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Who's Where: Stephane Schwarz appointed Zagato design director

Tue, 23 Apr 2013 00:00:00 -0700

Stephane Schwarz has joined Milanese design house Zagato as its design director.

Born in Switzerland, raised in France and educated in Italy, Schwarz is perhaps best known for his time as Nissan Design Europe design director. He first worked with the illustrious, family-run company in September last year before recently taking up his new, full-time role.

"I wasn't looking for a new position but it felt so natural here that when Andrea asked me [to stay] I couldn't say no," Schwarz told Car Design News. "In an OEM there is a pressure to keep producing the next car all the time, without always being able to be creative. Here it's different and I have time to actually sketch and design, rather than just manage."

For Andrea Zagato – CEO and grandson of founder, Ugo – the feeling is clearly mutual: "For me this relationship is so perfect because we have the same mindset," he says over lunch near the company's base in Rho, around 10 miles northwest of Milan. "Of course I knew about Stephane's work at Nissan in particular, and I'd always been impressed by his style – he obviously has very good taste. But the most important thing is that he instantly had a great relationship with myself and my wife, Marella."

Stephane's previous experience at Pininfarina in Turin – where he designed the 1992 Ethos concept, amongst others, after graduating from Art Center Europe in 1989 – also confirmed to Andrea that he understands how Italian companies work, even if Pinin is quite different to Zagato.

Four years after starting his career in Turin he joined Nissan at its Munich studio where he was responsible for the exterior of the Fusion concept from 2000 – which became the Primera – as well as the 2001 Kino minivan concept. When Nissan decided to merge its Munich and Cranfield studios into a single facility in London in 2004, Schwarz moved over to work alongside fellow studio chiefs Christopher Reitz and Makato Yamane. He was soon promoted to design director and under his tenure the studio produced the hugely successful Qashqai and underwater photography-inspired NV200 van concept.

He was also a visiting professor at the Royal College of Art from October 2006 to July 2011.

To many people's surprise he left Nissan in January 2008 to form StephaneSchwarzStudio in London to pursue other projects, which ranged from furniture to megayachts. The studio is still in operation, but is "winding down" in light of his new role at Zagato.

He will work directly with Andrea and the 30 or so other members of the team, including chief designer Norihiko Harada with whom Stephane has been close friends since he first moved to Italy in 1989.

He will help develop the company's three core activities: Atelier, which designs and develops nine-off production runs of exclusive models with carefully-selected OEMs; Service, which provides design and development support for clients and is seen as the company's biggest opportunity for growth; and Merchandise, which will launch at this year's Mille Miglia race.

Andrea Zagato is keen to point out that this isn't a move to rapid expansion – he knows all too well how painful subsequent downsizing can be and the company is now in good shape. And to show it's not all hard-nosed business, but a company that runs on passion and expertise he concludes: "I try not to say this, because people mistake it suggests we're unprofessional, but here at Zagato we have real fun, every single day."

Related articles:
First Sight: BMW Zagato Coupé
Interview: Stephane Schwarz, CEO, StephaneSchwarzStudio


By Owen Ready