Ten Minutes with Marek Reichman, Aston Martin Design Director

Apr 10, 2015 04:00 AM EDT | Jeff Jablansky

Chatting with a designer is one way of understanding how a product came to be.

Naturally, when acclaimed designer Marek Reichman made himself available to us at the New York auto show, we jumped at the chance.

Auto World News: Tell me a bit about where Aston Martin design is going.

Marek Reichman: Aston Martin design will always be about beauty and proportion. We have a saying in the company, "power, beauty, and soul," which is what the brand stands for. The beauty part of that is evident in all our products. As we move forward, beauty will always have to be a key component. We make beautiful cars that have fabulous proportions, which give them timeless appeal. It's the reason why you see a DB5 as a beautiful car today, versus when it was a beautiful car in the late '50s. It's very, very important. On the Aston Martin Vulcan, you start to see new language of design, in terms of how assertive that Aston Martin beauty can become. You'll see a much more diverse product range, and differentiation between each of the products, if you consider Vulcan, DBX, and Lagonda as three very different products that are all Aston Martins at the end of the day. You can kind of see the spread, and the relationship, between those products.

Vulcan and DBX are somewhat divergent in theme.

I think that's important. For me, it's important to show the stretch that the brand can have. Vulcan is very unique. It's 24 cars only. In many ways, it has to do something that you wouldn't expect, and it has to do something that will attract a collector or investor into a £1.5 million car. At the end of the day, it still has a beautiful proportion, it still has beautiful surface language. DBX is diametrically opposed to that, because it's about GT touring. It's more about the grace and elegance of a true Aston Martin.

As mainstream cars are using beauty as a differentiation point, what is the hardest part about Aston Martin design remaining distinct?

At the end of the day, the key to beauty is proportion. We are fortunate enough to produce cars that have proportions that will always be exceptional: the front overhangs, how low the bonnet is, how low the roofline is, the relationship of door to glass. As we've seen, we do have many followers, in many respects. How do we stay ahead of the game? How does Valentino stay ahead of the game each time he comes up with a new dress? When you are the authentic, you have to stick with your conviction. You have to be true to what your values are, and therefore you will not disappoint.

How is the possibility of alternative propulsion influencing what you do as a designer?

It's great. It's relatively free in terms of how you then proportion a car, because you can place those batteries really anywhere-whereas with petrol-driven carbon fuels, you have a lump that you have to package somewhere. With a battery, you can have a flat pack, or you can have a lump if you wish. The freedom is there to give more space to the occupants inside, and more freedom to the ultimate proportion. That's something we know very well. Really, it's a huge advantage.

Right now, you could argue that a lot of Aston Martin models share similar designs. Going forward, is that a philosophy you want to keep? Will all cars look like one another?

They will always look like Aston Martins, but I think, as you said, in terms of Vulcan versus DBX, there is a definite split between those products. That's something that you will see carry through to the core of our products. What we've done to this point, in order to make Vulcan, is make a statement about who Aston Martin is. In 102 years, we've made 70,000 cars. The majority of those cars have come in about the last 13 years. Establishing who we are was so important. We're now into the next century of that, where we have a foundation, people know Aston Martin, and now we can start to push the boundaries.

What are you driving these days?

I have a V-12 Vantage S.

How do you like it?

It's awesome. Now, I'm on winter tires, and when the roads are a little slippery, it's just great.

How does classic design play into your next work?

We have a rich heritage, and that's important. It gives us value. It gives us credence. Everything that we've done in my era is about pushing the boundary where we can, whether the V-12 Zagato, or creating the first four-door car. It was about massaging the message of what Aston Martin was. I'm not someone who looks at design in a retrospective way. I look at design from a future-thinking perspective.

How will the partnership with AMG influence what you do?

It really doesn't have a huge influence on myself, other than their engines are very compact and powerful. The AMG engine is fabulous, and the electrical architecture will allow the functional side of our design to come through. Shape and form is one side of what design does; the other side is how you use your sports car. Having that technology now, in terms of user interface and inputs, and driver aids-whether we decide to use them or not-allows our customers to have greater capability and usage for their product.

When you start a new design, from which angle do you start?

For me, the car lives on its side-view proportion. It's about getting the side view right, but that has to have the input of "What is the car?" For instance, what is Vulcan? If I just say it's an Aston Martin, that doesn't really tell me anything other than, "I need to make it look like an Aston Martin." But if you say, there are only 24, it can be striking and special. It's £1.5 million? OK, I have to really deliver on the expectation of that price tag. It's going to be powerful and low to the ground, and it's going to have a lot of aero. Immediately, it's giving me a sense of proportion and a sense of imagery. I know straightaway I need a wing, so I have to balance the design in that respect. At the end of the day, design is about balance. Proportion and balance.

Tell me a little bit about the Vulcan taillights.

The inspiration came from an online car that we did in conjunction with Gran Turismo: a mid-engined car called DP-100. Those lights featured on that car, and I wanted to put them in production. It's about deconstructing the light. You hear many chefs talk about deconstructing food; this is taking the element of a light, which is usually a cam with LEDs inside, and exposing the LED, making it the feature of the light. There is a little bit of a fun element to it, as well, if you actually look at what it's doing. It looks as if the light is being extracted through speed. Imagine taking a photograph of a solid light. You always get a light trail. I wanted this comparison with the speed of light.

What other design trends are you following?

I'm a big fan of certain fashion houses. Valentino is always doing exceptional things. The camouflaging that Valentino is doing now. The mix of colors, how unusual they are. If I look at architecture, then there are some wonderful architects around the world. Norman Foster. Richard Rodgers-he's in his eighties and still designing buildings. He is a phenomenon. I look at furniture design. As a designer, you have to have open eyes and look everywhere. I just came back from a trip to Jakarta, and on to Seoul, and I learned so much about color and the experience of color in those two countries, which are not so far apart, and [how they] think differently about color and shape.

In your mid-eighties, do you still want to be designing cars?

Yes, absolutely. Hopefully, everything else, as well. That's where we're at right now. I'm designing boats and accessories-all my responsibilities-and collaboration. In general, designing. I enjoy design. It's my passion. I love cooking, but my passion is design.

Auto World News was on the ground and covering the 2015 New York International Auto Show. Check out our up-to-the-minute coverage of all the action in New York City, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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