A$AP Rocky and Gorden Wagener talk intersection of fashion and luxury in design

John Melendez

Rap listeners, luxury car enthusiasts, fashion followers and everyone in between gathered for one of Monday’s featured sessions, “Using Design ‘Differently’ to Make a Difference.”

The session, held at the Austin Convention Center, was a conversation between acclaimed hip hop artist and global apparel designer A$AP Rocky and Gorden Wagener, chief design officer at Daimler AG. His design team is responsible for all brands and products within Daimler AG, including Mercedes-Benz cars and trucks. The East Coast rapper has previously worked with Mercedes-Benz, starring in the “Get a Job” ad campaign for the CLA Coupe.

The discussion touched on the intersection of luxury cars, music and culture in the space of design and was moderated by Josh Rubin, founder and editor-in-chief of Cool Hunting, a Webby Award-winning independent publication that covers innovation in design, technology and culture.

Rubin opened up by asking Wagener about the challenges of the current design landscape in the automotive industry. Wagener said the rise of autonomous driving vehicles will lead to a different way of identifying with cars.

“Design stages technology in a way to make it an experience and to take our luxury model and move it into that new era,” Wagener said. “That means from a design point of view, the meaning and understanding of luxury will change.”

Rocky was asked to talk about his design process in designing music videos, stages or merchandise. He said each project is different and could take a day or a year to design. The crash test dummy aesthetic Rocky adapted for his last album, “Testing,” was also talked about. The design style is a metaphor for a person who pioneers, he said.

“People such as myself and other artists are like the crash test dummies for those to come,” Rocky said. “We test products, lanes, make sure that it’s safe.”

When asked about what type of design culture exists at Mercedes-Benz, Wagner said too many people’s input can hurt a design.

“We do decisions in a small circle,” Wagener said. “Design is not democratic. Some people have to have a vision.”

In the last 15 minutes of the session, the audience had a chance to submit questions for the guests. Wagener was asked what the term “luxury” will mean in the future. He said luxury is consciously different from the mainstream.  Love, respect, ease and trust are the parameters that will guide the future of luxury and Mercedes-Benz, he said.

Both guests were asked what advice they had for young designers trying to push their vision forward. Wagener said it's important for designers to keep a spirit of playfulness and always have fun.

Rocky said young designers need to stand by their vision at all times because it might take a long time to catch on.

"Stick to your guns," Rocky said. "Don't compromise at all because it's not going to be easy."