How Virgil Abloh and Mercedes-Benz Are Changing the Face of Luxury Cars
The G-Class gets a deconstructed art-world twist, thanks to the multitalented fashion mogul and the manufacturer’s chief design officer, who are also jointly curating a Sotheby’s contemporary auction
An ardent supporter of the arts, Mercedes-Benz is debuting an automotive sculpture in its own right—and unlike those made by John Chamberlain, it remains completely intact. With Project Geländewagen, which was officially unveiled on September 8, the German manufacturer reimagined its iconic, off-roading G‑Class SUV as an art piece with unexpected race car touches. For the collaboration, Mercedes-Benz chief design officer Gorden Wagener partnered with the endlessly creative Virgil Abloh, whose career is as boundary-pushing as the Mercedes-AMG G 63 model itself. While he is best known as the chief creative director and founder of Off-White and men’s artistic director of Louis Vuitton, Abloh is also a DJ and artist with a background in engineering and architecture.
Each of these disciplines influenced the duo’s G-Class design, which, although not drivable, speaks to the potential for what a luxury car could be. The conceptual project is, therefore, more of a prototype to display never-before-seen radical features, both inside and out. “The initial idea was to question, to make this sort of twist on reality and speed, to have this car that is luxurious in a deconstructed way,” Abloh explained in the car’s video reveal.
While the SUV’s boxy structure and signature spare wheel have been retained, virtually everything else has been stripped or replaced. The indicators, outside mirrors, and the bumper bar were all removed in favor of a wider, lower carriage, emphasized by exaggerated race car tires. For those used to a high-gloss sheen, the vehicle’s outside appears shockingly sparse, even unfinished. In what may be best described as eggshell, the neutral exterior unabashedly features raw, partially sanded patches of a matte quality like the pre-paint underlining of a car. “The idea here is to embrace the human touch” and its imperfections, said Abloh.
On the inside, the bare sensibility continues with what Wagener calls a “stripping of all unnecessary parts,” which allows for the safety frame to resemble an art installation. Akin to a Formula 1 vehicle, the steering wheel and curvilinear racing seats meet analog gauges on the simplified dashboard. Also featured are a baby-blue roll cage and exhaust pipes, and red five-point seat belts inscribed with the creators’ last names. In keeping with the interior color scheme, a red fire extinguisher is found between the seats.
Given that the G-Class SUV has hardly changed during its 40-year course, Abloh’s and Wagener’s dramatic reinvention of it speaks volumes about the perception of luxury. “We are designers of the future,” the German chief design officer says. With an additional auction component to the project, the two are also ambassadors of future design.
This October (with advance bidding beginning on September 14), a one-of-a-kind maquette of the Project Geländewagen car will be auctioned in Sotheby’s online Contemporary Curated sale, and all proceeds will support arts education charities. The winning bidder will also gain access to Abloh and Wagener, who, in turn, are this iteration of the auction’s curators, each highlighting their favorite works, including those by Barkley L. Hendricks, Kerry James, Marshall, Rashid Johnson, Gerhard Richter, and Helen Frankenthaler, among others.
“My ultimate goal in this project with Mercedes-Benz is inspiring young artists, engineers, designers to question the status quo, in addition to experimenting with my own design abilities,” said Abloh in the project’s press materials. “For me it’s all about providing opportunities for those coming after me and giving this next generation a foundation for success.”