MIAMI BEACH, Fla. —
To walk the aisles of DesignMiami/, a global design forum for
creators, curators, collectors and critics, is to be amazed.
Want to buy a new
chair? How about one made of chain link or flat slabs of wood? If
that’s not your choice, perhaps you’d prefer one made of foam
and decorated in what could only be described as Technicolor bird
droppings — not surprising given the artist is based in New York.
Of course, you can’t sit on the chair you want to sit on, the one
made of fluffy stuffed animals; its exhibitor won’t allow you.
It’s just as well. The thought of crushing cute little fluffy
critters is creepy.
Still, you have to
wonder who buys this stuff. Then you look around.
There’s a smug
disdain among the design-loving aficionados who attend the show,
which opened to the public on Wednesday. The event occurs alongside
another worldwide collector event, Art Basel in Miami Beach.
Together, the shows attract many with a hipper-than-thou contempt
for common consumer products. That’s ironic, considering that
DesignMiami/ is supported by such luxury titans as Louis Vuitton,
Fendi, Panerei and — surprise! — Lexus. Nevertheless, that
corporate support ensures the event continuation as a symposium for
So it’s little
surprise that Lexus is the event’s official automotive partner for
the first time.
The marque is
fielding cutting edge design that eschews the ersatz European
aesthetic it followed for nearly 30 years. Lexus newfound design
voice, as seen in the new LS sedan, LC coupe and LF-1 Limitless
Concept crossover, features flowing knife-edged lines and large
spindle grilles. It’s uniquely Japanese, not to mention very
provocative to Western eyes. It can also be seen inside the vehicles
as well, where door panels are trimmed with handmade pleats that
resemble origami placed alongside Kiriko cut glass. Other interiors
are accented with illuminated fiber-optic pinholes and other exotic
thoughts that banish the notion that Japanese automakers can copy
but cannot innovate.
And in this context,
it proves that Lexus’s newest product designs fit comfortably
alongside the show’s avant-garde pieces. But Lexus executives
admit that getting here took time.
“First Lexus had to
get confident with building premium cars. How do you deliver
that,” said Kevin Hunter, president of Toyota Motor
Corporation’s North American design studio, Calty Design Research.
“Once you master that, then you can go off on your own and
challenge your old direction.”
To reach that point,
internal structural changes had to happen first, according to
Yoshihiro Sawa, president of Lexus International. “Previously, the
system was different, and we listened to too many people’s
opinion. But now we decide in a small group; we don’t hear so much
from the market. If we research too much like before, we lose our
To Sawa, who spent 20
years as a designer, limiting input is essential.
“We’re trying to
create a new language, a new grammar. It’s not so easy to get to
that goal. A car should have some sort of strong character or
beauty. Too much discussion can spoil that kind of pure direction.
Of course, we have discussions, but it’s what is the best
solution. But the proportion or shape of the grille? Maybe we
shouldn’t listen too much.”
The result can be
seen on the streets, where Lexus’s newest models don’t mimic the
careful conservatism of its European competitors.
“The Japanese sense
of beauty is key to differentiate us from other OEM’s design,”
Sawa said. “I think this is our original way of expressing our
beauty. Comparing other OEM’s cars, their design is always the
same. But ours, LS, LC, is a little bit different. People can tell
it’s a Lexus, and every car has an individual character. That’s
understands that the inspiration can come from anywhere.
“There’s no boundary we don’t look at when we’re trying to
create,” he said. “A lot of it is what’s the mission of the
product, but it’s also what’s the experience of the designers
and what motivates them to create.”
For the LF-1
Limitless Concept, its sublime copper color sprung from a designer
admiring the latest kitchenware trends.
“It’s all premium
stuff,” Hunter noted, “and this may be kitchenware that
consumers are using and it’s something that they can relate to as
a premium product.”
attention to detail is equally important.
materials is important. I think people still understand that as a
craft,” Hunter said. “There’s something that took skill and
craftsmanship to get that the way that it is versus something
that’s composite or feels automated.”
Sawa agrees, saying
that detail is the key to Lexus’ unique vision.
“We focus on the
elaborate small details,” Sawa said. “Next to the very
complicated detail is something very simple. That kind of contrast
is our key viewpoint. I think this is our original way of expressing
It’s not unlike the
contrast of one of the world’s largest automaker’s ability to
produce vehicles that can now comfortably take their place at
America’s premier design show without raising an eyebrow.
that couldn’t have been said just a few years ago.
thankful that Lexus seats aren’t made of chain link or Beanie
Babies; some cutting-edge ideas are better left to collectors.