Car Couture: The Ultimate Bore?

Published by Nadeem Muaddi on April 4th, 2013

The Hog Ring - Auto Upholstery Community - Isaac Mizrahi Chevrolet Malibu

For better or worse (…and it’s probably for worse), the fashion industry’s relationship with automakers doesn’t appear to be showing any signs of letting up. In fact, it’s only getting stronger.

Car companies are still passing up the opportunity to work with talented trimmers in order to sign million-dollar deals with brand-name clothes designers who know absolutely nothing about car interiors.

Canadian news magazine Maclean’s recently examined this growing phenomenon in a feature article, writing:

Mini asked Italian Vogue’s editor-in-chief, Franca Sozzani, to work with them on developing a one-off Roadster, which was uncloaked and auctioned off at the big-ticket Life Ball event in Vienna last year. Emerging designers such as the U.K.’s Louise Gray, James Small and Fred Butler have produced versions of a new Vauxhall car called Adam, which launched during London Fashion Week last month. Victoria Beckham has designed a Range Rover, and even Chrysler entered the fray, producing a 2013 300C John Varvatos Limited Edition model with Varvatos, a Detroit designer. It’s a “brute in a suit,” as Chrysler put it, painted in phantom black—a trendy hue snatched right from the fall-winter runways. […]

It’s easy to spot a couture car. Whether the designer is charged with the interior (many overcompensate by covering seats in logos or handbag leathers) or…working with a team of auto engineers to tweak the templated body of an assembly-line vehicle, runway designers are expected to break the moulds. […]

“We are living in an age of customization,” explained fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi via phone from his home in New York. “It makes sense that a car company would gravitate to people who do what I do.” Last fall the designer released a limited-edition capsule line of clothes inspired by the 2013 Chevy Malibu. The collection, commissioned by GM, includes Malibu driving moccasins, in a shade that reflects the car’s Tintcoat colour, and a Malibu leather jacket, crafted to resemble the contrast stitching in the car’s seats. [more]

Is anyone else disgusted by this? I’m particularly offended by Isaac Mizrahi’s smug comments.

Sure, master trimmers like Shannon Walters don’t carry the same brand recognition as Victoria Beckham, but who’d you rather have design your car’s interior? Remember, Chevy promised the world when it came to the new Corvette’s cabin – but only Carlex Design delivered. (Seriously, have you seen their custom Corvette C6?)

By choosing to work with fashion moguls over talented, hardworking trimmers, automakers are selling themselves short, playing their customers for fools and – worst of all – devaluing our craft.

The auto upholstery industry doesn’t need fashionistas to step in on its behalf. Given the chance, real trimmers could design and execute new car interiors better than any inflated brand name. We’re already doing it in the aftermarket – aren’t we?

Of course, some will argue that the relationship between automakers and brand-name fashion designers benefits the auto upholstery industry – as it casts auto interiors in the limelight and may even inspire folks to have their vehicle cabins redone.

Admittedly, I once thought that too. But after further examination, I’ve come to realize that a benefit like that is too indirect and ambiguous to be of any value. What do you think?

Personally, I believe that the auto upholstery community needs to do two things – (1) educate customers about the petty gimmicks of automakers and (2) support the rising stars in our craft. Maybe, one day, when we have an upholsterer as famous as Chip Foose, we’ll finally get the respect and type of attention we deserve.

Until then, I’m picking a fight with anyone I see wearing a pair of Isaac Mizrahi’s “Malibu driving moccasins”.




7 Responses

  1. brad says:

    While I agree…its all about $$ and you stated that. One of cars designed by these high fashion type bring huge money at auction. Not car culture big 6 figure money, but $4000 pair of heels huge money. While I think car guys would love to see cars designed by the best in the buisness at their respective craft. Slap the loius vitton or beckam name on a car model and watch the money pour in. car companies may have people that truly car about cars, but at the end of the its all dollars and cents..

    • I agree, it is all about the dollars and cents – which, of course, celebrities command a lot of.

      This is precisely why we need to support our rising stars. When we have a trimmer who’s as sought after as Carroll Shelby or Chip Foose, the industry will finally get the type of attention it deserves. And that, of course, will have a trickle-down effect.

      The industry briefly saw it with the MTV show “Pimp My Ride”. Interior customization was highlighted in a big way, which – for many shops – resulted in a younger, more enthusiastic customer base.

  2. Steve stichn says:

    As Brad said, “It’s all about the dollars and cents”. Also, just because people work for big auto makers it doesn’t make them “car people” they have their degrees in other areas that serve them in their jobs. I’m sure you will find auto execs. that know very little about cars, but know how to run a business (that last part may be a stretch). I don’t know why Foose hasn’t had a limited edition unless he doesn’t want to be tied to a brand.

  3. That’s right it’s all about the money. It’s sad and yes upsetting, that so many of us have struggled for years, creating, designing and so many innovations come from us. But nope no credit. Funny because you know dam well that they didn’t touch the car. They drew a picture and had the REAL Artist sew it up and install. At least Chip Foose gets his hands dirty.
    Honestly just made me very upset to see. We are a forgotten group. Lets fight back :-)

  4. Retired… We should Have seen this coming years ago Like When Ford Put The Name Eddie Bauer on the Ford Explorer. People just bought heavily into that. Like Ive said before we are thought of as upholsters and upolsters are seen like the government sees us a service Industry like drycleaners thats a stigma you dont just loose over night.I myself had very few years of art training and just a little drafting experience but it took me pretty far. Now If we all had that enginerring degree that is being required today and on top of that bussiness and sales degrees also, then our crowed I want use Gang Would have a greater impact on society.

  5. Mike Carnahan says:

    This is more about marketing people catering to other marketing people then pandering to the rest of us that work a 9-5. Take a poll of owners and perspective buyers of any Chevrolet product and ask them who Isaac Mizrahi is. Does anybody really believe that this guy didn’t just look at a few artistic renderings / color swatches, approve one, then show up for the photo shoot and party. How in the world does a person even put driving moccasin and Chevy Malibu together in a sentence and still hold a straight face?
    I grew up in the trade but I work in the industry. As an ex-GM management employee believe me when I say this the only true “car people” work in the design group or on the assembly line. Everyone else in between could care less if the product is a car or a toaster. Its all about the money.

  6. Eric's Auto Upholstery says:

    It’s all about the money & brand names. I agree with the fact that we’ve been in the upholstery business for years & these brand names are using our designs and calling it theirs. Way too many times has happened. If you can land yourself a spot on a reality show, and have name brand industries backing your business the sky’s the limit….. For 15 minutes of fame. In all reality it’s all about the money! Not about the craft or art. Yep, that’s sad!


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