IN MEMORIAM: LUIGI COLANI

Last year the German-born industrial designer, who spent a lifetime pursuing esoteric aesthetics, has passed away.

By Balthazar Malevolent

IN MEMORIAM: LUIGI COLANI

Car design has many rebels but most end up in conformity with the corporate system or side-lined by the innate conservatism of the industry. Some go on becoming household names, channeling their outer status into vehicles that attain cult status or sometimes sales success. And then there was Luigi Colani, the German-born industrial designer who, wheeled, winged or otherwise, spent a long life pursuing esoteric aesthetics.

Colani, who died at the age of 91, was a truly independent, frequent collaborator with all sorts of corporate clients, but never bound to any direction. Colani, who was born in Berlin in 1928, first gained prominence as a designer in the 1950s, working as an art director, car stylist and product designer in various ways. Colani as an incessant self-promoter, was just as happy to create a conceptual vision far removed from the reality of engineering as he designed consumer goods such as cameras, televisions and chairs. His approach was shamelessly sculptural, a pioneer in biophilic and organic design, focusing almost exclusively on new materials such as plastic and glass fibre because of their endlessly pliable qualities. His main metier was transport design, and his team – headquartered in a restored Karlsruhe castle – built endless prototypes of motorcycles, cars, and trucks, often using existing models as the basis for wildly extravagant creations.

Colani's cars were often unique and outrageous; Colambo, based on Lamborghini, or radically re-corporated Mercedes, Ferraris, and BMWs, all followed his 'bio design' principles, an assumption of curvy, nature-inspired forms far ahead of his time. His amazing truck designs were just one of many lifelong obsessions, and in future the insectoid cabs with their giant circular windscreens would seem to be coming from decades.

Colani, in person, also tended toward the grand pronouncement, often referring to himself in the third person. This was the expertise of his studio that he was often sought after for conceptual visions, working for NASA, producing countless bold aircraft models and racing cars, as well as airline uniforms, computer peripherals, sunglasses and even the compulsory Chinese conceptual super city (although back in 1996). Yet despite the excitement and obvious influence of his designs, none were picked up for mass production and he eventually turned his back on Europe for a spell in the early 1980s, moving to Japan where he was well received, with iconic designs such as the Canon T90 camera proving to be a lasting legacy. Also working as a sculptor, Colani happily parlayed his love of shape in unique pieces that naturally fed back into his product designs.

Closer to the end of Colani's long life there was the inevitable re-evaluation. In 2015, a major retrospective of the Design Museum cemented his reputation by placing him at the forefront of the organic design genre, a pioneer from days before computers. Today, certain aspects of the Colani aesthetic seem to be nothing more than an old school takes on naked futurism, sometimes relying on hoary old tropes such as sparsely dressed models and questionable comparisons between the human form and the curves of inanimate objects, with a generally self-aggrandizing view of the universe.

Many ventures still seem far away, far into the future. All in all, Colani never lost sight of the importance of his own image, delighting with his regular chunky white knitwear paired with mustache and cigar; equal parts of vivacious playboy, flamboyant artist and visionary of the future.

Can you imagine what would be the result of Andre Courreges and Luigi Colaniand collaboration if it could ever exist?

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