Fashion’s full throttle fascination with cars

Fashion’s full throttle fascination with cars

by Ollie Cox
7 min

Cars have always been cool, serving as the perfect marriage of aesthetics and engineering. The car’s power as a cultural signifier lies in its ability to mark a particular moment in time, with each new make and model representing a moment or memory. As we know, fashion and popular culture are symbiotic, and the currency that cars and motorsports have in society means that they are often used in fashion campaigns and collaborations. 

A car is great for setting a mood; when you think of a Ferrari, you think of winding Italian roads, with your foot to the floor. Or, when you think of Mark 1 Golf GTI, your mind might be flooded with a nostalgic memory of boy racers up to no good. It is exactly these associations that make fashion and cars the best of friends. 

Earlier this year, London-based menswear label Martine Rose teamed up with Stüssy, bringing some Laguna Beach to London. The collection comprised T-shirts, hoodies, and a selection of car-related accessories. Leather driving gloves, leopard-print steering wheel covers, dual-branded floor mats, and car air fresheners all came petrol-head approved.

Campaign shots for the Martine Rose x Stüssy collaboration pictured talent both inside and outside cars in a suburban residential setting. These weren’t just any cars. They were the perfect vehicle to reflect Rose’s idiosyncratic analysis of the everyday. The collaborative garments were snapped against the backdrop of the timeless Mark 1 Golf, Toyota AE86 Corolla Levin Coupe, and a Nissan R35 GTR. 

The use of these vehicles in the campaign exemplifies the aesthetic properties held by cars that work so well in fashion. This selection perfectly aligns with the Martine Rose brand, tapping into the fondness of the past that influences its designs and also nodding to Rose’s culturally in-tune output, rooted in the hedonistic escape from the everyday. 

The nostalgia-soaked timestamp that vintage cars represent is often used in fashion, an industry that looks to the past to inform the present. For London skate imprint Palace Skateboards, the Mark One Volkswagen Golf GTI has been emblazoned across clothing, onto skateboard decks, and featured in promotional campaigns. This legendary car has not only featured in the brand’s own output but also its collaborative offerings. 

In 2018, the brand tapped Ralph Lauren for a collaborative project which saw the Golf GTI embroidered onto shirts and trousers. The campaign depicted the German hot hatch transported to the desert and used as a hurdle for a cowboy to jump over. Despite the early edition VW being a German car, it feels inherently British and boy racer. It is light and nimble and perfect for flawing it in places you aren’t supposed to.

This was precisely the mood that Palace later replicated in a campaign video for its second Evisu collaboration, which used a Mark 1 Golf convertible and featured the legendary MC Skibadee. Again, Palace tapped into the car’s power to transport us back to a moment in time, to the golden era of drum and bass, where Evisu “Gul” logos went hand in hand with the sporty hot hatch. 

While the Mark 1 Golf feels at home with Palace’s very British and subculturally knowledgeable output, the brand has also used its power as a now globally recognised streetwear label to fuse the world of cars and fashion in a more official way. In 2022, Palace collaborated with Mercedes-AMG, producing a racing-inspired clothing collection, as well as working on a dual-branded Palace AMG GT3, which was used during the Nürburgring 24 Hours race. The clothing capsule consisted of workwear-style jackets and trousers, hoodies and co-branded T-shirts. An extremely limited edition set of 4 cars was released to complete the collection, including a Palace-branded Mercedes-AMG G-class. 

The London skate brand has gone one step further, partnering with the BWT Alpine F1 team as part of its latest collaboration with KAPPA, which saw Pierre Gasly, Esteban Ocon, and the rest of the trackside team wear the collaborative kit, fusing Palace’s audience of brand-loyal skaters and streetwear enthusiasts with the world of motorsport, ultimately serving as a bridge between the worlds of cars and fashion. 

Formula 1 has been rapidly picking up speed in the fashion world. Recently, this has been exemplified through the appointment of A$AP Rocky as Creative Director of the PUMA x Formula 1 partnership. The deal was made earlier this year and will see the rap mogul assume the position for several years. The first product-focused physical aspect of the collaboration will be available this November, with Rocky designing a capsule for the event. 

This partnership solidifies the symbiosis of fashion and cars beyond aesthetics and into the wider motorsports industry. According to PwC, the sports-sponsorship market is “projected to grow from $63.1 billion in 2021 to $109.1 billion by 2030.” This is hardly surprising, with the glamour of fashion perfectly aligning with F1’s flashy and fast-paced appeal. On top of this, being involved with sports opens the industry up to a huge audience. For example, in 2021, the average audience for the Grand Prix was 70.3 million people

While the action of Formula 1 and its consequent clothing collaborations certainly have fashion appeal, textile design translates well in the automotive world. Earlier this year, a host of celebrities, from Skepta to Alicia Keys, were pictured in a limited edition “Maybach by Virgil Abloh.” The lavish Mercedes-Maybach S-Class S680 model was designed by the late designer in partnership with Mercedes-Benz’s Chief Design Officer Gorden Wagener and was first made available in 2022. 

The car was limited to 150 units and easy to identify, thanks to a striking Black and Sand colourway. The vehicle was the perfect canvas for Abloh’s creativity, who was a qualified architect before becoming a fashion designer. It was decked out with a luxurious cream leather and black interior and featured intricate cross-stitch detailing. 

In a photograph shared on Instagram, Skepta revealed that he was the owner of the “1 of 50” model, showcased via a shiny centre dashboard display engraved with the vehicle’s issue number. The collaboration was a perfect coming together of automobile engineering and fashion design sensibility, seen through a detail-focused luxury interior that effortlessly aligned with Meredes-AMG’s performance offering. 

Fashion’s relationship with cars is multifaceted, with the visual and design qualities being just as important as the engine itself. Cars are a constantly changing reference, with each model capable of documenting a moment in time and can be invaluable in the world of fashion. Whether it’s brands seeking an authentic reference to yesteryear or an official merging of speed and style in the form of official sponsorship, it is clear the two worlds have much to gain from each other. 

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