If you're looking to take your hygge out of Copenhagen and into the mean streets of New York, look no further than the recent collaboration between Danish Furniture brand BoConcept and Mercedes-Benz operated smart. We first saw the smart Fortwo BoConcept signature style car a month ago, during its European debut as a brand ambassador vehicle at the 2013 Geneva Auto Show. The car is now joined by its domestic counterpart: the Smartville furniture and accessory collection.
We had the chance to sit down with Head of Marketing Communications & Brand Management smart Michael Schaller, BoConcept's Collections and Visuals Director, Claus Ditlev Jensen, and General Manager of smart USA, Tracey Matura, to get some insight into designing a major corporate collaboration.
Core77: Tell us about the origin of the collaboration, was smart itching to design a sofa? Had BoConcept been waiting for a chance to get into automotive design?
Claus Ditlev Jensen: Two and a half years ago, the agency for smart approached BoConcept because we have experience as the urban brand for interiors, and smart represents the urban brand for automotives. When we saw the initial presentation and heard about the ideas, we could only agree that it sounded like a fantastic idea.
We have the same mindset—[we both deal with serving] the customer in a functional way, to be cool, to have the right thing at the right time and also the vision about quality. When you buy our products you will be happy.
When we were together the first time, we were saying, "Okay, but what can we get from it?" That's what we were thinking at BoConcept and I'm sure they did the same at smart, thinking how smart are they at BoConcept? How can they match what we are thinking?
Michael Schaller: It was less that we had been searching for a corporate partner and more that we knew the same people and they said, "Hey, we know both of you and you have so much in common, you should meet"—that was how we had the initial meeting. It was very organic because we had so many similarities. We didn't have any difficulty making the brands fit to each other. It was more or less by accident that we were connected.
Are there plans for expansion of the line? Will we see more furniture pieces, maybe a storage line for our small urban spaces?
Jensen: Well we can't say anything about future collaborations. But [our design teams] have a great relationship and if you have a great relationship—you don't dump it.
Customizing is big for both customers of smart and BoConcept. If the main cohesion between the line and car is material choice, how does customization come into play?
Tracey Matura: Customization in the U.S. is a huge thing. From smart's perspective, what we have seen the American public really grasp onto from smart is that they [have the ability to] show their individualism. They aren't just going out to buy a car—they are buying an extension of their personality. If you're bold enough to drive a smart, you don't really care whether people think its crazy. We had a customer who wanted to wrap her smart to match her nail color each month. That's where we see the mindset being so similar at BoConcept and smart. In the U.S. at least, our customers want their smart to be an extension of [their personalit], more than transportation.
Do you see that in the European market as well?
Schaller: The customers want to use their car as an expression of their personality. People are just used to that—cars being so highly individualized and customizable. We feel that as more people know about the customization, they will make use of it.
In the future, will there be potential to see changes to the design of car as well as the materials? We seem to be looking at the same fortwo design in this collaboration.
Schaller: Actually, making changes to the form of the car is very, very difficult, because a lot of regulations need to be met before it goes to market. For example, the smart ForJeremy, [designed by fashion designer] Jeremy Scott put the wings on the car. We are going to launch a car like that, but we are having a hard time with the certification because safety and wind stability testing must be done. It takes a long time to do that, so it's difficult to make significant exterior or architectural changes to the car.
Matura: But you will definitely see changes it in the next generation from smart.
smart Fortwo BoConcept signature style car
smart ForJeremy by Jeremy Scott
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We applaud smart and BoConcept for bringing together two major European design outfits. However, while the brands to share an affinity for the urban mindset, long-running creative lineages and love of leather upholstery, we still feel there is some lacking in the product lines. We're left asking: How cohesive can the collaboration be with only a shared material palate and customizability of material as your main selling point? Additionally, as a general rule of thumb, if your promo video begs the question why you're collaborating in the first place - maybe it's time to go back to the drawing board.
You can check out the Smartville line for yourself, its now available in the United States as of today, April 1.
Teshia Treuhaft is a Michigan-born designer. Upon graduating from back-to-back degrees, a BFA from the University of Michigan and MFA of Furniture Design from RISD, she moved to Berlin to pursue a research project considering shifting paradigms in design education. Teshia currently works at the tangible UX startup Senic.