Design Talk with Karim Habib and Eric Carlson

Karim Habib, Head of BMW Design, and Eric Carlson, architect of the BMW Brand Store in Paris share their views on "Contemporary Luxury Design" and the architectural concept of the BMW Brand Store among other significant creative developments under the BMW umbrella





BMW Design Process



Eric Carlson on luxury


“Luxury is different for everybody, every individual. As well as every individual in time. Meaning what was luxurious for somebody 100 years ago may not at all be luxurious for people today. So it’s an illusive thing. I think that illusiveness or the fact that it’s different is really the thing that makes it interesting and important.”


“Things that are exceptional are luxurious for me. That's what I look for in my work and the people that I’m around. Things that stands out from the usual. The other aspect is quality. Anybody looking for something luxurious would insist upon quality at some level.”


“For me, it’s really about finding something that’s suited to me as an individual. An individual place, an individual person, an individual company, an individual city. To find something that’s custom-made like a suit, something that’s about being unique.”



Karim Habib



Karim Habib on his personal definition of luxury


“If we’re talking about luxury, there has to be a certain reward to using that object, to looking at that object, to touching that object. There’s a dialogue between the user and the object. And this experience has its own reward. For me personally the human aspect is very important in any luxury object or anything that represents luxury. Somebody made it because they believe in something. And to know that it has gone through that process and then is actually an object that’s there, is quite a rewarding thought in itself.”


Eric Carlson on the idea of luxury in the BMW Brand Store


“The first thing for us was really to find out about what the Brand Store and the BMW brand itself mean on every level. What does BMW mean to the Parisians? How does BMW itself view the brand? We wanted to talk to the people who are involved with making the cars, the people who maintain the space at the executive level. This luxury of being able to talk to all those involved has ultimately provided us with an intelligent basis for our design.”


“Our objective here was to create a BMW Brand Store which is really unique. Unique because the architecture is very unusual for a showroom. It’s not a classic shoebox proportion space. It’s in the middle of the city in a very important and luxurious neighbourhood on the Avenue Georges V and not the Champs Elysées, with its tour buses and people eating ice cream. The idea was to create a boutique – this is Paris, a shopping city – that’s very unusual for a car showroom.”



BMW George V, Paris. First new BMW Brand Store




“The goal for me is that, when the project is finished, somebody goes: Wow, that’s a beautiful BMW Brand Store! Not an Eric Carson building. I don’t want my signature to be on this. That would be a failure. So really capturing the essence of the place, the people, the experiences is the key. And I think that's luxury. To just simply apply my personality on everything would be quite simple and not very rich, I think.”


“We’re also working on a project in New York, and it’s interesting to see the difference between how the New Yorkers think of BMW – which is performance, speed, get in, get out, done – versus the Parisians, who are kind of take your time, go through, discover. It’s the same brand but with two different perceptions. And both of them are real. How to adapt the space to those experiences is an example of specific design.”


BMW George V, Paris. First new BMW Brand Store


Eric Carlson on the evolution of luxury shops


“Over the years, small luxury shops with furniture and decoration became small stores with façades. And then they became flagship stores with a grand style and big façades. And then they became global stores in their own buildings and with big spaces. And then recently, they have kind of flipped around to “la maison” – something more intimate, more qualitative and human.”


Eric Carlson on the architectural concept of the BMW Brand Store


“One of the objectives here was to create the front space on Avenue Georges V, to create this middle space, and then to create a boutique-style space. You have a variety of experiences. People don’t want to just come in, have a quick look around and then walk out. They want to discover. They want to learn. They want to be educated. They want to understand. That’s how it is now, at any rate. If you’re asking me what is the future – I think with every project, we’re always taking steps towards the future. But I think there is no secret behind it, it’s just work.”


Karim Habib on luxury and BMW


“BMW is obviously a brand with a very strong heritage. BMW is and always has been an innovator. And the aspect of exclusivity or rarity: BMW is a luxury or a premium manufacturer. You don’t see BMWs everywhere all the time. We do produce a lot of cars, they are industrial products, but these are rather exclusive vehicles. So these three elements are part of what makes a BMW a BMW. And if you will, in that sense it’s easier, maybe, for us to create luxury because it’s intrinsic to the character or the personality of BMW.”




BMW Design Process



Karim Habib on the design of a BMW


“Proportions are essential for BMW, as they are in architecture. They determine so much of how you perceive a product. And we work very hard in this respect. Our engineers do everything to make sure that we keep BMW-typical proportions. Take the front overhang, for example. Whatever type of car we make, it’s very important that you get this very compact, very short overhang, and that the big front and rear wheels are really flush with the body. This is actually painstaking work to make sure that every millimetre is right. And that takes time and resources. But it is something we invest in as a company because we believe that’s what is essential to make the BMW experience visible when you look at the exterior.”



BMW Design Process



Karim Habib on the key moments of the design process at BMW


“In every creative process, it’s not like you come up with these lines and these lines become the car. It’s not this thing that comes from above and makes you create the perfect car. It’s a process. Every project we do, we basically start on paper. Things are really very hands-on. Then there’s the tape drawing. It’s the future car. And last but not least, there’s the clay model, which is the soul of car design. Modellers are our direct partners when we design a car. Each designer has a team of modellers who shape what we design. And that dialogue with a modeller is really the secret behind car design for BMW.”


“This is one of the most joyful moments, when you’re all alone in a studio and you’re looking at a car. And, honestly, you have a bit of a conversation with this model that’s kind of speaking to you. And you develop an understanding of positive space, negative space, surfaces – that in itself is reason enough to become a car designer. Obviously, that's my job every day. I don’t see it very objectively but I think that's what makes car design – or design in general –unique. Something that gives soul to a luxury object.”



BMW Design Process



Eric Carlson on the idea of democratising luxury


“If somebody happens to be at the low end of the average international pay scale and they treat themselves to a very nice dinner once a year in a very nice restaurant and that's luxurious to them, then that is luxury. It doesn’t mean they eat that every night; they can't afford it every night. And it doesn’t mean that somebody who does eat that every night appreciates it. So luxury is a kind of individual interpretation. But I think what’s interesting on a more collective level is that we see luxury as this kind of blanket word that we apply to blanket things.


Luxury is actually becoming more accessible to people on a lower pay scale. Meaning if you look at the Louis Vuitton store across the street, there are not to say that all people at the low end of the pay scale can afford it. But I think we see that democratisation of luxury happening. And it’s posing another question: what is real luxury if luxury is widening out at the base? I don’t know the answer to that, but I think for me this democratisation of luxury is an interesting phenomenon.”


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