An Interview with Paolo Pininfarina

Sam Kessler (Online Editor)
We talk to Paolo Pininfarina about automobiles and Italian chic

Of all the design studios in Italy – and there are more than a handful well worth the name – few are in quite the same league as Pininfarina. The automotive specialists that once cut their teeth helping to define the quintessential Italian marque have grown to encompass all facets of design, be they big, small, car or building.

Throughout it all however has been the driving force of the Pininfarina family. What started back in 1930 with Battista Farina is today being guided by the capable hands of Paolo Pininfarina, the latest generation of a family that has helped shape not just Ferrari, but Italian design as a whole. We managed to catch a few words with the President to get an insight into the studio, past, present and future.

Pininfarina is known as one of the most important Italian design houses; how would you define Italian style?

My grandfather Pinin, the founder of the company, in 1961 said: “Italian style means sense of proportion, simplicity and harmony of line, such that after a considerable time, there is still something which is more alive than just a memory of beauty”. I believe it is still a very vivid definition, including all the crucial elements: elegance, harmony, a kind of beauty able to last in time, becoming classical.

How would you describe Pininfarina’s signature aesthetic?

Pininfarina has always been symbol of elegance combined with functionality. Taking inspiration from nature, we believe that the perfect shape originates from the search of the highest performance. This approach results in hyper elegant and essential lines, beautifully modelled surfaces generating very refined shapes as the one our supercars or exclusive timepieces.

How do you ensure that this is present in each and every project?

In 86 years of history we have built a solid DNA and we have transmitted from generation to generation our philosophy able to find consistent expression in different fields. Our designers and architects learn from the very first day in the company to consider the man with his needs, desires and, above all, dreams, the epicenter of the project, being it a car, a yacht or a villa.

You’ve expanded into a huge number of design fields, from bikes to airports; however, would you say the automotive world is still at the heart of Pininfarina?

Our roots are in the car world that is still a very strategic sector. But my Family and my company have always loved challenges. In 1986 my father, Sergio Pininfarina, entrusted me to extend the design capabilities to industrial design. Today the company is operating in a variety of fields, from yachts to airplanes, from luxury to furniture including architecture, a very challenging sector for a design house whose signature is connected with dynamism and speed. The recent International Architecture Award assigned to the Istanbul New Airport ATC Tower and the American Architecture Award to Vitra, a luxury condo in Brazil, confirmed our vision was correct. 

What does innovation mean to you?

Innovation is the use of imagination to envision new scenarios able to transform and improve our experiences. Talking about our recent history I can mention the aerodynamics in the Seventies – Pininfarina was the first Italian company to build a 1:1 scale wind tunnel – the research in sustainable mobility, our ability to bring innovative solutions conceived in one field to a different one.

Innovation is key part of Pininfarina, as if your long-standing heritage. How do you balance the two?

We use to say that “in Pininfarina we have the tradition of the new” in the sense that we have always had a natural inclination toward innovation. Tradition means a solid experience and a heritage full of icons, nobility and Men that made Pininfarina style unmistakable. Innovation is our passion for new technologies, for high performances, for visionary shapes. I see no contraction among these poles; our ability to blend them is the formula of our personality.

How is the studio similar to the days of Battista Pininfarina and how is it different?

My grandfather founded the Corrozzeria Farina in the Thirties to create Luxury and grand Luxury cars for the international high society (Royal Houses, entrepreneurs, actors and actresses) giving life to customized jewels built around their desires. The experience matured in that period is applied today when approaching projects like the Ferrari Sergio, the superyachts designed for Fincantieri, the Fuoriserie bike and the hyper luxury timepieces conceived for Bovet. We are able to create products totally customized around our clients designing and building the yacht and the villa of their dreams. However, 86 years have passed and obviously technology and working environment are completely different.

How has the world of design itself changed during that time?

Today we live in an interconnected world in which time is liquid and there are no boundaries between the different moments and places of our life. When conceiving a car or a living room we need to consider that the user has multiple needs to comply:  performance, comfort, but also communication with the external world, control of several devices, etc.

What is Pininfarina doing to ensure the studio stays relevant in the modern era?

Working in so many different sectors we earned the ability to bring a fresh mind in every project we approach. We capture stimula and experiences in the different fields and we turn them in original scenarios able to open new paths. 

In recent years Pininfarina has become more than a design studio; how has the company defined itself as a luxury brand in its own right?

Over the years we have created products that became icons of style. The Duetto driven by Dustin Hoffmann in ‘The Graduate’, the Ferrari Testarossa, the Snaidero Ola20 chosen by Brad Pitt for his villa in LA, the Olympic Torch, just to mention a few. Our products are conceived for those gentlemen and ladies searching timeless beauty in every moment, in every product. Those recognize in Pininfarina a very sophisticated kind of luxury.

How have you found a balance between your own Pininfarina identity and the one of the other luxury brands collaborating to conceive luxury products able to coexist in a consistent collection?

Choosing the right partner able to share all our values is the key of our success. Absolute beauty and high performance united by the continuous search for quality characterize all the products of our lifestyle collection.  High performing bikes, haute horlogerie, brand new technology headphones have all in common these values and our unmistakable line.

Do you believe this is the kind of direction Pinin himself envisaged all those years ago?

Pinin was the man who started two of the most successful collaborations in the car world: the first one with Lancia in the Thirties, and the second one, together with my Father Sergio, with Ferrari in the Fifties. These partnerships represent a perfect blend of identities able to enhance and make them both mythic. We apply the same approach while designing our luxury products.

What does the future hold for Pininfarina?

The future is what our imagination and creativity are able to conceive. Style and technology, communication and mobility, luxury and experience. Combining our abilities with our dreams we will be able to build new scenarios aimed to improve the quality of life.

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