A sports car brand launching an apparel and accessories line is nothing new. Particularly in the last decade, with Ferrari Store opening in every affluent city and airport in the world, we have seen race tracks and catwalks converge… to a point. Because despite Ferrari having its luxe line away from the predictable caps and Scuderia shield logo’d shirts, and Porsche Design making quality luggage, we’ve yet to see an automotive brand meet Louis Vuitton, Tom Ford and co head on, on equal terms.
Perhaps the only brand with the heritage, aura and exclusivity that could pull off this feat is Bugatti, because it still retains what Ferrari, in my opinion, hasn’t: Mystery, eccentricity, and non-conformity.
Like so many supercar manufacturers, Bugatti’s been on a rollercoaster of fortunes during its 104 year history, and now it has the security and resources of Volkswagen. The temptation was surely to do a Porsche – slap the logo on a 4×4 and a baby Bugatti – but, for now, they have resisted. They’ve kept their focus on the £1.5 million Veyron. No dumbing down. And with that attitude of money-no-object exclusivity and shock style, they were never going to settle just for t-shirts and anoraks were they?
Between the Asian grands prix, I went to Italy for a Krug-soaked splash-n-dash to attend Milan Fashion Week, to see the launch of a new fashion collection from this Franco-Italian treasure.
The party took place at the Brera Academy of Fine Arts, and there’s some family history here. Ettore Bugatti, the founder of the eponymous company, studied there. So did his father, Carlo, a seminal Art Nouveau furniture and jewelry designer. In fact, the whole Bugatti clan were incredibly artistic and that is reflected not only in those handsome curves and angles, but in the fact this company takes risks.
Walking along the blue carpet into the blue-lit college courtyard you see the famous Dancing Elephant sculpture, designed by Ettore’s brother Rembrandt (another alumnus), projected in the centre and flanked by a Veyron and a vintage Royale, and models wearing clothes from the new bespoke collection.
Actor Adrien Brody, Agnelli heir Lapo Elkann, F1 hero Jean Alesi, and a host of Italian celebrities and fashion decision makers mingle around the cars and scrutinize the clothes.
There are three lines, focused predominantly on men: The Ettore Bugatti collection is the smart casual line, monogrammed with a subtle EB, with lots of nods to Bugatti signatures, like collars that echo radiator grilles, stripes that reflect the centre line on a Bugatti Atlantic, and accessories bearing the Dancing elephant. The Extreme Performance collection features the company’s so-called ‘Macaron’ logo and, as the name suggests, is modern leisure and sportswear and with Veyron-based design nods. Each piece in this line is limited to 431 units, commemorating the land speed record time achieved by the Veyron Super Sport in 2010, confirming it as the world’s fastest production car.
Perhaps most interesting is the third line, Bespoke, which will only be made available to Bugatti owners – and is therefore quite a statement. Don’t, for example, wear a Bugatti suit if you want to haggle over the price of anything! Their tailor made suits and other items are made with the finest materials, on appointment only.
The one women’s piece launched at Brera is a blue crocodile skin bag, its shape inspired by the unique horseshoe of the Bugatti’s front grille.
The plan, after this launch phase, is to then produce other objects and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Bugatti return to old Carlo’s roots and start producing Art Nouveau-inspired home furnishings. After all, Giorgio Armani has Armani Casa. Bugatti has the heritage to pull something like that off.
A flagship store will open in Milan imminently, and then single-brand stores will launch in Hong Kong and Beijing in 2014, with up to 35 boutiques to open in other luxury hotspots over the following five years.