Sixties shapes, the Sydney Opera House, 3D printing, music … these are some of the things that inspire Flavio Manzoni, Ferrari’s design director. Susan Skelly reports
Roped off outside the three-hat Sydney harbourside restaurant, Quay, the LaFerrari looks like it’s landed on the wrong planet. Futuristic, fabulous – and so shiny it looks ready to spontaneously combust – this hybrid-powered motor is attracting selfies like moths to a flame.
Inside, Flavio Manzoni, Ferrari Senior Vice-President of Design, is lunching with editors and writers ahead of his evening’s presentation at the Museum of Contemporary Art as part of Australia’s premier light festival, Vivid.
Like a linguist or a medical specialist, Manzoni likes to refer to design as a “metalanguage”, where shapes, lines and traces become their own form of communication. A priceless calling card.
Ferrari is regarded as the world’s most powerful brand. Classic Ferraris remain the most expensive motors in history. Indeed, nine out of 10 of the world’s most valuable cars sold at auction are Ferraris. Last year, a 1957 Ferrari – as driven by the great British motor racers of the 1950s – broke the record for the world’s most expensive racing car sold at auction, fetching just over €32 million (A$45.5 million).
Design is the marque’s driving force and Manzoni, 51, has been responsible for creating and defining the styling of Ferrari’s new cars since 2010.
Born in Nuoro, Sardinia, Manzoni has a degree in architecture with a major in industrial design. Over the past two decades – during which time he has worked for Ferrari, Lancia, Volkswagen and SEAT – his team has picked up many prestigious design awards
In 2011, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of car design at the National Automobile Museum in Turin, Italy. In 2014, he received the Compasso d’Oro, the oldest and most recognised award in the industrial design field, for the design of the Ferrari F12berlinetta. The following March, three Ferraris – the FXX K, the California T and the LaFerrari – won the Red Dot Award, the prestigious international design competition.
In February 2016, Manzoni’s design of the FXX K was awarded the IF Gold Award and his designs of the 488GTB and 488 Spider were also recognised. Most recently, he has overseen the design of the Ferrari F12tdf and GTC4Lusso.
Talking at Vivid Ideas in Sydney last year, Manzoni’s explanation as to why Ferrari wouldn’t be heading down the SUV or the electric car path was an insight into broader thinking.
He likened the electric car to the difference between a digital piano and a grand piano. While the digital piano reproduces a perfect sound, he explained, he would opt for his Steinway because, “It’s another kind of pleasure. On a real piano there are the harmonics … the waves produced by the strings. I play to feel these waves and they can touch the strings of the soul. A digital piano cannot do that. So for me, it’s the same at Ferrari. Ferrari’s ideas are the Steinway, not the digital piano.”
OK, so now he’s warmed up… away we go.
Who who are the industrial designers you hold in high regard?
There are many, but I would put in first place all the sixties and seventies masters of Italian design: Achille Castiglioni, Bruno Munari, Marco Zanuso, Joe Colombo, Enzo Mari.
In the sixties, coinciding with the period of the economic miracle, the claim was “new” for consumer goods. Forms became fun, colours bright. Technology advanced and its accessories evolved from functional forms to a smooth “techno-chic” design. The new style did not make any concession to the past, it represented the contemporary society. They were against the “intrusiveness of the design, were in search of the minimum element which served the function” (Achille Castiglioni). This honesty of intent generated such a variety of exceptional works. [There is] lots to learn from them!
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If the latest Ferrari were a building which one would it be?
Certainly Jørn Utzon’s Sydney Opera House. It is very much a sculpture in motion. The four dimensions of time and space are there. When I was a child, this was one of the few buildings that most captured my imagination. There are the same characteristics of a Ferrari: audacity, sensitivity and visionary ability to anticipate the natural evolution of things. Also the timeless value of its form.
You’ve admitted a passion for science fiction. What else inspires you?
Art, architecture, nature, music. Especially music. It’s a form with another dimension. When I play the piano I discover how the dimension of time can be perceived differently. If your soul is completely there, you and your instrument are a single entity.
You can experience the relativity of time when you reach the right state of mind, when you find your right centre of gravity. It’s a kind of mystical discipline for me; it can help your creative energy to come out intact – pure, in a perfect connection with your soul.
If you weren’t designing fast cars, what would attract your design attentions?
I’m very eclectic, too eclectic! So I would say everything “from the spoon to the city”. It doesn’t matter “what”, rather “how”. I’m not interested in “banal”… I would like to use my creativity or imagination for meaningful products, something that doesn’t exist yet and can improve the quality of this world. “Beauty” is also a rare quality, it’s not banal.
You have expressed a fascination for 3D printing. In what way might that affect you?
In the future, it will be more usual to produce maybe a small series using stereo-lithography processes. This has already started in the accessories field – furniture, watches, lamps. This changes everything because we can personalise the product. It changes the way we conceive the products. We have already started working with programs we call “parametric design” or “generative design”.
Every brand has a design “language”. How would you define the key descriptors of Ferrari?
A Ferrari is not a Ferrari if it does not express these characteristics: it must be a sculpture in motion, a work of art.
The problem is how to reconcile these two aspects: the beauty and the complexity of the project. Every new Ferrari project is a continuous search for a “language of difference”, where every new Ferrari is original and different from the others, but never gives up the recognition and brand consistency.
Is there a secret to Ferrari’s success and longevity?
A Ferrari is the result of a process steeped in intuition, imagination and the capacity of abstraction from the present to shape the future.
It is always a paradigmatic result, where beauty and daring aesthetic are paired with superlative cutting-edge technology. The secret is to never be satisfied. It’s the only way to arrive at achievements that always amaze because they exceed every expectation.
The innovation you would most like to be remembered for?
Probably the Ferrari FXX K. When we received the IF Gold award for this car, the jury had this to say of its merits: “The Ferrari FXX K, created by the designers of Ferrari’s in-house Styling Centre, directed by Flavio Manzoni, is the perfect bridge between style and technology, art and engineering. This car blends both beauty and functionality at an extreme level of refinement.”
Where is the best place to roadtest a Ferrari?
All roads, but especially the beautiful coastal roads of my wonderful Sardinia. If only there were not so many speed limits!
Which cars do you have in your own garage?
A wonderful red Ferrari 208 Turbo and an Alfa Romeo Giulietta.
Colour, technology, vision – which packs the most punch?
Colour, technology and vision are all important for Ferrari. However, vision is what drives the company. This has been the case since Enzo Ferrari used his vision to create it almost 70 years ago.
As he famously said, “What is behind you doesn’t matter”. We are always looking forward.
Do you design anything else for Ferrari?
Yes. For example, there are watches we make especially with Hublot. The new MP-05 LaFerrariSapphire is impressive, with a Ferrari engine-inspired movement in an all-transparent case, created as a tribute to the LaFerrari. The face is made from sapphire crystal, its shape reminiscent of the car’s outline.
There are also some T-shirts available featuring some of our Ferrari sketches.
This story first appeared in Crown Resorts’ Crystal magazine, December 2016
All photos supplied by Ferrari