A special version of Nissan’s Micra C+C, designed in association with leading London designer Sebastian Conran, is one of the stars on the Nissan stand at the 2006 British International Motor Show in London.

The C+C+Conran is a stylish concept car that explores imaginative new colours and trim, and is designed to ‘make the driver and passengers feel special’, according to Sebastian Conran.

‘Our aim was to design a non-gender based car – certainly not testosterone driven – that is a joy to drive,’ says Conran. ‘It’s a car that feels comfortable and stylish to be in, zippy rather than racy, a car you can build an emotional relationship with.’

The C+C+Conran features a stunning black paint scheme called Blushing Black. ‘It was inspired by the deep black seen on Japanese traditional lacquer-ware and is accented with red reflections,’ says Conran. A discreet leaf pattern, derived from that used inside, is on the bootlid.

In place of chrome, the C+C+Conran uses a new dark grey colour called titanium black. Wheels and headlamps are finished in dark grey rather than silver, with just a hint of red.

Deep, rich red is the dominant colour of the cabin. The seats are upholstered in unusual red leather upholstery and use a red shadowed leaf print. Red and black leather also swathes much of the interior, including the instrument panel and doors. The glovebox is also lined in a rich red.

‘The two front seats have hoop-shaped headrests so that the driver can see through them when parking – it’s also better for passengers in the back too, to be able to see through,’ says Conran. ‘And we have incorporated a locking i-Pod drawer which means one doesn’t have to unplug it and carry it every time you get out of the car – especially important for a cabriolet.’

Conran likens this concept car to a modern tailored suit. ‘Discreet yet classy on the outside, but with a shockingly colourful lining.’

Appropriately for the London-based British International Motor Show, the C+C+Conran is very much an all-British car. The Micra C+C on which it’s based was designed in Nissan Design Europe’s London studio. The car was engineered at Nissan Technical Centre Europe, at Cranfield in Bedfordshire. It is built at Sunderland, Europe’s most productive car plant. And now, with the C+C+Conran, it has been inspired by one of London’s leading and most sophisticated urban designers.

Sebastian Conran is a director of Conran & Partners, where he is responsible for all product and graphics work. His technical innovations and inventions are credited with more than 50 patents over the past 20 years. He has also won many design, marketing and innovation awards.

‘By collaborating with a leading non-automotive designer, you always get a new approach, a fresh angle,’ says Satoru Tai, vice president for Nissan Design Europe. ‘The colour direction was Sebastian’s. The black and reds are very Conran.

‘Yes, it is a fashion statement, and it is inspired by one of London’s leading designers,’ says Tai-san. ‘But we all wanted to produce a car that made a very strong statement, a car of extremely high quality. The superb richly lacquered paint finish helps gives this quality. It also gives the car a very Japanese flavour, which is important. It’s like a beautiful Japanese lacquered wooden bowl. It’s very much hand crafted and exclusive. Also, the contrasts in the colours and the patterns on the car’s exterior are very subtle, very Japanese.’

‘The C+C+Conran is primarily an exercise in beautiful new colours and materials,’ says Marisol Manso Cortina, manager for Colour Group, Nissan Design Europe. ‘The paint colours, the lacquered finish, the unusual leather upholstery, and the laser printed overlapping leaf shadows on the leather seats – all are innovative and different. Colours and materials are such an important element in modern design, for cars as much as furniture or architecture or fashion. We in the design world are all influenced by each other’s work. London’s rich history in fashion, art, culture and architecture is one reason why Nissan Design Europe has its studio here in Paddington in London.’

Adds Satoru Tai, ‘Fashion trends, car design trends, furniture trends, architectural trends…they are all interlocked. Design reflects the values of the people. It is an increasingly important differentiator for car buyers, and of increasing importance to consumers, no matter what they’re buying.’

Nissan’s relationship with Sebastian Conran goes back to the Cube3+Conran & Partners concept car first shown at the 2003 Tokyo Show. The Cube+Conran and Cube3+Conran production versions followed in 2004. Last month, limited edition Plus Conran versions of the Cube, March and Lafesta were unveiled for the Japanese market.

The C+C+Conran is based on the 1.6 Essenza version of Nissan’s imaginative Micra coupe cabriolet C+C. Based on reaction to the car from visitors to the show the C+C+Conran, or a car very much like it, could possibly make production.

INTERVIEW WITH SEBASTIAN CONRAN

What did you set out to achieve, primarily, with this design?

Our aim is to design a non-male, non gender-based car that’s a joy to drive. We are not trying to redesign the car (as it doesn’t need it), but attempting to bring out its best features and make the driver and passengers feel special. We wanted to design an interior that reflects the zeitgeist; a design that captures the mood of the moment.

How do you think the car will benefit from your design?

As far as the car’s interior goes, we want to give it a subtle sophisticated character, more Audrey Hepburn-esque than Hello Kitty-cute. We would like to turn attitudes to car interiors on their head; to come from a slightly different perspective from the conventional testosterone-driven designs. A car to feel comfortable and stylish to be in; zippy rather than racy; a car you can build a warm, emotional relationship with.

What have you brought to the car?

We have tried to reflect the mood of the time. That’s what we do and that’s what we share, and wanted to bring it to something that is usually unchallenged by design, in a visual sense. Perhaps people want to be anonymous on the street, but once you step inside a car, it’s great if it has something a little different that sets it apart from everything else. The car can almost be like a second home; but how much time does one spend decorating the interior as opposed to the exterior of a house? Plenty. So it seems fair to want to create a pleasant environment inside a car, especially in traffic congestion.

What was your inspiration for the project?

Most of what we do is inspired by nature. It’s a recurrent motif. We look at nature and harmony and all the different shades and textures that come with it; walking in a wood not looking directly at things but at the reflections and shadows of things. The design has a tactile element to it; we like playing with what things feel like. We are also wanting something ‘of the moment’ reflecting the current boho chic trend that’s evident in fashion and furniture right now. It’s bold yet feminine, with a touch of vintage. We wanted the car to reflect this edgy, yet laid-back urban attitude.

What were the constraints, if any, on the project?

Car designs have to incorporate a huge element of safety. It’s more important than simply wanting a good-looking car that will perform. The big difference here is that we don’t have to crash test furniture or toasters. Designing the interior of a car has many more restraints than objects for the home. But it’s a priority that you work with, exploring the opportunities, rather than against.

What did you want to achieve with your design?

We wanted to create something contemporary, but that was safe and environmentally ethical at the same time. And of course, from a cost point of view, the design has
to be practical to produce in volume. The secret is to design things that are straightforward to make; to use materials to their best effect. Our aim is always to design quality in and failure out and we always ask ourselves ‘how could this be simpler and better?’ If we don’t use design to create real value then there will be no trade.

How do you combine fashion with practicality?

How do you turn a grungy bit of plastic into a luxury object? Look at the i-Pod; it’s a phenomenon for that reason, combining style with functionality, and at an attainable premium price. It’s about refining an idea into something that can be easily produced. That’s what we’re here to do.

How have you designed the interior of the car?

We’ve gone with colourful, leafy patterns on the leather seats upholstered in a red shadowy leaf print. The glove box and underseat storage are lined in the same secret
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red; from the outside you don’t see it, but it’s there. The inspiration for this came from a pair of Charles Jourdan shoes my mother used to have, which were fairly simple on the outside but had a bright red leather lining.

It’s like a tailored suit which looks conventional from the outside but probably has shocking pink lining on the inside. I like this element of surprise. The two front seats have hoop-shaped headrests so that the driver can see through them when parking – it’s also better for passengers in the back too, to be able to see through.

And we have incorporated a locking i-Pod drawer which means one doesn’t have to unplug it and carry it every time you get out of the car – especially important for a cabriolet.

How does the interior of the car contrast with its exterior?

Rather like some young Japanese friends of mine, who can be so expressive in what they wear out of office hours, we have designed something that isn’t at first what it seems. On the outside people can be demure but on the inside, expressive and fun. During the week they wear a regular work suit, but at the weekend they’re in something absolutely wild. Likewise, the car has a surprising interior behind its discreet exterior.

Describe the colour scheme?

Where chrome would normally have been used, we went for titanium black. The exterior body colour, Blushing Black, was inspired by Japanese traditional lacquer-ware; it’s a rich, deep black accented with red reflections which reveals a secret, a pattern reflected in the refractive paint, that you can’t see when you look straight at it. This we mixed with bold red.

What did you like most about working with Nissan?

The team at Nissan is enthusiastic and they listen well. We enjoy working together, sharing ideas and collaborating in the truest sense of the word. We don’t feel we are working for them, but with them; in my opinion, that’s the true nature of collaboration. We practice the Japanese ‘ethos of Wa’ which means Japanese-ness or the ‘circle of harmony’. This means that we feed each other, rather than feed off each other; there’s a huge, and crucial, difference between the two.