Photos: Chris Bangle / BMW / Mini
The American designer ushered BMW, Mini and Rolls Royce into the 21st century with his radical moves and forward thinking; today, he is working in his own studio, situated on a farm near Torino, specialising in projects and ideas that physically or emotionally move the world
In early February 2009, unexpected news broke from Munich: Chris Bangle resigned as chief of design for BMW Group. It was the end of a 17-year-long era, which left its mark on many models and served as an example for competition to follow. The radical moves that the American designer used in order to create a new identity for the Bavarian carmaker – ushering BMW, Mini and Rolls Royce into the 21st century – often came under criticism from traditionalists. Journalists coined a new term, the Bangle Angle, but everybody had to give in before the record-breaking results BMW achieved in the market.
Following an almost thirty-year-long designer career – started at Opel in the early 1980 and continued at Fiat, where he was entrusted with heading the designer department, before moving on to BMW – Bangle decided to focus on his own designer challenges. In the north of Italy, not far from Torino, he set up his own studio on an old farm, which has become the headquarters of a design consulting company, specialising in projects and ideas that physically or emotionally move the world.
– For designers, cars are like avatars, and this may sound like a lack of strength or resilience, but if you approach things with passion, it can become very painful. You have to immerse yourself in the project, and when it’s not accepted, you feel a loss, and this is normal; but when you are a manager, then this loss is multiplied. You never know which of the projects on the platform will reach production. And the manager’s position is very unusual in all this. You work on projects, you sign them, but you shouldn’t take all the credit because other people’s work is behind them as well. At the same time, it’s all pretty stressful. Not only because of the pressure you feel (although the mistakes come to light after two or three years), but the problem is that you lose your identity over time. You change your personality because of the massive need to identify with the product, and, in a way, you become part of not only one product, but a dozen of them. When I turned 45, I became aware of this somewhat unhealthy situation and so I decided to leave before I turn 50. Before I get hit by a train in the form of a heart attack or something like it.