Virgil Abloh’s final collaboration

The Louis Vuitton designer, who has just died aged 41, made a career of his many diverse interests. His last one was with Mercedes-Benz
When Gorden Wagener, chief design officer of Mercedes-Benz, first paid a visit to Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton’s headquarters in Paris there was a small hitch. “It was a Saturday, and I was in front of this huge building but there was no doorbell,” says Wagener, who eventually gained entrance, via a series of phone calls, security gates and an elevator, to the studio of the men’s artistic director for Louis Vuitton. “The space was nothing that I would have expected – there were DJ mixing decks, pieces of furniture and clothing in a bright open space. You know within the first five seconds if you are going to connect with someone and those first impressions are never wrong. That meeting two years ago was the start of a great friendship and collaboration.”
梅赛德斯-奔驰(Mercedes-Benz)首席设计官戈登•瓦格纳(gordon Wagener)第一次在路易威登(Louis Vuitton)的巴黎总部拜访维吉尔•阿布洛(Virgil Abloh)时,遇到了一个小麻烦。瓦格纳说:“那是一个周六,我在这座巨大的建筑前,找不到门铃。”他最终打了好几通电话,通过安全门和电梯,进入了这位路易威登(Louis Vuitton)男装艺术总监的工作室。“这里的空间完全出乎我的意料——在明亮的开放空间里有DJ混音台、家具和衣服。在最初的五秒钟内,你就知道你是否可以和某人建立联系,那些第一印象永远不会错。两年前的那次会面是一次伟大友谊和合作的开始。”
Polymath designer-architect Abloh, founder of Off-White, has been at Vuitton since 2018. In July, its owner LVMH took a 60 per cent stake in Off-White and extended Abloh’s remit at the company. He now helps launch new brands and will collaborate with existing ones, adding creative magic to its interests in areas such as wines and spirits and hospitality.
多才多艺的设计师兼建筑师阿布洛是Off-White的创始人,自2018年以来一直在路易威登工作。今年7月,路易威登所有者路威酩轩(LVMH)收购了Off-White 60%的股份,并扩大了阿布洛在该公司的职权范围。他现在帮助路易威登推出新品牌,并与现有品牌合作,为其在葡萄酒、烈酒和酒店等领域增添创造性的魔力。
Virgil Abloh (right) and Gorden Wagener (left) working on Project MAYBACH designs
The Maybach W3 presented in September 1921 at the Berlin Autoshow
Like many creative unions today, Abloh first encountered Wagener via Instagram. “He has a great profile,” he says of Wagener’s glossy feed of silhouetted cars and fetishist details. Wagener has nearly half a million followers, while Abloh has so far clocked up 6.4m. “With industries like car design, you often get a feeling there’s nothing human there, but with Wagener’s feed I could follow different projects. In fashion, I aim to do that too, to demystify the operation of a fashion house: that big daunting building with no way to get in! Everyone knows where the door to ‘buy’ is but not the people behind the brand. We are both reporting to big systems of design but we are both still captivated by the small stuff and what we don’t know. So we met and thought, ‘Let’s do something here.’”
The duo’s first collaboration in 2020 was the radical reworking of the Mercedes-Benz G-Class (the first model dates from 1979) as a stripped-back, monolithic racetrack car with analogue speedometer and dials. Their second, which the pair have been working on for the past year, is Project Maybach: an electric show car that will make its world debut on 1 December to coincide with Art Basel Miami Beach. Gallerists, collectors and artists will be admiring the Maybach’s surprisingly sturdy silhouette and signature two-tone panelling that segues from earth tones to black under the palm trees, to the rhythm of ocean waves. The art-world intervention is a jump from the car-boffin audience of a motor show. In fact, Abloh is planning a creative blitz on Miami. On 30 November, he will also stage a spin-off Louis Vuitton show in the metropolis, presenting its SS22 menswear collection with 14 extra looks he’s designed specifically for the occasion.
两人在2020年的第一次合作,是对梅赛德斯-奔驰G级(其第一款车型可追溯到1979年)进行彻底改造,将其改变成一辆带模拟速度表和刻度盘的整体式赛车。过去一年里,他们一起致力于第二个合作项目:迈巴赫项目(Project Maybach),它将于12月1日在世界范围内首次亮相,与迈阿密海滩巴塞尔艺术展(Art Basel Miami Beach)同步启动。届时,画展主办方、收藏家和艺术家将欣赏到迈巴赫令人惊讶的坚固轮廓和标志性的双色调镶板,在棕榈树下从大地色系转为黑色,与海浪的节奏相呼应。相对于传统的车展,艺术世界的介入也是一个新的变化。事实上,阿布洛正计划在迈阿密进行一次创意闪电战。11月30日,他本计划在这个大都会举办路易威登衍生时装秀,展示他专为这次活动设计的14款SS22男装系列。
The silhouette of Abloh’s new Maybach
Virgil Abloh (left) and Gorden Wagener (right), pictured while they were working on the Project MAYBACH collaboration
“The Maybach is the epitome of luxury with 100 years of history,” says Abloh of the W3 car that Karl Maybach and his father Wilhelm conceived. The vehicle secured Maybach’s reputation as an aspirational, innovative automotive brand. “I look for a leap forward and I always want to discover the unexpected twist,” says Abloh approvingly. The designer, who grew up in Rockford, Illinois, before studying civil engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, followed by a master’s in architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, began to think about our relationship with nature and the way we interact and go on adventures in the great outdoors. The concept for the electric car grew out of a pandemic-accelerated rediscovery of nature rather than a desire to create a swaggering gesture on urban roads. 
“迈巴赫是拥有100年历史的豪华汽车的缩影。”阿布洛在谈到卡尔·迈巴赫(Karl Maybach)和他的父亲威廉(Wilhelm)构想的W3轿车时说。这款车确保了迈巴赫作为一个有抱负的、创新的汽车品牌的声誉。阿布洛赞许地说:“我期待一个飞跃,我总是想发现意想不到的转折。”这位设计师成长于伊利诺斯罗克福德,在威斯康星大学麦迪逊分校学习土木工程,他在伊利诺伊理工学院拿到建筑学硕士学位之后,开始思考我们与自然的关系,以及我们在户外的冒险和互动的方式。电动汽车的概念源于对自然的重新发现,而不是在城市道路上的招摇过市。
“Coming out of the pandemic, I visited the Countryside, The Future exhibition by Rem Koolhaas at the Guggenheim,” continues Abloh. “It showed findings from a world survey that highlighted the fact that 50 per cent of the world’s population lives outside the city. Instead of focusing on the city side of cars – as that is what we know – we asked what this historic vehicle could look like if it takes us to the 50 per cent who live in the countryside? Ideas of space, air, natural light and using a car to explore – that became our north star.”  
阿布洛继续说道,“疫情结束后,我参观了雷姆·库哈斯(Rem Koolhaas)在古根海姆美术馆(Guggenheim)举办的《乡村,未来》(Countryside, the Future)展览。它显示了一项在世界范围内进行的调查的结果,强调了世界上50%的人口居住在城市以外的事实。我们并没有聚焦于汽车在城市的一面,因为我们已经对此非常了解了,而是问了这样一个问题:如果让这种历史悠久的汽车把我们带到住在农村的50%的人那里,会发生什么?关于空间、空气、自然光和利用汽车进行探索的想法,成为了引导我们前进的北极星。”
With Wagener based between California and Stuttgart (near Mercedes-Benz HQ) and Abloh in Paris, Project Maybach began to take shape over virtual meetings and design data transfers. “Mercedes has a global network of satellite studios and a lot of the process is virtual, but at some point you have to be in the same room and touch something that is not a digital product,” says Wagener. The two met in Germany to explore the full-size design. “Maybach is a sophisticated urban car – it’s Rodeo Drive. We wanted to create a Maybach adventure and take it out into the woods. It looks like a capable off-road vehicle, but different to what you have seen. You can buy an SUV from every brand, so this had to be surprising, shocking even, with its exaggerated design, proportions and message,” adds Wagener of the classic yet high-tech design.
While today’s SUVs require the driver and passengers to sit upright and ride above the road, Abloh was insistent on a more laidback horizontal line with a bonnet and trunk that fly in the face of contemporary curvilinear styles. For the interior, he was struck by modular hotel designs in Japan. “With car interiors as we know them, there is always a link to home interiors, but I wanted to take a more utilitarian approach, creating a shell with seats that can be taken into the outdoor environment,” he says of his multifunctional prototype. “We went down this road thinking about indoor and outdoor usage.” 
Neither of the duo anticipates a “that’s nice” reaction. “A concept car is about designing the luxury of the future and as designers we live in the future,” says Wagener, who is also chief design officer of the Daimler Group. “The average person might not be there yet – the design might shock and then grow on them. And ultimately this is the purpose of luxury – it concerns beauty but it must be extraordinary, and with that definition it is not for everyone. If you try to please everyone, you will not create something new. That’s the key to our approach. It must be tasteful and beautiful, even if shocking, and that’s what Virgil does and why we get along so well.”
Wagener has been responsible for designing vehicles including the Mercedes-Maybach GLS (2019); Mercedes-Maybach S-Class (2020); and a concept Mercedes-Maybach EQS (2021). The first electric Maybach will come out in 2023; limited 100th-anniversary editions of the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class and GLS called Edition 100 will be available later this year. Electric is the future, as the $1tn valuation of Tesla proves. The Mercedes-Benz EQS, an electric S-Class model, launched in April 2021.
瓦格纳负责设计的车辆包括梅赛德斯-迈巴赫GLS(2019年),梅赛德斯-迈巴赫S级(2020年),以及概念车梅赛德斯-迈巴赫EQS(2021年)。第一辆电动迈巴赫将于2023年问世;梅赛德斯-迈巴赫S级和GLS的100周年限量版Edition 100将在今年晚些时候上市。特斯拉1万亿美元的估值证明,电动汽车就是未来。梅赛德斯-奔驰EQS是一款电动S级车型,于2021年4月推出。
While Abloh is famously prodigious, he stands in awe of Wagener’s work. “His output is insane. In art and fashion, you design in seasonal cycles. I can see a painting, get inspired and change a whole collection because I like this versus that. Automotive could not be more different than designing a sneaker, which you might only hold in your hand three times before production,” he continues. “A car is a piece of technology, it’s architecture, it’s ship-making, and even for a concept car there are regulations. If I see something cool on the road or see a cool building, I know someone had to push boundaries for it to be realised and I appreciate that.” 
“If all is ‘agreeable’, you are not testing the limits”: Abloh photographed at his Paris office
The Mercedes-Maybach S-Class: “You can buy an SUV from every brand, so this had to be surprising, shocking even”
For both Wagener and Abloh, the Mercedes brand has long been part of their design education. “My dad drove one and it had a certain aura, a self-assuredness,” says Wagener. He admits that the image of Harley Earl driving his own concept cars to work at the General Motors car plant in Detroit in the 1930s has a deep allure. “He was the first head of design and he was like a movie star.” For Abloh, Mercedes always shone as a symbol of luxury. “When I saw a picture of Jay-Z driving an S-Class, I knew I wanted one of those.”
对于瓦格纳和阿布洛来说,梅赛德斯品牌一直是他们设计教育的一部分。瓦格纳说,“我父亲就开梅赛德斯,它有某种光环,一种自我肯定的感觉。”他承认,上世纪30年代,哈利·厄尔(Harley Earl)驾驶着自己的概念车在底特律的通用汽车公司(General Motors)上班的形象,对他有着深深的吸引力,“他是第一位担任设计主管的人,就像一个电影明星。”对阿布洛来说,梅赛德斯一直是奢侈的象征。“当我看到一张Jay-Z开着S级车的照片时,我就知道我也想要一辆。”
Now both fathers themselves, the pair’s own auto choices are driven by the desire for space and comfort. Wagener drives a six-seater GLS 63, and a GT while driving solo, while Abloh and his wife Shannon have matching G-Classes with identical topstitching on tobacco-brown leather interiors. “Even the licence plates almost mimic. I’m super-particular! I’ve always had G-Wagons and my kids know the car so well they even remark on how they love the new suspension,” he says, smiling. 
现在两人都已为人父,他们对汽车的选择是由对空间和舒适的渴望所驱动。瓦格纳开的是一辆六座的GLS 63,独自驾驶时开的是GT,而阿布洛和他的妻子香农则分别开着一对配套的G系列,烟草棕色的皮革内饰上有相同的顶饰。他笑着说,“甚至车牌也几乎是一模一样的。我非常挑剔!我一直都偏爱G系列,我的孩子们对这辆车非常熟悉,他们甚至会说他们多么喜欢新的悬挂系统。”
The prototype is not all posture and no purpose. A limited-edition Mercedes-Maybach S-Class that takes a cue from the show car will be released in 2022. Until then, for the first imaginary trip Wagener pictures himself driving to the beach with surfboards on the roof, while Abloh fancies a snowboarding trip to a swish Swiss resort. Although the duo might describe the project as seamless, plenty of ideas were binned along the way. “Collaboration should not be a walk in the park,” concludes Abloh. “If all is ‘agreeable’, you are not testing the limits.”