Don’t Buy a Maserati If You Want to Be "Cool"

“We’re not designing Instagram cars, we’re designing rolling sculptures.”

Automotive
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How important is authenticity? That collaboration between your favorite designer and a luxury car brand isn’t for the sake of a cultural moment, it’s for clout. Alas, it doesn’t stop us from foaming at the mouth when a streetwear brand references the new “it” car or a cult classic. On the contrary, the automotive community is driven by passion and enthusiasm so why has it been allowed for authenticity to be overtaken by bragging rights? Maserati is on a mission to restore faith to those who subscribe to an octane-fuelled life (the same ones who will soon be on the EV diet), and it aims to do so by staying true to its roots without ignoring the future ahead. 

“If you want to buy ‘cool,’ don’t come to us. Cool is subjective, but there is also mainstream cool. You have one-hit wonders, two-hit wonders, and those that are consistent. Think of Nick Cave, he’s not for everyone but he’s very consistent,” says Davide Grasso, the ex-Converse Chief Executive Officer who is now Maserati’s CEO. Nick Cave is a fitting example for Maserati: a brand that doesn’t want to be mainstream but isn’t afraid of a boundary-breaking collaboration. 

Recent forays into the collaborative field include Hiroshi Fujiwara’s fragment design x Maserati Ghibli and David Beckham’s custom MC20 that was designed under the marque’s Fuoriserie umbrella, but for Maserati, collaborations go back much further. The 108-year-old brand worked with Pininfarina for decades in the early-to-mid 1900s, particularly when it came to creating race cars, while partners such as the audio company Sonus faber, clothing label Ermenegildo Zegna and the watchmaker Bulgari all go to show how Maserati’s mind works. Maserati is not aiming for headlines like its German counterparts, rather it chooses to stay true to itself by selecting a choice roster of partners to create excellence with. 

Maserati’s design ethos – “powered by passion, innovative by nature, and unique by design” – also lends itself to collaboration, and Grasso believes this was lost in translation in recent years. Upon his appointment as CEO in 2019, Maserati “was communicated as an old cliché of what Italian excellence was – white marble, violins and villas in Lake Como. But that’s not what it is now.” 

Today, with Klaus Busse as Maserati’s Vice President of Design, the brand is channeling the purist aesthetic that drove it to success over 100 years ago. In the car world, such minimalism is akin to Supreme’s Box Logo, it too being a platform for collaboration. “By designing our cars incredibly pure and clean with great proportions, therefore making them timeless, they also become a beautiful canvas for personal expression and customization with partners. If the design was overloaded with decoration, I’d leave very little room for personalization and successful collaborations,” says Busse.

It’s a practice seldom exercised in the supercar market. Lamborghini adorns every inch with a wing or a duct, the Shelby Mustang proves that more of everything is not always best, while Toyota’s new Supra is loaded with overcompensating faux vents. 

Busse agrees. “Our job as designers is to make design relevant – the supercar market is saturated,” he explains. “You need to understand how you’re going to break through the visual noise, and we opted for a pure and clean design. We have incredible inflation of fakeness in the car world. Maserati doesn’t need to do things the world would accept – we could have gone much more extreme with the MC20 and added a wing, but we went the opposite way. The statement is that you don’t need to shout at everyone, you carry the trident and that’s the coolest logo in the industry.”

Maserati’s package – comprising authenticity, purity, and engineering excellence – comes together for cars that deviate from the rest of the pack. For Maserati the result is, as Busse puts it, “one of these very few brands in existence that creates emotions,” and in turn, this puts Maserati in a position to capture the hearts of more than just its current audience, but the attention of a younger generation. 

The fragment design collaboration initiated a conversation about how Maserati moves towards a youth audience. “For us, it has to be authentic,” Grasso says. “Everyone is collaborating with each other across all industries. Since we are here for the long term it’s important to not fall into quick and dirty popularity tricks, the more you do that the less credibility you have. For example, Hiroshi is a car fanatic. He has a keen eye for the right product. That collaboration was a great example because it took two years to just design the grille.”

As such, Fujiwara, often described as the godfather of streetwear, wasn’t just a marketing ploy for Maserati, nor a way for it to get under the skin of millennials and Gen-Z. After all, the fragment design Ghibli was first seen in all black, and later in black and white, with its muted color palette referencing Maserati’s ethos. “One thing Maserati has always felt strongly about is that there is no need for us to shout,” says Busse. “We’re not designing Instagram cars, we’re designing rolling sculptures. We don’t want our drivers to send the wrong message into their environment.” 

This view goes back to the brand’s purist attitudes, to making the right connections and collaborations, to authenticity, coming together to present a brand that doesn’t need sculpted undulations and overt appendages to stand out in the supercar industry’s increasing focus on more is more.

As other brands try desperately to attract a youth audience and the streetwear scene, Maserati introduces the MC20, the all-new Grecale SUV, and the upcoming and rumored-to-be electric Gran Turismo alongside those aforementioned authentic collaborations, in turn perfecting its recipe and making “cool” look effortless. “We’re not designing the car to look good on Instagram, we’re designing the car to look good in real life,” says Busse. “For me, a car’s ultimate test is how does it look in traffic? Not how it looks when I’m scrolling. The challenge is how does one create visual excitement on Instagram without bastardizing the design of the car.”

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