Whether it’s Kim Kardashian’s gauche mink-carpeted Lamborghini Urus, or a bespoke one-off Diatto Zagato, or even the Levi’s edition AMC Gremlin, fashion and cars have always had a natural intersection and will always be intertwined. Oftentimes that integration is on a cursory level, like Lincoln’s special-edition Shinola Navigator, and it’s hard to find a collaboration that uniquely integrates the ethos and spirit of a designer or brand into the vehicle from the ground up. The Mercedes-Benz Project Maybach concept, however, does just that, thanks to Louis Vuitton artistic director, fashion designer, and overall entrepreneur Virgil Abloh, who sadly passed away from cancer last month.
I know that a lot of our readers aren’t on the up-and-up on fashion trends, but Abloh had a transformative effect on fashion throughout the past decade. His website describes him as an “artist, architect, engineer, designer, musician and DJ, chief creative director, and artistic director” who focused on inclusivity and philanthropy, but most know him for his impact on clothing and sneakers, particularly in the streetwear and luxury segments.
Luxury streetwear has always sort of existed, but it never garnered much attention from the bespoke European luxury fashion houses. Yet, Abloh’s intriguing garment silhouettes and remixes of jackets, sneakers, gym shorts, and T-shirts made everyone take notice. After launching his first brand Pyrex Vision in 2012, Abloh founded the luxury streetwear brand Off-White in 2013. Thanks in part to his association with other artistic celebrities like Kanye West, it exploded in popularity and forced large fashion houses to take notice. In 2017, his hyped-up collaboration with Nike to create special-edition Off-White Air Jordans strengthened his grip on the scene and changed the entire direction of footwear.
In a lot of ways, the Project Maybach feels directly like Abloh. Its chunky tires, wild fender flares, and roof racks imbue a sense of “go anywhere, do anything” that is at complete odds with the fact that they’re on a large super-luxury two-door Maybach coupe. That’s directly akin to Abloh’s insistence on redesigning items some consider slovenly into high-fashion, high-dollar items. As he mentioned in a W magazine article, he inserted his culture into places that were supposed to be off-limits, and this blending opens up entirely new lanes of possibilities.
“The power of Abloh’s work is not only from the product design but also the exploratory conversations that his work ignited,” Mercedes-Benz said in a press release. “Inspired by the great outdoors and recontextualizing a traditionally metropolitan brand within a distinctly off-road environment, the two-seater, battery-electric off-road coupe combines huge Gran Turismo proportions, large off-road wheels, and distinctive attachments.”
That’s true. In 2013, Abaloh asked everyone, “Why can’t a puffer jacket and basketball shoe be luxurious?” In the same vein, why can’t a Maybach go off-road? Is it any less luxurious or any less a Maybach if it could? The answer is no, it shouldn’t be.
Unfortunately, Abloh passed on November 28, after a long and private struggle with cancer. Project Maybach is an epitome of Abloh’s penchant for asking questions and juxtapositioning aesthetics. It is an exploratory look at how we redefine luxury, and it oozes Abloh’s spirit of redefining what luxury is. Rest in peace, Virgil Abloh.