A textile designer, Korndörfer has worked in BMW’s Munich design studio for ten years. BMW’s M models and Individual cars which can be personalised, are sometimes made to order at the request of the rich and famous. Korndörfer’s first major project was to design a personalised car for German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld (his third!).
Does your role at BMW give you more creative freedom than you would have in other BMW divisions?
Yes, it does – from a design point of view. I can use more brilliant and extroverted colours, especially for M cars. But we have the same technical restrictions as the other divisions.
Can you explain what BMW M cars are?
M cars are faster; they have more powerful engines. They are much sportier and more aggressive in styling, and the interior has different seating, more like a racing car, to protect the driver. The hang-on parts – spoilers, external trims, for example – are different. These cars can travel at high speeds – some customers like to take them on the racetrack for pleasure rides.
What are BMW Individual vehicles?
The BMW range goes from a pre-defined or regular offering in the Series cars to the option of different wheels, colours and/or inside and outside trim. BMW Individual is a little bit more exclusive.
We don’t have high production numbers, so we can choose materials and finishes that wouldn’t work for Series production.
As an example, the mahogany veneer that we use for the interior trim is not bleached or tinted for Individual vehicles. In Series cars this trim is usually treated because we have to guarantee that every trim looks the same on every car.
For BMW Individual, our veneer supplier provides veneer from a single tree trunk for each car; the veneer of this one tree is used for one car only. In mass production we obviously can’t do this.
Sometimes we use a special pigment or body colour that has a bright sparkling effect. For example, we have used a black body colour with a blue or red sparkle for Individual cars, but we can’t measure this colour because it sparkles too much.
We have to measure it visually – one particular person has to check it. Again, this is impossible to do in mass production. We usually measure every exterior colour because we have to make sure that the hang on parts match the body colour.
And what about interior design in the Individual cars?
We use different leathers and colours in the roof lining. From the regular Individual program we go further to customised or personalised cars for special customers – for some exclusive hotels, for example, we will design a small fleet of customised vehicles.
We designed a custom vehicle for Swiss watchmaker Girard-Perregaux with the interior and exterior in special colours and unique trims. This car sits in the watch-maker’s showroom.
When customers arrive at Zurich airport they are shuttled in this car to the showroom, so they are immersed in the world of Girard-Perregaux from their arrival at the airport. These are unique vehicles, and very special.
Are you using any new materials?
In the premium car segment, leather is becoming more and more important. There is much less textile being used. The 7 Series now features ninety-nine per cent leather trim, and in the 3 and 5 Series there is much more. Most BMW cars are specified with leather as standard.
There are different grades of leather. The Series cars have non-embossed leather. Most requests in the Individual range are for embossed leather and as natural as it can be – because the leather is softer, has a velvet touch and is more comfortable.
So, which trends do you see emerging in colour and trim?
For ten years or so, white was definitely out, but it’s now getting very popular in Europe and the US. It was big in the 80s and then customers got fed up with it and turned to black and then silver and grey metallics.
White fits well with the new exterior form of our vehicles, especially with cars like the Z4 which have more edges.
Also, customers are requesting more natural materials, such as leather and wood.
What are the biggest restrictions on colour and trim materials?
We have technical restrictions because of the BMW guarantee. Also, our materials and colours have to suit every region of the world, from the northern areas of Sweden to Saudi Arabia. This can be very challenging.
For example, when we design a colour it has to withstand rigorous testing and trials. We need to ensure that colours do not fade. We have lots of colour ideas and we work hard to get as close as we can within tight restrictions.
The automotive industry is not like fashion, where you have an idea, you find a maker in China, and then get it made. The process is very, very slow because we have many things to check.
I work a lot with details, with features like stitching and piping. A different stitching design takes us a long time to get into production. Recently we had to convince our buying team to purchase new sewing machines for our new stitching details.
This was complicated by the fact that the headrest comes from a different supplier to the seat – and the stitching has to be the same on both. We had to convince all of these partners to buy these machines (which cost about 30 000 euros each) just for this new stitching design – that’s a lot of work.
And it is very difficult to change the head-up display. There are safety restrictions. BMW always has its illumination in orange, to keep the driver alert. Red is too aggressive, and blue is too passive.
What is the most exciting aspect of your role?
It never gets boring. I have to coordinate many things. I am the client liaison person, I visit the production plants, and I work with marketing and the design teams. I have worked in this field for ten years now, and there hasn’t been one day that I’ve been bored!