GORDEN WAGENER: THE CREATIVE BEHIND YOUR DREAM CARS
Sensual purity. Two words that, by themselves, sound erotic, innocent and evocative. Constant and exhaustive thought within the phrase compels each individual hair on your arm to raise. It produces goosebumps that induce a shiver down your entire body. It drives you to an adrenaline high, not letting you come down. This feeling is exactly what Mercedes-Benz Chief Designer Officer Gorden Wagener, wants you to feel when you’re in a Merc’.
Wagener has worked a humble career in the automotive industry, landing at Mercedes-Benz in 1997. In his time at the Stuttgarter brand, Wagener has implemented his “sensual purity” design ethos which has trickled down every branch of Mercedes, from the luxurious and powerful Maybach and AMG to their smallest class, the A.
Wagener took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to yours truly about his beginnings in the automotive industry, the future of electric car designs, his time collaborating with Virgil Abloh, and most importantly: What does it mean to be a Mercedes?
Hey Gorden! I’m really curious to hear about your passionate love affair with cars. Were you always a Mercedes fan, or did the star find you later on in life?
I started my studies in Industrial Design in Germany then chose to specialize in Transportation Design at The Royal College of Art in London, and after that, I worked in design for a couple of other automotive brands before starting at Mercedes-Benz in 1997. I always was a Mercedes-Benz enthusiast, and even more so now! I’ve had fantastic opportunities to push my design capabilities, and develop my signature “Sensual Purity” style throughout my career at Mercedes-Benz, working on some unforgettable projects that have only heightened my passion for both the brand and the world of automotive design.
Your design philosophy is well known to be “Sensual purity.” How did you come up with this label and how can we see it applied to your designs?
The idea of Sensual Purity is about combining beauty with the extraordinary. We are always looking to exceed our customer’s expectations and we do this not only through the product itself but through creating desirable experiences.
Each brand has its own personality and my job as Chief Design Officer is to bring this to life under the overarching brand DNA of Sensual Purity. Take, for example, Maybach at the top end of our portfolio. It exudes sophisticated luxury and our most recent launch: the Haute Voiture series car, is an icon of excellence. We created something with the highest level of craftsmanship, focusing on exclusive design elements in the interior that mirror the glamour of Haute Couture. Then you have AMG, which is all about performance and very sporty genes. We approach each design and brand with a different vision, yet everything is truly Mercedes-Benz.
The Mercedes-Benz fleet is full of gems from over the years. The 1952 SL with the gullwing doors. The 500 SEC had AMG written all over it. And most recently, the Need For Speed-Esque GT 63 S. With three such different representations of dominant points in the brand’s long history, it begs the question, what does it mean to call a car a Mercedes?
Mercedes-Benz is all about desirability: our vision is to create the most desirable cars in the world and our cars are designed to symbolize not just excellent automotive design but aspirational luxury design. Now luxury means many different things to different people: for example, for some it’s comfort, for some it’s performance and for some it’s personalization. Our distinctive brands, and products, are tailored to our customer’s preferences without losing what it is to be a Mercedes. Added to this, we design with our rich heritage in mind – we are the oldest car manufacturer – to create timeless icons. Take the 1952 SL and 500 SEC; they are both still relevant today and that’s what makes Mercedes so unique. Not to forget the importance of the future, we are constantly at the forefront of the game thinking one product cycle ahead, which is about 8 – 10 years. This ensures we are both true to our brand heritage and meeting consumer expectations in terms of luxury innovation.
The Mercedes-AMG G 63, or G-Wagon, has become an icon of sorts among people from Gen-Z. In your opinion, what has Mercedes done to turn this car into such a cult classic?
The G-Class was developed over 40 years ago and is the perfect example of a timeless vehicle that never loses its legendary appearance. Its cult classic status mostly comes from the fact that the design has hardly changed since it was launched which has meant it’s instantly recognizable in both the city and off-road alike. It is very popular amongst VIPs and has been the basis of some incredible design co-operations, most notably Project Geländewagen with Virgil Abloh, which saw the G-Class reinterpreted into a conceptual race car. The launch enabled us to introduce the G-Class to new audiences contributing to its relevance with Gen Z.
There’s sort of an unwritten rule with car manufacturers that models change in body style every five to seven years. Will this rule continue to apply as we make the swift change toward electric-powered engines?
Our electric EQ portfolio is constantly growing, and this is thanks to the amazing technology we have at hand to innovate our product offering. One of our ambitions is to become all-electric by 2030, where markets allow, and have electric versions of all our models by 2025. A new focus on eco-mobility only opens us up to more design opportunities, allowing us to use our creativity and future-thinking approach to our products. There are definitely more exciting things to come in the Mercedes-EQ space!
Our world is shifting towards being more eco-conscious. German car manufacturers have historically teetered on the line between luxury, comfort-focused vehicles, and performance-influenced specimens. During these changing times, how will Mercedes stay, well, Mercedes?
Our mission is to create desirable cars, and electrification is a big part of Mercedes-Benz’s future to achieve this. Electrification still enables us to reach our brand values across innovation, aesthetics, and creating desire. It not only allows us to rethink the exterior design but to look at the interior, for example, we have greatly developed our MBUX system and introduced state-of-the-art UI/UX systems. As part of this, digital luxury has become crucial to the luxury of tomorrow and creating a desire for our products. Earlier this year we announced our membership in the Aura Blockchain Consortium alongside fashion brands such as LVMH and Prada Group, this will enable us to use cutting-edge technology in our models to create surprises and continue to defy customer expectations.
Your most recent creative endeavor was with esteemed designer, and creative mastermind, Virgil Abloh. Some of the concepts in the Riot Games’ League of Legends photos look similar to leaked concept mock-ups, as well as current cars from the Mercedes fleet. Is there a chance that we see some of these cars on the road in the future? Or something close to it?
I hope so! When we design our concept cars, we are seeking to demonstrate the continuous development of our design language and prove the versatility of our design philosophy ‘Sensual Purity’. Project SMNR that we designed for Riot Games’ League of Legends was created entirely in the digital space and saw us using new materials known as ‘metamaterials’ to create something that is as dynamic as today’s gaming industry. Of course, we can be more creative with these design collaborations because our series cars need to comply with strict road safety measures. But innovation comes from thinking outside of the box and it is always essential to push ourselves creatively.
Virgil is universally loved for the mark that he left on creatives worldwide. He’s the sort of individual that you could never put in a box. What about his design process struck you as intriguing? Were there any aspects that you’ve integrated into your process?
Virgil was an incredible creative, and his “question everything” design ethos not only makes our collaborations hugely enjoyable but continues to inspire the Mercedes-Benz design teams to always think outside of the box. This is important at such a time of transformation for the automotive industry.