Not many people end up doing what they always dreamed of as a child. For Marek Reichman, it’s being Head of Design at Aston Martin. “As soon as I sketched my first car, I instantly knew this was my dream job,” he recalls of his 12-year-old self. “But it felt unobtainable, like never daring to ask out the girl in the playground who was so beautiful — you just imagined.”
Even his initial phone interview for the role of Head of Design with Aston Martin’s then Chief Executive, Ulrich Bez, was slightly surreal because Marek was simply asked to bring along sketches of his vision for a new four-door Aston Martin. As soon as Dr Bez saw them in 2005, Marek was told: “You have the job.” His career with Aston Martin was underway and those sketches went on to become the Rapide concept car of 2006.
His first production car was the DBS. He remembers being asked to show it to two VIP visitors, an actor called Daniel Craig and a film producer called Barbara Broccoli. For all Marek knew, Craig was just an up-and-coming actor; he had no idea Craig had signed up to play James Bond and that he and Broccoli were looking at the DBS as 007’s new car in the next 007 movie, Casino Royale. Happily, Craig’s reaction at seeing the DBS for the first time was a blunt “That’s bloody awesome.” It was at that point that Marek started to appreciate just how special being Aston Martin’s chief designer was — very few people get to design a Bond car, for a start.
It’s the aura of the brand and the special place it has in people’s affections that the designer still appreciates most: “What I love about my job here is that we build cars that get everyone passionate and excited, even James Bond. Even people normally not interested at all in cars. This puts pressure on everything we design, but I thrive on the pressure.”
Marek’s ambition as a 12-year-old to become a car designer had been inspired by his father, a Sheffield blacksmith: “I had always wanted to make things, like my dad, and I had an interest in cars from an early age because my dad’s best friend had exotic cars. Occasionally he got to drive them, so they quickly became my passion.”
The very first thing he helped to design was as a student at Land Rover, when he worked on the bar that holds the spare wheel on the tailgate of the original Discovery. He took his formative steps in design at the Royal College of Art in London, as the very first Land Rover student. He eventually received a sought-after student placement in the Land Rover studio at Solihull — “a brilliant experience” — and one that eventually led to his first job as a designer with the company after college.
Marek remembers learning very quickly from design mentors such as Gerry McGovern, now Design Director at Land Rover, and his predecessor, Geoff Upex. He also quickly learned to be tenacious in his dealings with engineers. “If you didn’t fight your corner about the smallest details, they would just dismiss you as a young designer,” he recalls. Those early days could also be “very frustrating”, he admits. “The bosses at Rover at the time didn’t seem to want to nurture design; they needed to wake up.”
The next stage of his career was far more adventurous. Working at BMW’s Designworks studio in California, he found a place where designers were given the freedom to truly express themselves. This steep learning curve continued when he worked on BMW’s newly acquired Rolls-Royce brand, designing the new Phantom. The design team set up in a studio in London’s Park Lane that used to belong to the actor Johnny Depp. His final job before joining Aston Martin was a spell at Ford in California under the guidance of another automotive design legend, J Mays.
Marek has now overseen Aston Martin design for 12 years, but he says that he is as passionate about the cars now as the day he arrived. “There are so many new challenges because Aston Martin has so much potential,” he says. One of the few criticisms he has had to address was the charge that 21st-century Aston Martins all had a very similar look. Marek argues convincingly that it was this clear design identity that put Aston Martin on the global map.
The thing that pushes me most is the constant drive for innovation from design
“One of my roles today is to ensure that every new model from Aston Martin is very different while also being very beautiful and instantly recognisable as an Aston Martin,” he says. After that, there are a few special cars on the horizon. The next big project is the new Vantage. “In many respects, it’s actually more important than the DB11 because it’s the next phase. The Vantage is our core sports car. It has to be simple yet still jaw-droppingly beautiful with a strong wow factor and different to the DB11.”
After the Vantage arrives in 2018, Marek and his design team have been tasked with creating Aston Martin’s first SUV. “My challenge is simply to deliver the most beautiful SUV in the world and that’s exactly what we’ve done.” He thinks it’s vital that he has the same attitude to Aston Martin as the owners who buy the cars: “I believe I have the same passion as an owner and that’s why the designers all bond so well with our owners. Some of them have even become personal friends.” This unique affinity between the company and its customers is, Marek believes, a cornerstone of the brand’s recent success. The small things are also important: “One of the most special things about this job is getting emails from owners after they have bought a new car saying how ‘amazed’ they are. That‘s real job satisfaction.”
Does this self-confessed perfectionist ever relax? “I’m not especially good at relaxing. My mind is always analysing and looking for inspiration everywhere I go. I currently run 5km every day, wherever I am, which helps me de-stress and relax. I also like to cook and shop for ingredients; I like perfecting a recipe.”
Perhaps Marek best sums up what the job means to him when he says: “The thing that pushes me most is the constant drive for innovation from design, always looking forward and staying ahead of the game. The opportunity we have at Aston is brilliant, but we can never be complacent. We have to continuously push and stretch ourselves.”