Marc Newson is the design genius behind this €25,000 Ferrari book
OK, it sounds like quite a lot of money, but it’s the same amount as a few carbon bits on your 812, so really it’s good value...
Marc Newson is a man in command of an astounding aesthetic vision. Projects include the bottle for Hennessy’s XO, the packaging for a Louis Vuitton fragrance, Nike’s VaporMax, and the beautiful Atmos 568 timepiece for JaegerLeCoultre. On this the mechanism appears to be floating in air, encased in Baccarat crystal. Newson has suspended time itself.
Now he’s done a book on Ferrari. It’s a collaboration with Taschen. This is no ordinary publication, particularly if you fork out for the Newson-designed Art Edition; produced in a limited run of 250 examples, each costs €25k.
“Benedikt [Taschen] wanted to do a book on Enzo Ferrari, in the same vein as the one Taschen produced on Muhammad Ali,” Newson explains. “It coincided with Ferrari’s 70th anniversary, so it became broader in scope. I always thought an exhaust manifold would make the most fantastic art piece. They’re inherently sculptural, and I’d never seen it used in this context.
“It’s something you could only really do with Taschen. No one else would entertain the idea of essentially casting an engine block. I took the quintessential Colombo V12 engine, reproportioned it, and made the cam covers open and close. We had to design every component, so it was complicated.”
Having trained in sculpture and jewellery design, his appreciation of surface form is evident. An aviation enthusiast as well as a car lover, he exploded onto the scene with the Nineties Lockheed Lounge, a riveted chaise longue fabricated from aluminium plates. Only 10 were made (plus a few proofs and a prototype), and it’s currently the most valuable piece of furniture made by a living designer: a new record was set in 2015 when Phillips in London sold an example in auction for £2.43m.
About half of his time is spent at Apple. He won’t be drawn on exactly what he’s working on right now, for obvious reasons, but Apple’s long-anticipated automotive project, Titan, is said to be firmly on hold. “I don’t know, I can’t say if the Apple car is on or off,” Newson says.
He’s a car guy, though. He owns a Vignalebodied Ferrari 225 S and Bugatti Type 59, and had a Cisitalia 202 MM but sold it (“absolutely beautiful to look at, but a bitch to drive”). In his youth, back in his native Australia, he drove a Citroen DS. The greatest automotive design ever? “It’s top 10 for me. I’d nominate the Alfa Romeo 33 Stradale. A Bugatti Type 59 from a purely aesthetic point of view, the Lamborghini Miura of course, and so many Ferraris. I felt like I started in the Seventies and just went back and back. Now I’m properly pre-war, in love with Talbot-Lagos and Delahayes.”
Such is his reverse journey that he’s no fan of modern car design – or more accurately the corporate culture that it operates within. “The automotive world is too self-referential, too myopic. They don’t get out enough. We have a modern car for the family, but I don’t drive it, I find it particularly soul-destroying. I would prefer to take a taxi or walk, quite honestly.”
Eventually, he admits to admiring the Audi A2 and Volkswagen’s XL1. Both are clever, quirky, and uncompromising. He also rates the current Range Rover. “They’ve done an amazing job of taking ownership of that space,” he says. But he’s really not happy.
“Having had the privilege of working with Apple, you can see how design is conceived, how ideas are created. It’s a rarity in industry, because most things are designed by the board.
One thing sets Apple apart: they lead, they don’t follow. Everyone else follows them.”
Intriguingly, he’s only been involved in one automotive project, the still-captivating Ford 021C, unveiled back at 1999’s Tokyo motor show. Will there be more? It seems unlikely.
“Look, I don’t want to sound so disparaging, but I still feel there is a leap to be made. I’d hazard a guess and say that most automotive designers really don’t have much clue what’s going on in fashion. There needs to be more cross-referencing, more contamination. It’s really clear to people like us because we can look from the outside in.”
‘I’m not saying people in the automotive world need to come and talk to me, but I think it would help if there was a broader frame of reference. I’ve talked to Flavio [Manzoni, Ferrari’s design vice president] about it, and he for one is open to having that dialogue. I appreciate that the creatives in these industries are shackled to an extent, they’re working for incredibly hierarchal companies.”
Unsurprisingly, his approach – and punchy opinions – have put him at loggerheads with the car design world. “He has no idea just how difficult it is,” one senior figure told me. I ask Newson to define his role.
“We’re problem-solvers, guns for hire. If you can’t solve different sorts of problems, you’re not a good designer,” he replies. “If you were just making chairs day in and day out, you’d probably be a great craftsperson, but maybe not a great designer. I don’t see a fundamental difference between designing a pen, bottle or boat. They’re all made of something. They’re all performing a particular function, and the objects themselves are solving problems.”
“You’re left with learning about materials, processes, technologies, but those things could be applied to anything. When I design luggage, I’m inspired by what I learned when I was working for Nike. There’s a lot these industries can learn from each other, but few people make these connections because they don’t have the opportunity and they don’t identify the opportunity. But I do. I am a control freak – that goes without saying. You have to be.”
On which note, Elon Musk is widely thought to be the closest the car industry has come to Apple’s ex-chairman, CEO and co-founder, Steve Jobs. As someone who knew him, I ask Newson whether it’s a cult of personality thing.
“Tesla is as close as you’ll get to a dictatorship. There’s one guy there, deciding what he wants. It won’t happen in the conventional power structures. In terms of his singularity, there are some similarities [between them]. But in terms of taste, I’m not sure. Steve Jobs had a fantastic vision and great taste. It’s a subjective thing to talk about, but…”
Not content with just taking inspiration from aeronautical engineering (for his Lockheed Lounge chaise longue), Newson also designed a private jet in 2004, the Kelvin40, named after the absolute zero guy