On cars and fashion

Fashion and Cars – exploring common grounds in class

Have you ever proposed to your students to explore an uncommon topic? Or combine two topics that seem to have nothing in common at all? What did the students think about the approach?

I am asking you this because in June, I brought up a slightly unusual topic in class: Fashion and cars. At first, it seemed that the two subjects are hardly connected to each other so we set out to explore them. The results were quite fascinating and I would like to share a brief summary of them with you today, because whether you look at design, marketing strategy or the environmental impact, cars and fashion actually do have many parallels.


Image source here.

First of all there is a phenomenon called “car culture” which – to sum it up in a sentence – is the cultural impact cars had on society once they became mass marketed. This influence permeated the way we shop (i.e. big malls), where we work (i.e. commuting to and from suburbs) and how a car became a status and power symbol, at first mostly for men. This car culture triggered a myriad of advertising showing sexy and fashionable women and created fashion outfits to be used when driving such as the original Car Shoe and its many clones.

846-02794640 © ClassicStock / Masterfile Model Release: No Property Release: No 1960s FULL PARKING LOT OF STRAWBRIDGE & CLOTHIER DEPARTMENT STORE SHOPPING OUTDOOR

Secondly, today’s marketing strategy for cars includes being fashionable. Car-makers want to be associated with glamour which is why they sponsor many fashion weeks (Mercedes hosts several around the world) and even delve into bridal wear (BMW sponsors the BMW India bridal couture shows). One reason that car makers want to infiltrate the BRIC nations’ fashion market is perhaps the fact that car sales are declining in the saturated markets of the USA and Europe, whilst equally growing in China, India and other Asian countries. Incidentally, for many (high-) fashion brands these are equally important emerging markets.

BMW bridal fashion week

A third area where cars meet fashion is on the subject of sustainability. Years and years have passed where the global topic of sustainability and environmental impacts of industrialized nations have been discussed. People around the world increasingly care more about where their products came from and whether they harm the environment. The new trend in cars is to create hybrids or electric cars which consume less energy which feature new and light composite materials.

Some of the first hybrid car models were:

BMW i3 (electric)

Toyota Mirai /Prius / Yaris/ Camry Hybrid / Highlander Hybrid


Toyota Prius

Saturn Vue

Ford Escape Hybrid

Honda Insight / Civic Hybrid

Lexus RX 400h

Smart technology is integrated to help the driver have a more personalised experience and navigate more easily to service points (i.e. to charge the battery). Does this sound familiar? I believe it does, because fashion technology thinks along very similar lines nowadays. And the foundation for both – cars and clothes – is the textile industry, which creates smart textiles to be used for the automotive and apparel sectors.

Porsche Design as an example, released a shoe in collaboration with Adidas, which “transfers kinetic energy from step to step” by means of “metal springs and lever arms built into their suspension to deliver increases in propulsion.” Trendhunter, 2009


There is also the question of who can cough up the immense sums needed to create an impressive fashion event such as a fashion week, paying for the venue, security, catering and promotions.

According to Fashionista.com, car companies have ample marketing budgets — several of the automakers mentioned above spend hundreds of millions of dollars on advertising each year, making them attractive potential sponsors for events such as fashion weeks.
But having cash to spend isn’t the only reason these partnerships occur with such frequency, automakers and event organizers say: the two industries are exceptionally well-aligned in their brand values. “Fashion is a reflection of what’s going on in our culture — people in fashion have an appreciation of art, design, culture — and a lot of auto brands reflect that in their own positioning,” says Leslie Russo, senior vice president of fashion sales at IMG, which organizes fashion weeks around the world, including New York’s. Andrea Lim, engagement marketing manager at Lexus, agrees. “Many luxury auto brands share a lot of same core principles [as fashion brands]. There’s the same appreciation for luxury, design, craftsmanship, attention to detail; both are big-ticket purchases.”

Last but not least, there have been dozens of collaborations of designers and car manufacturers, where an unusual and fashionable exterior and/or interior has been created. In 2012, just 4 years before her sudden passing, Italian editor-in-chief of Vogue Italy and fashionista Franca Sozzani designed a MINI Roadster car for the “Life Ball”.

The car was presented at the 20th annual Life Ball event in Vienna and was auctioned to raise €54,000 for AIDS charity.

Further collaborative car models include:

Land Rover Defender Paul Smith (2016)

Maserati Quattroporte Ermenegildo Zegna (2014)

Gucci x Fiat 500C “Cinquecento” which was customized by Frida Giannini, at the time creative director for Gucci (2011)

Volkswagen Golf GTI adidas (2010)

Chanel “Fiole” car by Jinyoung Jo (2009)

Lamborghini Murciélago LP640 Versace (2006)

Mercedes Benz 300 SL BAPE (1996)

Peugeot 205 Lacoste (1984)


If you are interested in exploring this topic some more, I can highly recommend a new marketing-savvy book entitled “Auto Brand: Building Successful Car Brands for the Future” by Dr. Anders Parment. There is a chapter on car culture, fashion, and lots of research about the strategies of car brands. A second interesting book is called “Autopia: Cars and Culture” by Peter Wollen and Joe Kerr.



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