Journal: This Is What Happens When Fashion And Racing Combine

This Is What Happens When Fashion And Racing Combine

Avatar By Joel Clark
July 25, 2016
10 comments

The worlds of fashion and Formula One rarely mix that well, but when the family-run Benetton fashion house took control of the Toleman race team a short-lived era of livery-dominance commenced. Who better to lead that march against the influx of big faceless brands covering the grid than the exuberant, colorful flair of one of the ’80s most recognisable high street fashion labels? Considering that we’ve never seen a Moschino McLaren, or a Fendi Ferrari, the United Colors Of Benetton, for the time being, hold the mantle of Formula 1’s fashion-forward pioneers.

So far in my writings on iconic racing liveries, the majority of examples have been cigarette sponsors, with those logos embracing the bodywork of all manors of racing cars and bikes. Therefore, I’m ignoring the post-’91, blue-hued years for Benetton (and Michael Schumacher) and focusing instead on the ‘color years’ between 1986 and 1990.

The first few examples from 1986 to 1989 are often left out of the usual “greatest livery” lists, simply down to the (quite frankly) ugly-but-pretty-quick car design by Rory Byrne on the B186, B187, B188, and B189 cars. Give or take a few exceptions, the period from mid-seventies to mid-eighties wasn’t kind to F1 car’s design, so when a great livery appeared, it needed to work twice as hard as the competition!

Even though Benetton had completely covered the 1985 Toleman in its own ‘flags-of-the-world’ livery, it wasn’t until the fashion house finally took over the team in ’86 and rolled out the “brush strokes” design on the grid. It’s amazing to think what a stronghold Benetton had on color as a brand identity back in the ’80s and ’90s; in my previous career as an advertising creative, I could only dream of creating a brand campaign that owned such a massive, simple concept as color!

And boy, did the company use that ownership to its full potential. The multi-colored brush strokes look like a wind tunnel experiment gone right. The perfect shades for each of the colors covering the rest of the bodywork make a three dimensional abstract sculpture, nearly depicting an in-store experience (excuse my slip back into “adland” speak, but it’s true). I am still undecided about the colored Pirelli tires, though. I love the outright dedication to their concept of color, but as soon as they get scuffed or dirty, it takes the sheen off, literally.

The second, third, and fourth incarnations saw the introduction of the most famous color schemes. These cars—although still suffering aesthetically in terms of bodywork styling—absolutely scream Pop art. If you’ve ever stood in front of both Jeff Koons’ Play-Doh sculpture and the Benetton cars, then you’ll clearly see the artistic connections. And with each other sponsor kept within the boundaries of its own color block, it feels like a collection of iconic logos all thoughtfully placed together to create a high-speed Warhol/Koons inspired pop-art sculpture.

The layout of the colors changed subtly over this period, but never had to do too much work to keep things fresh—I mean, how you go wrong with such a beautiful concept? The only real noticeable difference was the exclusion of pink, in the color scheme, one which I feel is a mistake.

It was in 1990 and in the final year of Benetton as the primary sponsor that the most recognisable and successful version appeared, this time thanks to the Rory Byrne and John Barnard designed B190. We’ve now entered the era of the greatest looking post-’50s Grand Prix cars and when decked out in the already-loved United colors livery, the car could rank itself up in the higher echelons of the art car arena.

In fact, the similarities in aesthetics the B190 shared with both the BMW Art Cars of Calder and Warhol are recognisable to any eye. On that point—the highest praise possible for a racing livery—I can safely say it’s also my favourite all-time racing livery.

What do you think about this era of Benetton-sponsored Formula 1 cars?

Images via wheelsage.org

Join the Conversation
Related

Leave a Reply

Peter Tabmow
Peter Tabmow

I did a dozen F1 liveries in my time, but my absolute favourite is the Brabham BT52 (second version), designed by the awesome Peter Stevens. Peter was head of the automotive design faculty at the Royal College of Art, styled the McLaren M1, created all the Brabham liveries from 1974 to 1987, and is an all-round fantastic bloke.

Steve Taylor
Steve Taylor

I cannot agree that the 1986 -89 Benetton cars were ugly. Compared with the cars of today with their ugly front wings and barge boards the minimalist front end and smooth waistlines are far more pleasing. But then I started watching F1 in fifties when Vanwalls were de rigeur!!
Thanks for sharing your views. What ever happened tp Benetton anyway? I think I still have a ‘T’ shirt!

Joshua Seidenberg
Joshua Seidenberg

I love the colors on all of the cars. I especially love the ’86 to ’90 block versions on the green base. The cars are so retro and really bring me back to my teen years when I really got in to racing and dreamed of owning a Ferrari or Lambo. The cars were much simpler and the drivers really raced. Exciting times….

Peter Tabmow
Peter Tabmow

And the brush stroke car was accomplished with just four different die-cut patterns…

Peter Tabmow
Peter Tabmow

By the way, pink did feature in the 1987 version of the livery…

christian mortinger
christian mortinger

i always remember Gerhard Berger beating all the greats to the Mexican Grand Prix of 1986 giving the colorful Benetton-BMW its first win!

p.s. bring back competition among tire manufacturers…

Peter Tabmow
Peter Tabmow

As the designer of the B190 livery – keeping in mind that it is of course based on someone else’s basic concept – I thank you for your kind remarks. I will claim credit, however, for fending off the ‘artistic’ suggestions of the evil Flavio which would resulted in a very cluttered layout. An interesting sidelight is that to ensure the colour splits were in the same place on every set of bodywork, we added very light score lines in the monocoque and body moulds as a guide for the painters. I’m attaching another photo of the car showing how… Read more »

HitTheApex
HitTheApex

A big thanks to Joel for another great piece on a great racing livery and a huge thank you to Peter for the information and photographs. Truly, this is a great livery.

HitTheApex
HitTheApex

Also, a huge “thank you” for the great design. It looked good in period and has aged like a fine wine or cake of puer tea, which is to say most gracefully, looking, if anything, better as the years pass.

Joel Clark
Joel Clark

Hi Peter, so nice to hear of your appreciation of the article. I do always try to find out the designer behind each story, but alas those details are always too hard to find. Congratulations on creating such an iconic design!