What Do Milan Design Week and Mazda Have in Common?

A Girls Guide To Cars | What Do Milan Design Week And Mazda Have In Common? - Mazda Bike
Mazda's classic racing bike. Credit: Holly Reich for AGirlsGuidetoCars

More Than You Think.

This past April I was invited to Italy by Mazda to attend Milan Design Week. Milan Design week is held in tandem with the Milan furniture exhibition. The show covers a wide range of design events around Milan including furniture and industrial product exhibits, performances and lectures. Mazda’s exhibit, The Car as Art was held from April 14 to 19 in the Brera district of central Milan, as part of Milan Design Week 2015.

Mazda designers hold to the tenet that the car is a work of art, and they strive to create cars that move people emotionally. Design week is a fabulous way for automotive companies to show off their attributes. Mazda is on to that and brought journalists from all over the world to attend.

Milan Design Week And Mazda

Mazda Designers from Left to Right: Kevin Rice – Mazda Motor of Europe Design Director, Ikuo Maeda – Design Chief and Derek Jenkins – Design Director, Mazda North American Operations. Credit: Holly Reich for AGirlsGuidetoCars

Mazda’s Kodo design philosophy –Japanese elegance through the beauty of RIN (self-restrained dignity) and EN (alluring sensuality), was portrayed in three objects. A racing bike, couch and coffee table were shown along with Mazda’s latest models, the Mazda CX-3 compact crossover SUV and Mazda MX-5 open-top two-seater sports car. The clean, classic racing bike sported a hand hammered frame that took two months to complete. The hand-sewn leather saddle, in black and Mazda red, copied the seat stitching in the MX-5. The sofa, framed with polished aluminum, tilted slightly forward (as if in motion). A vivid red used on the back provided an element of surprise in the Japanese manner of concealed beauty. The matching table featured a wooden base shaped like wings, topped with glass. Metallic trim on the wooden frame echoed the signature wings of the family face of Mazda cars. Mazda has design studios in Hiroshima, Yokohama, L.A. and Frankfurt and the top designers were in Milan for the event.

Following are interviews with Ikuo Maeda – Design Chief, Kevin Rice – Mazda Motor of Europe Design Director and Derek Jenkins – Design Director, Mazda North American Operations.

Ikuo Maeda – Design Chief

Milan Design Week And Mazda

Mazda cars in Milan. Credit: Holly Reich for sheBuysCars

AGirlsGuidetoCars: Tell me about Mazda’s design philosophy?

Maeda: This is how we let life into our cars. It’s like a Japanese garden we integrate the simplicity of form, harmony, and elegance. Our vehicles are an expression of condensed dynamic motion, water, sunlight and wind. With our new MX-5, our elementary palette philosophy is Soul Red, a deeper contrast red that highlights the contours of the car. To get beautiful proportions we push it forward and push from the tires. Less is more.

SBC: What do you keep on your bedside table?

M: Stylish stuff—a paper knife made in Italy that is standard steel with a twist. I bring with me when I travel. I also collect miniature cars.

SBC: How do you pack to travel?

M: When I come to Italy, (Milan or Tuscany) I go to wine country and bring back wine.

SBC: Music?

M: Any jazz. I like Miles Davis.

SBC: Clothes?

M: Black with a simple shape. I focus on the best selection of materials.

SBC: Where do you get your ideas?

M: It’s important to get stimulation from everything. We begin the process of design with sketches and take it to sculpture. We use clay, hard plastic, and leather. We experiment.

SBC: What do you do for fun?

M: I race. I have a yellow Lotus. I started rallying 30 years ago when I started at the university. I raced the MX-5 in Europe and on ice in northern Europe. I head Mazda’s race club in Hiroshima. And for pure fun I like drifting!

SBC: What do you see as the global design trends?

M: Adding design, adding elements everywhere. People will get sick and tired of decorative and trend towards the simple way.

Kevin Rice – Mazda Motor of Europe Design Director

Mazda Bike

Mazda’s classic racing bike. Credit: Holly Reich for AGirlsGuidetoCars

SBC: Where do you get your inspiration?

Rice: We have no idea where we get the thoughts; we just keep them coming. The icon Prince has a vault for his ideas; he has this constant input of inspiration. The MX-5 took years to create. We worked with a spectrum of ideas so that we could have a meaningful pedigree. You are trying out a broad range of ideas from more nostalgic to more aggressive and modern with a target of Kodo Japanese esthetics.

SBC: Is there any time that you mind shuts off?

R: You are never asleep as a designer; you are permanently absorbing. The relevant trends seep through.

SBC: Tell us about the MX-5 and CX-3.

R: The new MX-5 is lower, wider and more planted. We moved away from the nostalgic look. In the process, we started to study the line or crease on the body of the vehicle. We take the design from full to sheer to taut. The CX-3 is a very different Kodo interpretation. Forming the design is a question of respecting the materials and understanding the will of the materials.

SBC: How do you pack for a trip?

R: Packing? I have a terrific problem packing. What shoes will go with the outfit, I need that variation. I take 10x more than I need. I want to have that flexibility. I bring most stuff back.

Derek Jenkins – Design Director, Mazda North American Operations

SBC: How do you pack for a business trip?

Jenkins: When I travel I get in a mindset. I have a strict packing routine with two particular suitcases.

SBC: What do you think about DIY?

J: It is interesting. At a certain point, you have to rely on a person that knows it. Architecture and cars have a responsibility to not pollute the visual world.

SBC: What about bespoke cars?

J: There’s been a tradition of hot-rodding for the last 100 years. The effect on vehicle design is enormous. And in the world of gaming, young people can modify their cars. From that alone we’ll have superstars. We watch what they do.

SBC: What is the most satisfying part of your job?

Derek Jenkins: Every year at the MX-5 meets, they ask to be teased on the future, and we discuss the potential. We listen to the enthusiast, and we keep that base.

Kevin Rice: When you set out to design you have your vision, you get to that point where it’s like—what are you hoping to say?

I learned what Mazda is saying: their cars are truly works of art.





Holly has written about travel, cars, culture and health since she bought the first generation Macintosh. Her portfolio includes... More about Holly Reich