Pure emotion around heritage, craftsmanship and innovation.
Zagato Atelier, now in its third generation and currently headed by Andrea Zagato and his wife Marella Rivolta, is 102 years old. Over the course of its century-long history, the company has consistently undergone reform at ten-year intervals, just as its founder, Ugo Zagato, envisaged. The company has throughout adhered to its rationalist ethos and principles, collaborating with forty-four different car manufacturers of the likes of Alfa Romeo, Aston Martin, Bentley, Bugatti, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lancia, Maserati and Porsche, to name but a few. In excess of 500 collector’s models were produced throughout this 100-year journey. Indeed, not infrequently, car manufacturers would from the outset adopt some of Zagato’s distinctive design features, features that would later become emblematic of their own models.
The Atelier was for many years perceived by the major car manufacturers as an external alternative, though by no means as rival to their own design departments. Rather, the reverse was true: added value was achieved thanks to the development of collector’s models, which appreciated in value over time. For this reason, in the automotive world Zagato remains one of the rare examples capable of launching its models under the official trademark of the respective manufacturer.
B.I. Collection: What are the sources of your inspiration?
Andrea Zagato: Zagato’s design has always been inspired by a rationalist idea, to which no artistic features were added and from which all unnecessary elements were stripped away. According to Enzo Ferrari, the ultimate result was all the more magnificent once the car proved successful in racing. This conviction was later rechristened “essential beauty” and has since remained the cornerstone of our philosophy. And I also draw a wealth of inspiration from Concour d’Elegance events all over the world.
Marella Zagato: Life itself is what inspires me! As a designer, one must draw on various sources of inspiration, something which I personally encounter in vibrant cities, among fascinating individuals and their expressive forms of fashion. But I have also come to realise that taste is something that evolves over the course of time, something I always notice this about myself when on holiday in a small town; I glance around at what fashion shops or galleries have on offer and am invariably left with a less than enthusiastic impression. After a couple of weeks, my view of things shifts and everyone laughs at me and says: Time to go! Again, I think that to be creative one has to suffer in life – all the fascinating artists I know have experienced some inner trauma which they feel compelled to live out by way of their art.
BIC: At what formative stage of the process do you feel happiest?
AZ: I find the most exciting moment to be when initially conceiving a new project. I know in advance precisely which criteria are for me important for the vehicle and which ones I would like to elaborate. I have already developed and designed the inner vision in my mind well in advance of the briefing. This process always affords me utmost pleasure. Once the project gathers momentum, I’m off to work on the next…
MZ: This is the moment for me when all details we specified in the briefing and which still have to be figured out in the course of the project are assembled digitally in the Virtual Reality Centre. I see an enormous array of details in the technical and design process, and am at my happiest when finally realising and sensing this in virtual reality: that’s it!
BIC: Which personalities have been most influential on you?
AZ: My grandfather once remarked that if you want to survive, you have to remake your company at the beginning of each new decade. So, our company has now passed through a metamorphosis ten times, which we have documented and recorded in our ten-year journals.
MZ: My father, for good or bad, I can’t say, had a huge influence on my decision-making and choices. Even if this influence frequently led me to opposing reactions.
BIC: Generally speaking, which individuals do you think merit greater esteem?
MZ: That is most definitely a question for me! I would like to answer it by way of an anecdote about an experience three weeks ago when returning from Mille Migla in our white Vanquish Coupé. We stopped off for a cool drink in front of a small café in Milan and were approached by another guest, a Dutchman. “Excuse me”, he enquired, “but is this an Aston Martin Zagato?” I replied in the affirmative. Delighted, he went on to express effusive thanks for driving the car just so that he might behold it. “I may not be able to buy my own, but at least this way I can admire it!” In my view the cars we make are absolutely made to be driven! After all, who would buy a car and not drive it? It’s all a matter of an emotional, sensory experience that demands more than merely gazing at it! This would be like purchasing a dress and then leaving it unworn in the wardrobe along with a price tag! A car should be fully appreciated and experienced in its entirety. For example, I recently drove a client’s DB4 Stirling Moss to an event. Our mechanic cautioned that driving this car on the road would be almost impossible. “But of course, I’ll drive this car!”, I vehemently replied. Driving this icon was sheer delight, despite the fact that it was, I admit, a major challenge. Ultimately, though, it’s quite simple: you simply have to listen to the engine, it communicates with you!
BIC: With regard to the design process, which aspect, would you say, is of greater importance – lightweight construction or aerodynamics?
AZ: Weight is negligible, above all in the case of electric cars. As far as I’m concerned, the decisive factor is strictly the design language and quality of workmanship.
BIC: The design of several all-electric cars lacks elegance, to say the least. Why is it that an all-electric car apparently precludes the possibility of being a design beauty?
AZ: I fail to see any distinctive design language for electric cars, as yet; the only new element is the closed radiator grille. At present, one copies the latest endothermic engine model and then goes in search of one’s own style. Besides that, the technical development is ongoing.
BIC: Are elegance and beauty the goal or the logical consequence of your work on a vehicle?
AZ: For us, this is the primary goal. Yet, thinking more in the long term, a specific objective should always be behind it.
BIC: Which design language is set to dominate in the next five years?
AZ: Whenever one is uneasy about what the future has in store, one turns to the past. Everybody feels at odds with the present, and so you celebrate iconic models or evergreens and seek inspiration from the finest classic models. By contrast, I see a clear tendency towards disruption in consumer vehicles. They are attempting to do the reverse by redesigning existing models.
BIC: What, in your opinion, might a sports car look like in the year 2050?
AZ: Most likely, sports cars will only be drivable on the race track and hence have a completely free form. Over the last 20 years, people have been building the ultimate garage to exhibit their cars and show them off to their friends. Today, if you are enormously affluent, you buy your own racetrack to race with your friends, and so the question of whether or not the cars are homologated is immaterial.
BIC: You often champion the Zagato “Gran Turismo”. Which, among the current models on the market, is your favourite Gran Turismo?
AZ: Today, the technological challenge can be mastered by concentrating the various makes into a few large automotive groups – a strategy that will result in the systematic standardisation of all components. Furthermore, should the electric motor prevail, the standardisation of all automotive subsystems will become increasingly evident and inevitable. According to this scenario, design could become the main element of differentiation with the history of the models – even more so than the history of the Bonnet brands (associated as they are with an obsolete technology) – becoming the main competitive edge. Synthetic fuels are, in my view, being phased out by incoming government regulations.
BIC: Over the course of its rich history, the House of Zagato has collaborated with a number of famous makes. Who else would you most like to work with?
AZ: Alpine! I have already worked with Luca de Meo, the “re-inventor of Alpine”, in my eyes, one of the finest car managers, something I would gladly do again. Besides, Alpine is a French cult car and at Zagato we have yet to work with French makes.
MZ: I like the McLaren brand, both for their history and their racing culture. I think they might benefit from a more minimalist style, though with the same aggressiveness.
BIC: Zagato is known, above all, for its car design. Yet you also design other products such as bicycles or motorbikes. Are there other products you might like to design?
AZ: A motor boat. We have already launched this project and intend to unveil it in the coming year.
MZ: A house or hotel – I have a huge passion for interior design. My brother is an architect in America and I’ve already completed a number of projects with him and would very much like to do the same here in Italy. You never know, we are in preliminary talks with a Canadian luxury group for a joint hotel project.
BIC: So how would you characterise a Zagato client in 2022?
AZ: They are surely savvy enough to choose a collector’s item rather than a consumer item, a significant model rather than a less significant one.
BIC: In what way, does the Zagato client of today differ from his counterpart some 50-60 years ago?
AZ: 50-60 years ago, there were gentleman drivers and racing drivers.
MZ: Today, we have collectors.
BIC: Your grandfather, Ugo, was initially in aeronautical engineering. In what ways did this experience impact the design of Zagato’s cars?
MZ: It is this technology transfer that is at the heart of the Zagato design language. Thanks to the stylistic compatibility with the idea of the founder, Ugo Zagato, and the resistance to adhere to current trends, all Zagato versions – whether two-door coupé or speedster/roadster – become collector’s items.
BIC: In the age of CAD and mass production, most traditional “coachbuilders” have simply ceased to exist. What, would you suggest, are the characteristics that have enabled Zagato to flourish to this day?
AZ: The shift to lean production lines in car manufacturing plants and the proliferation of in-house styling centres has culminated in the demise of most of the traditional coachbuilders and external design studios. Zagato has, of course, neither designed nor produced large-scale series, but invariably bespoke series in limited editions.
BIC: What in Zagato’s history has been its most emblematic design? What is your favourite car?
AZ: Definitely the next model! Yet if I were obliged to single out a few models from the past, I would opt for the following:
BIC: What is the best professional advice you have ever been given?
AZ: It was when Giorgetto Giugiaro once said to me “Unless we are faster and of greater flexibility than car manufacturers, we have no raison d’être.”
MZ: For me, one important advisor was Alejandro de Tomaso, a friend of my father’s. He was really quite a forceful personality. He was brilliant in many ways, perhaps not necessarily in business, but he taught me how to master life in general. I’m still good friends with his wife, Isabella.
BIC: What are you most proud about?
AZ: That our company has arrived at its 100th anniversary in a good and sound condition and, according to Magneto Magazine, it is today the number one coachbuilder in history.
BIC: Who among the famous figures would you like to spend a summer evening with?
MZ: Elon Musk is surely a wild, visionary investor and I’d be delighted to pick his brains over dinner one night.
AZ: I would like to have dinner with someone who could simply explain the current situation of the world, and tell me how things are going to unfold. The world is so complex and confusing at present.
BIC: What are the qualities you must admire about your wife Marella?
AZ: She possesses so many great qualities, such as class, fine taste, a very keen intelligence, and she is able to change from numbers to colours in a flash. She is beautiful, but I also love all her shortcomings.