Anyone even familiar in passing with fashion will have seen various clips or photographs of the latest catwalk trends from London, Paris or New York and thought, “Who would wear that?!” Surprisingly, the answer is often nobody, and deliberately so. The outfits will often never see the light of day again after that short stint on the runway.
So what’s the point? I thought I would use concept cars as an illustration. With the Paris motor show just gone, and all manner of new concept vehicles being shown recently, there’s a lot more to be found in common with haute couture fashion than you would think.
I’ve worked in the automotive industry for my entire professional career, and so have become quite familiar with how and why things are done. It’s my firm belief that the very same reasons that motivate a company to produce an outlandish concept car are the same ones that drive the latest catwalk trends.
So here are some of the main reasons concept cars are produced.
Sometimes carmakers just want to know what people think of an idea. It’s all too easy to get caught up in our little bubble of design and forget that what you may think is awesome really, well, isn’t. So, often when a company is wondering whether or not it’s worth pursuing a particular project, they’ll invest in a concept car – like this amazing Mercedes Maybach 6
Showcase New Design Language
A concept car may just be a platform to hint at new design language, too. Take Aston Martin’s DBX concept shown at Geneva in March 2015. Look at the roof line and the way it joins at the rear quarter. Looks a lot like the DB11, no?
Prove You’re Still On the Cutting Edge
I work with a lot of automotive designers, and I know that at times they get incredibly frustrated that their designs become compromised by cost or technical feasibility. Of course, it’s a reality of good business, and these products all have budgets to stick to and obviously have to be safe. At times though, concept cars are used as a way to give designers a bit freer rein and show precisely what they’re capable of if they’re given their own way.
I’m pretty sure this is what happened with this GT concept from Citroen. It’s bonkers. Will they ever make it? Almost certainly not – it would never make sense. But I’m certain the designers wanted a way to show that they could design sports cars like the best of them.
Preview a New Model
It takes a long time to get a new car to production – sometimes as long as 5 years. In general, what the vehicle will look like is defined pretty early on, and so manufacturers like to start to build some hype and show that they’re not just resting on their laurels. Take Land Rover’s new Discovery, for example. Launched at the Paris Motor Show this year, the resemblance to the Discovery Vision concept shown in New York in 2014 is uncanny. Not only did it show what was coming in 2017, it also previewed the Discovery Sport too.
So the next time you see footage of the catwalks and wonder what it is that the fashion designers have been smoking, bear in mind that often they are doing exactly the same thing that these car designers are doing. Yes, sometimes certain elements may be deliberately controversial, in an effort to gain the spotlight and be seen as innovative. But this is healthy – it challenges the status quo, and makes people ask ‘what if’.
You may not see the exact replicas of the designs on the high street, but you’ll certainly see diluted and sanitised elements.
The reason I think it looks so outlandish for fashion is the frequency of it. There are numerous motor shows per year, but as mentioned, developing cars takes time. They can only move forwards and innovate so quickly. Not so for fashion – with Spring/Summer and Autumn/Winter happening twice every year, and all the fashion shows to go along with them, it’s easy for fashion houses to almost completely reinvent themselves year-upon-year.
Instead of asking “Who would wear that?!” when next you are looking at the latest catwalk trends, instead ask “Why are they doing that?” Break it down into elements – cut, print, materials, colours; suddenly you’ll see a lot more sense. Before long, I guarantee you’ll be wearing those very same elements you were so quick to criticise as part of a whole.
Nathan Stowe owns and writes for Manporium.com, The Luxury Blog for Men.