Philip Harris, CEO of F1 Design (www.f1.design) is here to chat to us about the products he’s working on, the whole market for luxury goods and how one should approach getting into this industry.
Talking generally, how is the global luxury market doing at the moment?
The luxury market is certainly tied to the ebb and flow of local economies and we, along with most of the industry suffered during the economic decline of 2007. Fortunately, in 2011 things started to change for the better. Initially, with a renewed appreciation of collectible cars, fine art, new hypercars, watches and ultimately encompassing the rest of the luxury industry. With new innovative products fuelled by high consumer confidence and strong growth across emerging markets, I see the luxury goods industry flourishing for some time to come.
Have you noticed a significant difference in the past few years? Client-wise, social media-wise?
In the case of F1 Design, we have evolved from serving very committed and involved private commission customers to bigger corporate clients looking to infuse our motorsports-centric design philosophy into their brands. Now, this could just be the natural evolution of a new company, but we are certainly starting to get renewed interest from the private yacht and jet industries. Which is typically the pinnacle of luxury ownership and a decent barometer as to how the top end of the luxury goods market is performing.
We see social media as a great tool for sharing our ideas and reaching out to new clients and partners through targeting advertising, along with soliciting feedback on ideas. Although some aspects of business remain the same, call me old-fashioned, but there is still no replacement for meeting somebody in person, shaking their hand and articulating an idea face to face.
If you were writing a “How To…” book on the market you operate in, what’s the first piece of advice you’d give your readers?
I briefly mentioned earlier our motorsports design philosophy. This mind set was born of my background working in the motorsports industry. I wanted to bring that uncompromising attention to detail into my products and allow my clients to visualise, touch and feel that very same build quality that goes into the production of a modern-day racing machine. So at the risk of sounding like one of those “motivational posters”, I would prescribe the following advice: stay true to your concept and become as expert as you can. Use failures as an opportunity to improve and evolve, stay humble and continue to learn from others around you. I would also add, contrary to one’s business instincts, do not be afraid to politely turn work away if it does not fit within the scope of your capabilities.
Can you shortly tell us about your background in motorsports?
I have an extensive 20-year background in motorsports engineering. This career path has afforded me the opportunity to have worked all over the world in everything from domestic superbikes and two-stroke GP bikes to next-generation electric motor technology for Formula 1 and LeMans. F1 Design was born of my desire to start applying this methodology and engineering thought process to specialised products and even furniture. I wanted my clients to experience the materials and construction quality that went into building a MotoGP bike or a Formula 1 car and to also utilise the same manufacturing techniques. To accomplish this goal, I partnered with Blackstone Tek (BST) out of South Africa, one of the world’s foremost composite manufacturers. BST is best known for producing highly advanced carbon fibre motorcycle wheels, and more recently, automotive wheels for OEMs. You will definitely start to see carbon fibre wheels become more and more commonplace on high-end sports cars in the near future. This is in part thanks to BST’s 20 years of development in this area.
There is still no replacement for meeting somebody in person, shaking their hand and articulating an idea face to face.
What luxury or high-end products do you personally notice being or getting more popular today? Why is that, in your opinion?
The luxury automotive sector is an obvious example of an industry that is truly booming! Classic cars, not-so-classic cars, and multi-million dollar hypercars. In combination with the aforementioned high consumer confidence, clients in this area are educating themselves better through online resources and obtaining a greater appreciation of finely manufactured products, which in turn has led automotive manufacturers to really focus on intuitive design combined with forward-thinking technology and performance. This has renewed interest in this segment and had a knock-on effect on the rest of the marketplace.
I use the stunningly beautiful Porsche 918 as an example. The allocation of nine hundred and eighteen ($845k) 918s sold out within a year of its introduction, causing its 10-year-old predecessor, the venerable Carrera GT, to triple in value and continue to appreciate to this day. As part of this renewed vigour, Porsche design stores have begun to pop-up in most major cities, successfully retailing high-end luxury goods across a broad range of products from clothing to office gadgets. I also feel a fair mention should be made to that of the humble coffee table book. A product that has seen a complete revival in recent years thanks to a high degree of production quality, vibrant and interesting content along with packaging design. Despite the arrival of digital media all but destroying the paper book industry, although I hear that real books are on a certain rise again at the moment.
What’s most important for your company at this time? Is there a specific direction you’re moving towards?
We are launching our first furniture piece in early 2018 and will continue to evolve a complete furniture collection going forward. This initial product, the “Pushrod Table”, is entirely constructed from Formula 1 spec pre-preg carbon fibre composites and CNC machined aluminium/titanium. It features an experimental UV resistant coating infused with tiny particles of titanium that will make for a highly durable smooth surface finish on the carbon fibre. We have even partnered with Öhlins suspension technologies to produce a bespoke damper for the table, which in turn actuates via Formula 1 style carbon fibre pushrods. We picked furniture as our first in-house production project for its universal appeal. It can be quite challenging but has significant scope for interpretation and new ideas. As with the design of a race car, the foundation from which you design has to accommodate the human element to some degree, and the interaction has to be logical and concise to the end user.
In parallel to our expanding furniture production, we will continue to team up and provide creative ideas and solutions for other companies wanting to bring some motorsports inspired product design to their brands. Along with expanding our manufacturing operations to the USA, we are also exploring the possibility of signing a licensing agreement with some quite well-known brands in the near future so watch this space.
As I mentioned previously, our focus is to continue to push into the high-end, luxury executive/household furniture and accessories market. Although this keeps us more than busy, I would love to break into the alcoholic beverage and fragrance industries I have a lot of ideas for packaging and container designs with a motorsports-inspired component. And seeing as a lot of these companies translate over into the motorsports arena with regards to sponsorship and partnerships, I foresee unique opportunities to leverage these relationships with unique, symbiotic products.