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Interview: Filippo Perini, Lamborghini's Head of Design

The creator of the Aventador talks Italian design, engineering, dreams and what it means to be a Lambo employee

by Josh Rubin in Design on 02 September 2013

by Josh Rubin and Evan Orensten

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Italian auto manufacturer Lamborghini has been producing cutting-edge luxury sports cars for 50 years. Through financial tumult and the hands of many owners, Lamborghini has managed to sustain a reputation for top-tier design. Purchased by Audi in 1998 (itself a subsidiary of the Volkswagen Group), the brand has attained the stability and resources to produce some of the most striking automobiles in the world.

Lamborghini cemented their iconic status premiering the Venovo concept car celebrating the brand's 50th anniversary at Monterey Car Week this year. The concept was certainly a statement piece. As fans of the Aventador, we jumped on the opportunity to chat with Filippo Perini, Lamborghini's head of design, when we learned he would be at The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering show.

The Aventador, a speedster that first debuted in 2011, put Perini on the map. Featuring a hexagonal design language the personality of the car changes radically with a simple paint job—murdered out in matte black, it's right off the set of Thunderdome and in sky blue it's almost harmonious with nature. Before the Aventador, little was known about Perini, Lamborghini's design chief since 2004 who is reported to have created the Aventador in six weeks—from sketchpad to the show floor. Although he was responsible for the re-envisioning of cars like the Gallardo Superleggera, LP560-4, Murcielago LP640 and Reventon, the Aventador was Perini's first complete design of a brand new model. The stunner was critically praised. As we learned, Perini also has plenty to say about design, engineering and what it means to work for Lamborghini.

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How would you describe the hallmarks of Lamborghini design?

This is easy and tough at the same time. I can describe that the designs of the Lamborghini aim to be unique and iconic. I entered Lamborghini almost nine years ago and I was happy, smiling, but crying also—it was a dream of my life, but I was scared. If you think about the history of Lamborghini, it's a history full of icons of design. Every car immediately becomes an icon of design. What I ask every day of my guys is that they think about this history. Every solution is driven by this, this need to be unique.

What would you say the division is between performance and design?

There is no division. I mean, I am a mechanical engineer and…I think that this is the strength of a design studio—to be connected with the functionality. We have to know our economics, we have to know the materials, we have to know technology, we have to know rules also, motorization—because in this way we'll do something that is feasible. This is very important. We are selling cars that are running at 300-350 kph, so it's very important to think about something that is respecting this kind of performance.

What about for vehicles that don't go that fast? Thinking about the Urus SUV or other cars that need the DNA of Lamborghini, but aren't meant to go that fast?
"What is beauty? Beauty is something that works."

In every vehicle, if you care about the performance and about the functionality—it's the only way I know to produce something beautiful. And this is a natural approach, no? When you see something—a bird, for example, normally they are really beautiful. Why? Because they have to be light, they are ergonomic. They're following physics. For this reason they are beautiful because it is written in our DNA that we are working on this planet with the same physical rules, no? What is beauty? Beauty is something that works.

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Do you think about the customer when you're designing?
"Our brand is a brand that produces dreams."

No, not really. Nobody is able to describe his dream. Normally these kinds of people are designers or artists, but our customer wants to make the dream real—but they don't know exactly the dream they have. This is important, our brand is a brand that produces dreams.

So, you don't have to worry about the customer because they don't know how to describe their dream?

No, sometimes not. It's very rare, really. It's much more important to to follow your stomach when you start with a new car thinking, "OK, I have a dream and I want to produce this dream." And this is normally faced with asking our customer.

Do you see cars when you dream?

Yeah. To be true, the last dream that I had was about stitching on the seat because I wasn't able to solve a problem and I woke up at 3:00 A.M. saying, "I got it!"

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Do you think it's harder to design when you don't really have any limits? You can pretty much use any material you want, any technology you want.

No, I really know what it means to work with strong limitation and cost. We already have some strong limitation in cost—it's a different level, right—because we are taking care about the price of the car, but we don't care about the price of the parts. We have to produce a car that…

…That people can afford to buy?

Yes, that can make back figures. If not, we will not survive. It is important that we make money with these cars, we are not telling lies. The job of a designer is to convince the company to spend a little bit more, adding more confidence, more features—this is our wish.

What about cars you love to drive that are not Lamborghini?

Sometimes I'm really attracted to classic cars. For example, I've driven a new one of the museum, and the last car I drove was a Countach. It is really beautiful to see how the difference between this car and the car of today—you know, they are much more new, but also they're light sometimes, so you can feel really a lot of difference.

Are you a good driver?

My chief says no. But I think yes, I'm pretty sure.

How important is Italy or Italian design heritage to you and to Lamborghini?

It's very important. It's very important because, for example, I learned as a designer, I learned from Lamborghini and from Alfa Romeo, staying close to people working in traditional ways is tantamount. It's not a matter of nationality of the designer, but a matter of the culture of Italy. It's very, very different. You can be a good designer coming from anywhere in the world, but to say Italy first, this is my opinion.

Photos by Josh Rubin

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