Gorden Wagener, one of the most influential automotive designers in recent times, has headed the global design division of Mercedes-Benz and all its brands since 2008. He has been the company’s Chief Design Officer since 2016. His goal is to build the most desirable cars in the world for the brands of the Mercedes‑Benz Group.
Wagener approaches this ambition with his design philosophy of “Sensual Purity,” which defines the specific luxury of the different brands. His designs set new impulses in luxury and fulfil a desire for beauty and the extraordinary. At this year's Design Essentials in Nice, France, Wagener and his team will be showing exciting new products and visions of the future – both physical and digital.
Design Essentials are taking place for the fourth time this year. What distinguishes the event?
With Design Essentials, we have established an exclusive platform where we provide insights into current projects, as well as outlooks on future design trends and products. We present a wide range of different show cars and product innovations that have one thing in common: Mercedes’ unique DNA. We also show how our creations come about, what inspires us, and how we continue to develop our design philosophy. As designers, we create the future and always think at least one product cycle - eight to ten years - ahead. We aspire to design the most desirable cars in the world. With Design Essentials, we illustrate how we approach this privilege in concrete terms. The venue – our Design Centre in Nice – plays a central role in this. I see it as a creative melting pot where we forge ideas for the luxury cars of the future. The surroundings - the city of Nice itself, as well as the legendary Côte d'Azur - form a great, inexhaustible source of inspiration for our work.
Can you explain in more detail how you, as a designer, specifically awaken or present desire?
Important brands are characterised by their own special style - that's what makes the difference. The style of our house, which we have continued to refine over the past 15 years, is our design philosophy of Sensual Purity. It is our aesthetic soul and the core of our brand DNA. With it, we have created independent product personalities and given all Mercedes brands an unmistakable appearance. Our design language uniquely combines beauty with the extraordinary. To create tension, for example, we link opposites - this deliberate bipolarity of emotion and intelligence characterises our designs. Beauty forms the emotional core for us - it has its very own magic. Everything we do must be aesthetic. Beauty fascinates people and exerts a great attraction - all around us: in nature, in art, in fashion - and even in cars. But that alone is not enough for us: We strive to give beauty the additional glamour of the extraordinary. That is what we aim for as Mercedes designers: revolutionary products that touch people emotionally and that people absolutely want to have.
How do you interpret Sensual Purity in concrete terms for the individual brands?
The wishes and demands of our customers are manifold, just like the interpretation of luxury. What people understand as luxury varies from person to person. It is about exquisite materials, quality, the best workmanship, traditional craftsmanship, state-of-the-art technologies, and trendsetting design. We reflect this versatility through our individual brands, which are clearly differentiated from one another in terms of overall appeal, but all bear the signature of our design philosophy of Sensual Purity as a unifying element. Take Mercedes-AMG, for example, where the focus is clearly on performance. AMG models have an emphatically dynamic, sporty character - and sports cars have always exerted a special fascination that also creates a unique desirability. We use design to create clear identities and differentiation for our individual brands by aligning them more closely with the different demands of customers. Maybach is about the pinnacle of the top-end luxury segment. That is why we speak of Sophisticated Luxury here. Mercedes‑Benz embodies Modern Luxury of the highest quality. And Mercedes-EQ, our pioneering brand for e-mobility, embodies Progressive Luxury. This differentiation is clearly defined by design.
Mercedes-Benz has always been a luxury brand under whose umbrella many unique icons have been created over the decades - in almost all segments, from the SL to the G-Class. The design creates icons that shape the Mercedes myth and create desirability. We cultivate this heritage in design, develop it further and thus carry it into the future. The show cars of recent years exemplify the continuous development of our design language – the most recent examples are the VISION EQXX and the Vision AMG, which we are presenting as part of Design Essentials this year.
You mention the further development of your design philosophy. Can you give us concrete examples?
Sensual Purity is a leitmotif, but not a rigid frame. Of course, we pick up on current trends and developments. At the same time, we establish new trends ourselves with our design, especially with our show cars, and we deliberately put forth provocative and polarising designs. We need this extravagance to spark new impulses. A good example of this is our Project MAYBACH, which we developed together with Virgil Abloh.
Currently, our focus is on what we call the X-factor: the surprising and extraordinary element with which we want to exceed our customers' expectations. One example: We independently create digital art and bring it into the vehicle. But we consciously develop the topic further, now even completely independent of our vehicles. We are moving into dimensions where you would not necessarily expect Mercedes-Benz to be. For us as designers, this opens up completely new perspectives and opportunities to develop our creativity. Let us surprise you.
What innovations will the design team be presenting at Design Essentials this year?
In Nice, we are celebrating the premiere of the Vision AMG. With this design study we are giving a preview of the all-electric future of our performance brand. The Vision AMG shows how performance design is evolving at AMG. It is extremely sporty and embodies the desirability and appeal that defines racing sports cars. The radical proportions with long wheelbase and large wheels as well as the extremely short body overhangs and pronounced shoulders give the car a very athletic and dynamic character. The Vision AMG impresses first with its proportions, picking up on formal elements of the VISION EQXX - for example the aerodynamically perfect teardrop shape, which stands for maximum efficiency. In this way, the Vision AMG also continues to write the history of the VISION EQXX and raises it to a completely new level. As a further highlight, we are showing digital art from Mercedes-Benz for the first time. In this context, we are also announcing our membership in the Aura Blockchain Consortium. As the fifth and final founding member we want to take digital luxury to a new level, side by side with other luxury brands.
We are also presenting two special editions of the Mercedes-Maybach S-Class that take Sophisticated Luxury to the next level. The Limited Edition Maybach by Virgil Abloh is a monument to our collaboration with this creative designer. Inspired by Project MAYBACH, the vehicle picks up, among other things, on the special two‑tone paint finish. With our Concept Mercedes-Maybach Haute Voiture, we are bringing haute couture to automotive design. This S-Class is inspired by the world of fashion - the finest fabrics and materials provide an exquisite interior ambience. What's more, it wears a special paint finish that perfectly matches the interior.