Ask Dr. Juergen Gessler to describe the odour left by the stale old tenets of luxury from the pre-crisis era and you get an earful. “Opulent, lavish, pompous and exceedingly common,” says the 46-year-old CEO and LS member who ratcheted up degrees in industrial engineering and economics before his career in business took off at auto giants like Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
“Demonstrative luxury is a dead duck,” he goes on to say. “For Porsche Design, this never existed in the first place. We’ve always offered a different kind of luxury; it’s what we call ‘engineered luxury.’"
Gessler is certain that, now more than ever before, wealthy consumers are ready to recite the alliterative mantra he uses to describe the ethos behind the company he has led for four years. “Passion, performance, purism and precision," he purrs. “These are the characteristics that our products combine in a very unique way. They’re an inherent statement and they’re in demand all around the world.”
In the recently renovated Imperial Suite of the Ritz Hotel in Paris, management commissioned a Porsche Design kitchen manufactured by Poggenpohl
Some of the firm’s growth figures do suggest that the revived consumer values of luxury’s bygone era – an appreciation of craftsmanship and fine materials – and the kind of functional, streamlined design language championed by Porsche Design, are having an impact. With a network of 105 monobrand stores worldwide, Gessler says that retail expansion during the financial year 2009/2010 increased 25% over the previous year and 139% over the last three years. Sales in the franchise outlets rose by more than 43% over the previous year and by around 12% in the company’s directly operated retail arm.
“ Demonstrative luxury’s a dead duck ”
Like many successful, award-winning design studios, Porsche Design Group has signed a slew of licenses with high-end manufacturers in consumer product categories as diverse as fashion, luggage, timepieces, homewares, eyewear, driving accessories and electronics to realise its concepts. And it also partners with manufacturers of yachts such as The Royal Falcon Fleet and Fearless Yachts to design the interiors and sometimes exteriors of the crafts. Earlier this month, the luxury kitchen unit that Porsche Design created with Poggenpohl was unveiled at the Hotel Ritz’s Imperial Suite in Paris and industrial design projects like public transportation systems are also an ongoing business opportunity.
The limited edition briar wood smoking pipe harks back to the iconic pipe released in 1983 with its sleek ribbed effect which is actually a cooling design feature similar to that used in motorcycle engines
While there is no doubt that this luxury lifestyle brand has profited from sharing its name with its iconic sports car brand cousin, it can also be a burden in disguise.
“People all over the world know the Porsche brand and the sports cars,” concedes Gessler. “Porsche Design, however, is not as widely known. But our vision is to spread the idea and philosophy of our products and to make the brand popular and to strengthen public awareness.”
Porsche Design was established in 1972 by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, the third generation of the Porsche dynasty, as a separate business from the sports car unit. He was the son of the founder of the automotive firm, Ferry Porsche, and the grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, the auto engineer credited with creating icons like the Volkswagen Beetle and the Mercedes-Benz SSK before the Porsche trademark was first launched.
Porsche Design had a few design hits such as sunglasses (the Exclusive range) and watches (the Chronograph I) in the thirty decades before it consolidated with other divisions and became a subsidiary of the parent company, Porsche AG, but it was only since it came under the umbrella of the Porsche conglomerate that its future as a lifestyle brand was secure.
Small kitchen appliances, in conjunction with Siemens, include a breakfast set of matching kettle, coffee maker and toaster
Gessler took the reins of Porsche Design a few years after this restructuring. Ever since, he finds himself making the same all-important yet often misunderstood branding distinction to market observers and luxury industry analysts alike.
“Porsche Design is not Porsche,” he says. “It’s different. It’s sharper. It is design in its purest form. A key moment in my understanding of this was when the managing director of our studio once explained this philosophy to me using the Porsche Design toaster as an example. It has a roof top built with the purpose of preventing flies [and dust] from falling into it. That is Porsche Design to the core: stylish, functional and innovative.”
Unlike many luxury brand CEOs who are talented managers but who struggle to see creativity beyond its capacity to identify a brand’s position or rank in the market, Gessler’s affinity for and training in industrial engineering allows him a unique perspective.
Activewear is one of several men’s fashion and accessory ranges
When he was young, Gessler bought Porsche Design’s aviator sunglasses with interchangeable lenses, having at the time had no clue about the company – and limited knowledge of luxury brands.
“I never thought that one day I would be working for that same company as CEO,” says the native of Friedrichshafen, a small lake-side town on Germany’s southern border with Switzerland and Austria. “But I somehow knew that I had discovered something special and I was right because those glasses became a lifetime companion. I’ve still got them."
“Now I can see that, as a person who prefers understatement, functionality and timelessness above all else, I identify myself quite well with the founder’s philosophy and the spirit of the brand.”
“ If you analyse the function of an object its form often becomes obvious. ”
Maybe this is why Gessler is so confident that, as the new values of old luxury become more firmly ingrained in the consumer psyche, that, as he puts it: “Porsche Design products and the Porsche Design brand will then be more and more in the spotlight.”