Not all of the products wearing the Porsche label have received good press. Burns hot, too expensive, can’t breathe. Which Porsche merited these criticisms?
Well, as a clue, this Porsche is not made in Stuttgart but Holland. Even new it cost in the region of a few hundred euros and it weighed under a 75 grams. The Porsche in question was a pipe, designed by the Porsche Design studio rather than the automotive design studio.
Not unlike Pininifarina and Zagato, Porsche has separate divisions for industrial design and licencing. Rather unusually, I think, for a design consultancy, they tend to stamp all their projects with a distinct look and, indeed, with an actual label saying “Porsche Design”. At Copenhagen Airport one can spend several minutes gazing at a range of mostly black and matte objects all made under licence and stamped with the PD name.
While this is not my cup of cappuccino, I admit it is a good deal more tasteful than branded products from certain Modenese marques I can think of. There were no alabaster busts of GP drivers on sale at PD the day I looked in, for example.
The pipe (there are several, in fact) first came to my attention more than a decade ago: in the window of a tobacconists. Among the traditional Sherlock Holmes and Hobbit briars there nestled a sleak, black wood and alloy confection. Most pipes are quite conventional (often very beautifully made). The Porsche Design interpretation is notable for very slightly faster silhouette and parallel vanes on the bowl. These are inspired by the cooling system of a car and supposedly allow for the heat to dissipate more effectively. A hot pipe tastes less pleasant, the vanes help counteract this. The Porsche pipe was also very expensive, even by the standards of top-flight pipes. Remember, a useable pipe costs as little as €25 and a cobb pipe even less.
Who bought this object? Porsche Design pipe man, I imagine, was an affluent 55-year old from Frankfurt or Berlin. He wore Hugo Boss black, had a Mercedes 450 SEL as well as the latest and best Porsche (if you could work out which that was) and was a lawyer or consultant. I estimated there were only about 250 of this species in existence: a man smart enough to earn a lot of money but not smart enough to not smoke.
His characteristics could be graphically represented using Venn diagrams with the smallest of overlaps. More common are people who imagine they are Mr Porsche Pipe and perhaps architects of a certain stripe too. For them the pipe is a token of being the persona wish to be.
These days the Porsche Design label is an excercise in branding much more than an independent consultancy. Add it to the Aston Martin, Jaguar and Ferrari merchandise category.
There are a lot of Porsche-branded things. Perhaps reflecting the slightly too broad range of goods, Porsche’s main holding company has purchased 35% of shares in Porsche Design in April, making it a wholly owned subsidiary. In future the focus will be more on men’s accessories (I can’t imagine there are so very many female customers).
Having looked a little closer into the matter, I can see that Porsche’s design consulancy for independent makers is blurred with their merchandising and their engineering consultancy. The engineers provide know-how on engines and the like; the provider of styling is harder to locate.
PD have a welter of items – more styled than truly created from pure research. In my way of looking at it, design is not about style, not in the first instance. The style emerges as the best way to express the taste of the target customer. Porsche style is, of course, a way to attract the kind of buyers who like cold, black shiny things. However, it is applied to products after the fact rather than being something emerging from research.
Which brings us to the ladies’ Moto-X pants for €459 euros (now €297 euros). While you could believe Porsche might have some insight on the performance of machines, one doubts that they have much input on the ladies jeans or the €95 men’s black t-shirt they sell.
Porsche’s brand values are based on engineering and perceived design excellence. Little by little the branding has strayed from the core to an implausible periphery via fast-looking pipes.