Car brands collaborating with fashion labels is nothing new, with some of the partnerships stretching back decades. Today, the associations are becoming more high profile, whether it’s Ferrari hosting a runway show during Milan Fashion Week or BMW creating a car and a fashion collection with Kith.
One of the pioneers of this trend was Porsche Design, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Throughout 2022, the company will drop a series of products to commemorate the milestone, including two new models of its Chronograph 1 watch, first introduced in 1972, along with sunglasses, sneakers, accessories and luggage. For those who want to spend a little more, as part of the celebration, the brand will also introduce a special car, limited to 750 vehicles worldwide and priced at $195,850.
Porsche, the car brand, traces its roots to 1948 when Ferdinand Porsche formed the company and produced 52 cars in a small garage the following year. The business remained in the hands of the family for decades, but “a little bit of friction” arose in the 1970s, according to Roland Heiler, Porsche Design’s chief design officer.
As the story goes, Ferdinand Alexander (FA) Porsche, the car firm’s head of design, had just created the Porsche 911, when the head of the company, his father “Ferry,” tired of the internal squabbling, made the decision to move the family members out and bring in outside management.
That life-altering decision meant that FA Porsche needed to find his next chapter. He decided to combine his name and his job description his, and created Porsche Design in 1972. “That was the moment when the car designer became a product designer,” Heiler said.
His first effort was to design a watch to give to the long-tenured employees of the car company, the Chronograph 1. “He came up with this great idea of a black watch, which nobody had on their radar at the time, but to him, a watch was not jewelry but an instrument of precision,” Heiler said. As inspiration, he looked at the dashboards of race cars and sports cars that feature a completely black background with contrasting white numbers for easy visibility for the drivers.
Heiler said when the watch was introduced, people joked it was the perfect funeral watch, but once Formula One drivers, including Mario Andretti and Clay Regazzoni, started wearing it, “it very quickly became the coolest thing you could have on your wrist.”
Next up, FA Porsche turned his attention to sunglasses with lenses that could be exchanged depending upon the light conditions. Since their introduction in 1978, Porsche Design has sold millions of pairs of these Model 8478 glasses, which have been modified only slightly since the beginning.
Over the years, the company has also pioneered the Titan watch, the first to be made from titanium; the Worldtimer; the Monobloc Actuator, and other innovative timepieces. It has branched out into a variety of other categories and today, Porsche Design offers a wide variety of eyewear, sports apparel, bags and luggage, electronics and home and lifestyle accessories in addition to the watches.
From 1972 until five years ago, Porsche Design was run independently from the car company but in 2017, Porsche purchased the Design Group and it is now a subsidiary of the automobile brand. “And the relationship is closer than it ever was before,” Heiler said.
Jan Becker, chief executive officer of Porsche Design, added: “There was a time when Porsche Design tried to separate itself as far as possible from the car business but because Porsche Design carries Porsche in its brand name, it’s natural that we try to link the two companies and brands when it makes sense.”
Although Porsche Design continues to operate independently, “there are various ways to incorporate with the mother company,” Becker said. These include within its retail network. Becker said Porsche Design operates over 60 stores around the world to sell its products, but in recent years, a few of these units, including the one in South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif., have begun displaying cars, too.
“That’s a win-win situation,” Becker said. “We’re sharing the operating costs and generating car leads that are transferred to our colleagues at the car brand. So that’s an example of being an independent company but still cooperating with the mother company.”
The two businesses also work together on the Porsche Design Custom Built program where customers can customize their own 911 “dream car,” he said, and at the end of the process, they can add a watch that will replicate the materials used in the vehicle .
“The watch will have the same exterior color, the leather strap will be made from the same leather that covers the seats, and you get an engraving of your VIN,” Becker said, adding that the back of the watch will feature the wheels chosen for the car.
This customization program has been adapted by the timepiece company too, allowing customers to design their own watch by using Porsche Design’s online configurator, even if they don’t build their own car.
This was introduced two years ago, Becker said, and has proven to be “very successful because there’s nothing else like it offered in the market.”
Overall, Porsche Design operates flagship stores in large cities in Europe and the US where the entire range of product is offered. The collection is also sold through some 100 stores run by franchise partners at airports and other regions such as the Middle East and Asia, Becker said. And there are more than 10,000 specialized dealers worldwide, many of them optical stores, that carry pieces from the collection such as the eyewear.
Becker said the top-selling product continues to be the timepieces, followed by the eyewear and then the luggage and bags. The athleisure collection, which he said is “not high fashion, but is a sports collection that you can wear if you’re not literally doing sports,” has also gained in popularity in recent years.
Becker said it’s not just Porsche owners who purchase the Porsche Design products, but customers include “a significant number [of people] who have never owned a Porsche car, or are even interested in owning one, but are design aficionados who are seeking high-performance product.”
The majority of customers are men but women will also buy the luggage, laptops and sunglasses, he said.
For the anniversary, Porsche Design created a collection highlighted by the matte black Chronograph 1 — 1972 Limited Edition watch, which is an exact replica of the original timepiece that has been updated with modern materials and movements. Only 500 were created at a retail price of $7,700 and they’re already sold out.
A second version is more closely connected to the car company, which has created a limited-edition 50th anniversary edition of the Targa 911. Only 750 vehicles are being produced and they feature black upholstery with gray stitching and a checkered pattern with a special anniversary badge on the engine grill, an embossed “50 Years of Porsche Design” logo on the headrests and a numbered 911 badge on the dash panel.
Anyone who buys this car also gets a Chrongraph 1 — 911 Edition watch tossed in as a bonus. Like the car, only 750 of the watches were made.
Beyond that, Heiler said that two years ago, Porsche Design purchased a 1972 Targa and worked with the Porsche Classic division to restore it to the level of a brand-new car. “We came up with a checkered flag fabric for the seats created especially for this car and a very high-end black paint on the exterior with beautiful chrome accessories.” That car will be auctioned off at the end of the year along with a Chronograph watch. The company is still finalizing specifics on this initiative.
“These are the core products for the anniversary, the cars and the watches, but we went into other product categories that will launch over the course of the year,” Heiler said. They include the Targa leather jacket, a running shoe, new luggage and eyewear.
The capsule includes a hard-case trolley suitcase ($750), aviator glasses ($880), reversible jacket ($1,050), RCT Pwrplate sneaker ($415), weekender ($790), beach towel ($115), high-top sneaker ($515) , cap ($65), checkered flag T-shirt ($165), Targa gloves ($240), wallet ($119), crewneck T-shirt ($140), leather jacket ($3,250), cardholder ($75), checkered flag scarf ($255) ), backpack ($669), denim pants ($320), passport holder ($109), coffee table book ($65) and a billfold ($109).
To commemorate the anniversary, a six-month exhibition is on display at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, Germany.
For Heiler, the marriage of automobiles and fashion underscores the dreams of consumers.
“Cars, particularly high-end sports cars like Porsche, carry an image filled with desire and dreams, and if the accessories live up to that expectation, then they can be very successful,” he said.
So what’s on tap for the next 50 years of Porsche Design? Becker said the latest thrust is beyond accessories into “physical products” such as real estate.
The company opened the first Porsche Design Tower, an oceanfront luxury apartment building, in Sunny Beach Isles, outside Miami, in 2017, that includes private pools in each apartment, an outdoor lounge overlooking the Atlantic, private cinema, golf and racing simulator and — wait for it — in-unit garages for owners to house their vehicles.
Another is opening soon in Germany with a third being planned for somewhere in North America that Becker said will be revealed shortly.
The company also entered into a long-term agreement with the German hotel brand Steigenberger last December to build at least 15 luxury hotels around the world in metropolises such as London, Singapore, Dubai and Shanghai.
“We think we are better off if we don’t focus on physical products in the future and try to reach our customers more in their lives,” Becker said. “So home and real estate will play a major role when we try to develop the brand over the next 50 years.”