or textile industry. Mostly on the inside, there is direct relevance to the fashion industry.”

Interiors are handcrafted by Aston Martin’s most experienced tailors

Future collaborations are always possible, with the brand’s vehicles becoming, over the decades, a part of the iconic make up of Great Britain. “I think any collaboration we do in respect to that, there is a lot of understanding of the passion that sits behind the mark,” he says. “People are interested in our story, and our story captivates the mind.” Marek also says there is room for future collaborations in fashion, outside of the long-term relationship the company has with Hackett, and perhaps even men’s fashion. “Then we obviously look to other companies, maybe within the female arena, or with children,” he says. “The sense of collaboration always has to be that the two companies are coming together to make something better than they can being on their own. So, yes, of course, we continue with Hackett, but we do look at other brands to seek inspiration and potential collaboration.”

Whatever direction the company chooses to go in, Marek ensures it will be with the same sort of authentic, like-minded people who toil along beside him. “Aston Martin is pure, and it has a lot of emotion – in both its design and how it is made,” he says. “You come around the factory and you see the people who are proud to make our cars. They’ve been made the same way, really, by hand, for years.” As for whether the company has any GCC-specific projects under wraps – such as the four-door Lagonda Taraf that was launched exclusively in the Gulf before becoming a global product – Marek offers us a general sense of optimism. The region often gets special treatment, not only due to its thirst for bespoke luxury but, as he explains, because of its different demands in terms of colour, usage and temperature. “Without giving away any secrets, we always think of our partners in the Gulf in terms of special products, and many of the specials that we do, do end up end with Gulf-only specification,” he says.

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