Porsche Design Celebrates 50 Years of Iconic Builds
(Bloomberg) -- This year marks the 50th anniversary of Porsche Design, the design studio and brand Ferdinand Alexander Porsche founded in 1972 in Stuttgart, Germany.
Most notable for his design of the original Porsche 911s now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, Porsche earned fame for his firm’s ingenious takes on common objects: chairs, luggage, writing and cooking utensils, lamps, and other appliances.
Some of the designs, such as the wraparound P’8479 sunglasses Yoko Ono wore on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1981, have become legendary, worldwide bestsellers. Others, perhaps not as well known, like the all-black and titanium timepieces, are highly sought by collectors.
In its current form, the design studio became a subsidiary of Porsche AG in 2003 and was officially renamed Studio F.A. Porsche in 2015. It has been headquartered in Zell am See, Austria, since 1974.
A new book, 50 Years of Porsche Design (Delius Klasing Verlag; $60) will come out on May 31. It starts with F.A. Porsche’s childhood and chronicles five decades of his company’s innovation and technical design, offering text in German and English, with more than 300 photos.
As the book tells us, Porsche was a natural-born designer who began at an early age. During war near their home, he and his brothers would build and carve their own toys to play with, like wooden dogs. One Easter when he was young, his mother gave him and his siblings a basket full of eggs to paint. Porsche used a toy metal construction set to build a rotating holder that would spin as the children held a brush to dye the eggs.
Porsche always said that design is good only if you could easily recognize the product behind it. Aside from designing the original Porsche 911 car, he also developed upgrades to it, like the four-spoke steering wheel which placed the horn button where you could honk it with your thumb while driving, and therefore never have to take your hands off the wheel.
A known bath lover who spent his evenings in front of the den fireplace, looking at design publications or nature magazines, Porsche would often sketch or paint in between puffs from his famous pipe, which he designed in 1983.
Made from briar root and aluminum, the Porsche Design pipe has signature parallel cooling fins modeled after the air-cooled, single-cylinder motorcycle engine. The increased surface area helps cool the smoke, enhancing the aroma of the tobacco. The fact that the shank of the pipe is made from a flavorful root adds to the smoker’s experience.
The wireless speaker PDS50 from 2020 follows suit, using concentric layers of solid aluminum. Its wireless charging surface and recessed bass reflex port mean it is rugged enough to be used outside.
The first product Porsche Design ever released was the Porsche Chronograph 1 wristwatch in 1972. It was the first all-black chronograph watch—and with its then-futuristic PVD coating, became an instant popular success. (Years later, Tom Cruise famously wore it in Top Gun increasing its profile even more.) Early editions say “Orfina” on the dial, after the Swiss company who made the movement. At the time when it came out, the watch was considered affordable and competed against the likes of Heuer and Omega; vintage examples retail today for about $5,000 to $10,000. Subsequent limited edition versions are still produced.
In 1976, Porsche Design got into skiing—ski goggles to be exact. The futuristic design of the Carrera 5600 goggles includes a panoramic visor for a wide, uninterrupted field of view while their compact shape allows for easy storage in a pocket or bag. Lightweight and comfortable to wear, the unisex goggles fit any head size thanks to an adjustable Velcro band.
The historic Porsche Carrera GT supercar made between 2003 and 2007 inspired the limited-edition Fearless 28 powerboat in 2007. You can see the similarities between the two: a sleek and body smooth with high shoulders and tunnels across the back. The 28-foot-long speedboat has a five-piece, carbon-reinforced hull and a V-10 engine designed by the makers of the Dodge Viper engine. It can reach 90mph. Only 25 of them were made.
Porsche Design has done some of its best work over the years in the sunglasses division, and the folding glasses F0.9 from 1995 are a prime example. Their aim was to provide a pair of athletic shades with frames that bring each pane as close to the athlete’s head as possible, for a tight fit that won’t budge during tennis, cycling, or running. So Porsche Design workers made them foldable. That way, they are super slim and flexible, with a width of just 9mm and “practical indestructible polycarbonate lenses,” according to Porsche.
Japanese multimedia artist and musician Yoko Ono made the 1979 Porsche Design Sports Shield sunglasses iconic when she appeared with them on the cover of Rolling Stone in 1981. While grieving the death of her husband, John Lennon, she reportedly refused to be photographed without sunglasses. The large reflective lenses are screwed to the frame and wrap around the entire head, shading the wearer’s eyes without impeding visibility.
Below is a portrait of Ono in a pair of Porsche wrap-around sunglasses in her apartment at the Dakota building on Central Park West in New York in 1981. The photo was taken in 1981 on the first anniversary of Lennon’s murder outside the building.
The bobble-head shape and customizable two-tone colors of Porsche Design’s CP4 helmet from 1976 capture the wild, free-range attitude of motorcycle culture at the time. A system that allows the visor to slide into the outer cover of the helmet protected it from scratches, while a special integrated cleaning system made sure it would come back out clean. Prices range from $800 to about $1,000 today.
In 1994, Porsche Design partnered with Italian furniture fabricator Ycami to build an aluminum chair for indoor and outdoor use. The polished die-cast chair is stylish but missed on a crucial beat: It got red-hot when left in the sunshine. Subsequent issues of this design came with a seat and backrest made from pastel-colored plastic.
High-speed skiing is kind of like high-speed driving. You need precision, reliability, and instant feedback. In 2020, Slovenian ski manufacturer Elan worked with Porsche Design to create a set of carbon, titanium, and plywood skis to do all of that. Since then, the companies have come out with multiple variations of the design, such as this $597 Porsche Design x Elan Amphibio pair for the experienced skier who wants stability and speed.
Heralded for its strong but lightweight properties, titanium has played a big part of Porsche Design history, as it has in automotive history. The titanium chronograph the company unveiled in 1980 was the first watch ever made completely from the silver-toned element. It comes with the word “titan” engraved on its face, along with integrated dials and a brutalist-style titanium bracelet. The design has been reissued in limited amounts so newer generations could appreciate its functionality and style.
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