Porsche Design CEO is on a global mission to educate public and press about Good Design
Dr Jeurgen Gessler unfurls himself from the Hyde Park Hotel’s couch and leads me over to the two leather jackets laid out by his invisible team of helpers. “This jacket just won the Red Dot "Best of the Best" award,” he says. His perfectly manicured hands seaming over the unlined, top-stitched butter-soft tailored jacket. Made in Germany out of top quality leather, and only top quality leather, it seems indicative of Porsche Design’s elemental design aesthetic: form and function follow a parallel that is equally tectonic, logical and intrinsically beautiful.
As the current CEO of Porsche Design, Gessler is in South Africa for 24hrs, he’s on a mini global tour – from SA he travels to Japan (“still the second biggest luxury market”), before returning to Zell am See, Austria – the Porsche Design headquarters. He’s as much global brand ambassador as CEO; steering and growing the company as well as educating public and press as to the history and heritage of the design brand that was founded in the seventies.
Porsche Design has very little to do with Porsche the car. “Fifteen percent of our customers are Porsche drivers,” he says. Making it clear again and again that Porsche Design is not about “pushing car merchandise”.
Founded in 1972 by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, the son of Ferry Porsche, founder of the Porsche car company, Ferdinand was always interested in the design, the functionality of form. “He was a Bauhaus student,” says Gessler, “Form follows function, but Ferdinand Alexander Porsche took it further, to say that form and function should be on equal levels.”
“If you think about function long enough from becomes obvious.”
Gessler says the first iconic Porsche Design product – the world’s first black watch - was not intended to create an inevitable cataclysm in the design world. “Ferdinand Porsche developed a black watch because he questioned the easiest way to tell the time. And that was white indicators on a black dashboard. It was about good design.”
Eight years later the first titanium watch entered the market. Steve Jobs was a fan and kept a stash in his office to hand out as party favours. Gessler shows me the back of his iPad in the hope I see the similarity between the Titanium watch and the device’s cladding. Not sure Jonathan Ive was a party favour recipient. As if to bring home the point that Porsche Design is not a merchandising vehicle for the cars, he tells me Jobs was a Mercedes man.
Aviator sunglasses were the second iconic products. Previously only worn by pilots they were not brought over into the mainstream, or indeed the fashion elite, until Porsche introduced additional features: clip-on coloured lenses, making them outfit and season adaptable. A sensation began and to date they’ve sold in excess of 70 million pairs.
Today, the company is on a trajectory of global retail expansion. “We know that by 2015 we need to have 220 stores throughout the world.” Strong online presence and ecommerce will follow once an instantly identifiable physical retail brand has been established. Earlier in the year Porsche Design opened a second standalone in Manhattan.
In March 2012 Porsche Design opened the first retail concept store in Hyde Park. More stores are planned for South Africa. “When looking at our retail strategy, South Africa was definitely part of it, and Johannesburg is obviously a must-have city for every luxury brand.”
By 2050 it is expected Africa’s potential spend will reach $1.3 trillion.
The current product range includes mens- and womenswear – from jackets to shirts, pants and sporting wear; including the engineered range created in collaboration with Adidas. Pens, watches, luggage, sunglasses and even perfume complete the range.
According to Gessler, Elie Saab is a fan. No word if he's a Porsche driver.