Transport, Paul Smith, Mini, Cars, Features

Transport, Paul Smith

Paul Smith takes the new electric Mini for a spin

Paul Smith takes the new electric Mini for a spin

9/25/2021 1:12:00 PM

Paul Smith takes the new electric Mini for a spin

When Oliver Heilmer, head of the Mini design studio in Munich, called Paul Smith last spring to talk about working together on a new project, neither of them knew quite what they were letting themselves in for. Heilmer had loved Smith\u2019s stripey version of the original Alec Issigonis-designed Mini , one...

When Oliver Heilmer, head of the Mini design studio in Munich, calledPaul Smithlast spring to talk about working together on a new project, neither of them knew quite what they were letting themselves in for. Heilmer had loved Smith’s stripey version of the original Alec Issigonis-designed Mini, one of three commissions (Kate Moss tattooed hers with spider’s webs, while David Bowie went for an all-over mirror finish) unveiled at London’s Design Museum to celebrate the Mini’s 40th birthday in 1999. So he asked Smith to come up with something similar for the new electric Mini.

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The call came as a welcome distraction for Smith, who was alone in his Covent Garden HQ while his team worked from home. But he wanted to make more of a mark on the car than just putting his signature on the bodywork. When Heilmer came to London to talk to Smith about the latter’s involvement, he quickly realised that this collaboration wasn’t going to be limited to a colour scheme.

‘We started with the idea of how to make a more emotionally satisfying car,’ explains Heilmer. That meant staying focused on the essential qualities of the Mini, an unusual blend of frugality with charisma. ‘The Mini can be seen differently in different contexts. It can be surprisingly expensive in China because of the taxes, while in Europe it’s almost affordable enough for students, but our aim is to keep the identity of our car classless everywhere. We thought, let’s do as much as we can, while keeping it drivable. A lot of design work for the Mini is about common sense: keep it as small as possible, and please keep the round headlights.’ headtopics.com

Mini’s head of design Oliver Heilmer, and British designerPaul Smith, both shot by Baud Postma via Zoom in July 2021Smith agrees: ‘It’s very much about respecting the origins of the car.’ The starting point for Smith was a memory he had of seeing a car body before it had been painted and fitted with all the trim. ‘I didn’t want to change the shape, but talked to the team about how to show the steel with all its imperfections and the traces of the manufacturing process. It’s like the suit I’ve just had made. I asked the tailor to put the sleeve head in by hand. That way you get little dimples in the cloth, and the little imperfections that I love. Tadao Ando’s

concrete architecture, with its perfect little circular indentations, has the same quality.’Smith went to Munich to meet Heilmer’s team. They had taken a brand new car from the production line in Oxford before it reached the paint booths, shipped it to Germany and stripped it back to raw metal. The steel body panels were zinc-galvanised, but otherwise left as they were from the press. They took out the original dashboard, the trim on the inside of the door panels, the covers on the airbags, the door opening mechanisms, the instruments, the dashboard controls, the carpets and the steering wheel.

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