Marek Reichman pointed to the tie of an Aston Martin executive standing next to him. "This comes right from the cars," he said.
The focus of attention was not a grease spot on the neckwear, but the delicate silvery pattern on the tie's red silk. Reichman, design director of Aston Martin, was explaining the inspiration for a new line of fabric and leather goods he is designing.
The Ford Motor Co, which bought controlling interest in the British sports car maker in 1987, let it be known this summer that it wanted to sell Aston Martin. While enthusiasts and industry insiders await word on the company's future, Reichman is keeping himself busy with other sorts of products, including ties and cuff links.
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"Fire and ice is the theme," Reichman said. This is the current Aston Martin marketing motif: passion and cool together. The accessories were shown last month at a meeting of Aston dealers from around the world, gathered in a crystalline building in Weehawken, New Jersey, on the edge of the Hudson River with a view of the Manhattan skyline out the windows.
"Because the patterns come from the car itself, they give us complete credibility," Reichman said. By credibility, he means a legitimate link to the cars that made Aston Martin famous. He explained how he took lines from the computer renderings of an Aston coupe, duplicated them, flipped and spun them in the computer to produce abstract patterns that look like flames or flowers. They could be Art Nouveau ornaments; they are red and silver, orange and yellow.
Flame was the design keynote of the red V8 Vantage convertible, whose shape Reichman supervised as the chief designer. "This red is the fire," he said of the metallic paint applied to the car's body. The car, on view for dealers at the meeting, will make its public debut at the Los Angeles auto show on Nov. 29. Red is an unaccustomed color to those familiar with the traditional Aston hues of gun metal and jade green.
Reichman designed another sort of accessory — for James Bond; 007's Aston Martin DBS is the hero's ride in Casino Royale, which opened Friday.
A look inside the new Bond car, which is based on the current DB9, reveals upholstery in a soft dark suede-like material, quilted in a diamond pattern; the instruments and shifter gleam from every carefully machined corner and curve. That shifter reportedly presented a challenge for Daniel Craig, the new actor playing Bond. Reports from the set were that filming shut down for several days while Craig learned to drive a manual transmission.
The Bond car is likely to be available to the public in a civilian edition of perhaps 200 sometime next year. Unveiling of the production version is set for next year's Geneva auto show. It will add power to the version of the V-12 engine in the current DB9. About 2,000 DB9's are produced each year.
Reichman took over a job with noted predecessors, including Henrik Fisker, who created the Z8 at BMW and went on to establish his own company, Fisker Coachbuild, and Ian Callum, now at Jaguar, whose 1994 DB7 reinvented the forms of the classic DB5 in contemporary language, widening the signature grille to resemble the mouth of a killer whale.
Reichman is a dashing figure who seems young for his job; think Elizabethan privateer or playwright, Christopher Marlowe or Sir Francis Drake, an image of Britishness the company likes to cultivate. Reichman was born in Sheffield, England, and studied industrial design at the Royal College of Art in London. His portfolio includes design work for Land Rover, Lincoln and Mercury.
Alongside the Vantage convertible and the Bond car at the dealer event was the Rapide, a design study that cunningly managed to expand the basic Aston to accommodate four doors. Fellow designers were mightily impressed with the achievement, which Reichman created in just six months after taking over the design job on June 1, 2005. It will almost surely get the go-ahead for production.
Ulrich Bez, chief executive of Aston Martin, said that production numbers for the models on display would not be decided for a while. As the dealers were gathering for cocktails and canapes, news had come that the French billionaire Bernard Arnault, head of LVMH, and Albert Frere, a Belgian financier, might make a bid for the company. LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton is the luxury brands conglomerate that owns labels like Louis Vuitton and Fendi.
They are not the only ones interested. Bez and an alliance of investors seem eager to buy the company; a former Ford executive, Jacques Nasser, has also been mentioned as leading a group of interested buyers.
Meanwhile, Aston is thinking about refreshing its brand — like James Bond with the new film, which is based on the earliest of Ian Fleming's series. In this version, Bond is world wiser and world wearier. He inhabits a darker world than the blue-sky cosmos of Sean Connery depicted in later novels. The early Bond does not care if his martini is shaken or stirred.
Bond cars are the original high-profile film product placement. Astons have been in seven Bond films, beginning with the DB5 that Sean Connery drove in Goldfinger in 1964. They have played minor roles, too, in which they upstaged much publicized product placements for BMW's Z8 and 7 Series, in GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies. In 2002, with the presence of the V12 Vanquish in Die Another Day, Aston seems to have claimed for good the role of accessory supplier to Bond. It could wear that designation along with the royal warrant as supplier and repairer of motorcars to the Prince of Wales.
To judge by the atmosphere at the dealer gathering, the expansion from car to ties and tie clips might be the natural way of working if Aston thinks of itself as a luxury goods company, not just a car company. Montblanc expanded beyond pens; Burberry has outgrown its reputation for raincoats. Now they make all sorts of luxury goods. More carmakers may have to think of themselves in similar fashion.
Aston Martins, like many types of high-end items, have been produced in limited runs like fine prints for connoisseurs and collectors. Hanging behind Reichman at the dealer gathering were huge photographs showing Astons in desolate landscapes with vast glaciers in the background.
The dealers can sell these limited-edition photographs by Rene Staud; other images show the cars in front of sculpture by noted artists like Tony Cragg, Rebecca Horn, Anselm Kiefer, Lawrence Weiner and the architect Jean Nouvel. Aston under Ford seems to have been positioning itself as a sort of British Ferrari, with an active racing program providing technical credibility and with the V8 Vantage, a model to expand sales. Aston once measured annual sales in hundreds; now it is in thousands.
For the long run, the question may be whether Aston Martin could continue to exist without the engineering and testing infrastructure of a larger parent company, which seems to be the only way it could produce vehicles whose virtues are more than skin deep. Cars demand more complex technology than ties or leather goods or even watches. James Bond works alone, but he always has a big organization behind him.
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