Chatting with Flavio Manzoni
Born in 1965 on one of the most beautiful islands in the Mediterranean, Sardinia, Flavio Manzoni is not only the most envied designer in the world, due to his position at the helm of Ferrari Design, but is also a person of rare charm and eclecticism. In the following interview heguides us into his universe.
FLAVIO, YOU ARE THE FOUNDER OF THE FERRARI DESIGN CENTRE: DO YOU FEEL YOU ARE MORE DESIGN MANAGER OR A DESIGNER WITHOUT CREATIVE CONSTRAINTS?
I have always worked hard to achieve a balance between the two skills, namely creativity, for which luckily I have an innate ability, and management, which is supported by a natural interest in the technical aspects of the design, which I have been able to mature in the role of creative director since way back in 2001 at Lancia and later as Creative Design Director of the VW group. Rapid decision-making, the optimal management of creative resources and coordination of the various phases of the project are all essential skills when you want to express creativity in a highly complex environment such as that of the Maranello Reds.
IN THE PROFESSION OF CAR DESIGNER, WHAT IS THE ADDED VALUE OF BEING AN ARCHITECT?
I had the great fortune to grow up in a family that taught me the value of curiosity and of interdisciplinary culture (“lateral thinking” we would say nowadays), allowing me to try my hand at areas and arts that were very different from each other, from music to design in fact. The thesis as part of my degree in architecture focussed on industrial design and on the car and this opened doors for me at Lancia. Culture and versatility allow you to maintain a very wide perspective inaddressing the problems of my profession, where you can often manage to tap into solutions and suggestions that may be less predictable because they are influenced by areas that are not exclusively linked to the world of car design.
IN DEFINING THE DESIGN OF A FERRARI, WHAT ARE THE TECHNICAL CONSTRAINTS THAT YOU CONSIDER TO BE MOST FRUSTRATING?
I personally think that, in a design, constraints are a tremendous source of drive towards innovation. I just think of how many stimuli we receive from our colleagues in aerodynamics, whom, I assure you, impose extraordinarily restrictive constraints on us, but the consequence of this in fact is that they require us to identify innovative solutions that have often led to real leaps forward in defining the forms of our cars. That said, I must admit that the necessary and unavoidable limitations imposed by safety standards represent a significant design burden, in the past virtually absent.
TELL ME ABOUT A CAR FROM THE PAST THAT YOU WOULD HAVE LIKED TO HAVE DESIGNED?
That’s not an easy question to answer because there are many cars that I admire. Undoubtedly the Ferrari P3/P4 from 1966, an authentic and immortal masterpiece of proportions. Given its originality and sensuality, even today I am still fond of the Jaguar E-Type while returning to Maranello, I admit to having a soft spot for the beautiful Dino 246!
AND A CURRENT CAR FROM THE PAST, OUTSIDE THE FERRARI RANGE THAT YOU WOULD HAVE LIKED TO HAVE DESIGNED?
You’d be surprised but I would answer that by opting for the Range Rover Evoque. Below the waistrail there are the solid volumes typical of an SUV while above it there is a compact and sleek interior, almost sporty thanks to the low roof: at its launch this juxtaposition was really innovative and very successful.
UNDER YOUR MANAGEMENT I SENSE A REASSURING DISTANCING FROM “RETRO” DRIVES, I SEE RATHER A CONSTANT STRIVING FOR INNOVATION, BOTH FUNCTIONAL AND FORMAL. AM I RIGHT?
You are, because I am professionally and humanly tired of the abuse of the concepts of “revival” and “vintage” which become convenient alibis to justify the loss of creative drive. You cannot imagine how many times I have been asked “why not redo the GTO or the Testarossa?”. My answer is always: “Why should we limit ourselves to redesigning a success of fifty years ago? “. The real challenge is to design the new icons of the future, creating the dreams of the next 50 years, not re-reading the icons of the past. The future is in the hands of those with vision…
OUTSIDE OF THE AUTOMOTIVE WORLD, IS THERE A PROFESSIONAL THAT YOU FEEL IS WORTHY OF ADMIRATION?
Among the many I can think of there is Santiago Calatrava. His work is linked to that of another of my “design heros”, Pier Luigi Nervi, in whom I have always admired the ability to synthesise engineering performance and aesthetic harmony. Calatrava was able to continue and expand this approach, producing architecture that can at the same time be considered great works of art.
IF YOU WEREN’T INVOLVED IN ‘CAR DESIGN’, WHAT OTHER AREA OF DESIGN WOULD YOU FEEL MOST ATTRACTED TO?
There is no specific area because in product design I really like the variety, the opportunity to address constraints, production and needs that are very different from project to project.
ALLOW ME ONE LAST QUESTION, HOW DO YOU LIVE WITH YOUR STATUS AS “MOST ENVIED DESIGNER IN THE WORLD”?
(bursting into laughter) I don’t think I’m the most envied designer in the world !! I’m not saying that out of false modesty and I also have to admit that I had never looked at the matter in these terms. Of course every day I feel a great sense of responsibility but I wouldn’t think of this role in the sense of personal benefit. I have a great responsibility towards my team, to this great company and to a legacy of values and achievements that is extremely rich and unique. Thank you Flavio, keep up the good work. It was a pleasure to chat with you… but allow me to disagree with your last reply !!