As part of last October’s £620m trade and investment mission to China with UK prime minister Theresa May, Aston Martin unveiled a new design studio — its first beyond Gaydon. “The Shanghai studio is a vital creative outpost for us,” says Aston Martin’s Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer, Marek Reichman, although its location is far removed from the city’s usual creative and commercial hubs. Instead, the studio — which has the official name of Aston Martin Lagonda Creative Lab NICE 2035 — couldn’t be more different. The Shanghai facility is a 50/50 venture with the acclaimed Tongji university — where Reichman is now a visiting lecturer and professor — and is situated in the more regular residential setting of the university’s neighbourhood, rather than an upmarket shopping area. “I think it used to be a grocery store,” Reichman says. “Our neighbours now include an experimental chef, a sound studio, a 3D printing lab, a ‘connected suite’ and someone else developing gaming. It’s all very entrepreneurial and because the university is involved in all of the spaces, it pulls everyone together on a monthly basis to see if they can cross-fertilise and share.”
“Our gain is that I’m embedded within the university, lecturing there six times a year,” adds Reichman. “I can spot and nurture talent, place them in a studio where they can work and if we need to do something confidential, the rear part of the studio is perfect. So the first part is about bringing Aston Martin into the community and for the community to learn.”
In this way, members of Reichman’s UK-based team now have a base in one of Aston Martin’s key global markets - in 2018, China wholesales grew by 31%. From here, members of the team can absorb local trends. Colour and Trim Designer Benedetta Ippoliti did exactly that recently, spending three months helping to set up the studio. “She has now come back to the UK as the China expert, having been embedded within the culture,” says Reichman. With Aston Martin’s Chinese sales and marketing HQ also based in Shanghai, it’s a great extra location for the brand alongside the recently opened House of Beautiful global brand centre, which acts as key touch point for the wider public and, specifically, potential customers.
The idea is that the design studio will inform what should go into the House of Beautiful and vice versa. “The design studio will feed the House of Beautiful and help decide what exhibit, products and colour schemes we should put in there next,” Reichman explains. “The acorn of the idea comes from the studio and House of Beautiful is the gallery space that shows that idea. For example, we showed an artist’s work at the opening of House of Beautiful and that’s now gone back into the studio and we are developing some patterns, artwork and repeatable textile designs from that artwork.”
Reichman is still clearly very excited at the new Shanghai design facility’s ability to generate ideas and themes, as he concludes: “There are more young entrepreneurs in China than anywhere else in the world,” he enthuses. “It’s as much about understanding at a grass roots level what those customers of the future will want as it is about explaining what we do, how we make things and why we’re pertinent to them. It’s a two-way interactive process.”