Everything has to be for a reason - Meeting Chris Bangle
We love where we live. Yes, we moan about the high taxes but then if you have to pay taxes it means you have a job. We complain about the lack of order but then no one is too demanding. There’s no rat race here, lunch is far too long for a daily race.
And one of the really nice things about this area is that it attracts interesting and sometimes important people. As an example, a few years ago Mikhail Gorbachov was coming to Alba for the White Truffle festival. A Russian friend I was working with managed to get tickets to a press conference where all Italy’s top journalists would be present. It was an incredible event, we even got to meet the man himself. Understand this was a big thing for me. In the late 1980s, as a 20-something young man, I was hugely interested in what was unfolding in Eastern Europe and I had a poster of him on my wall..! To meet him was something great. It was even televised. A good friend’s father saw me and told her he’d seen me on the TV news with Gorbachov. She was convinced her father was ready for the funny farm..
Then there are those that choose to do more than visit but set up new lives here. Carmen Kass, the Estonian supermodel, recently bought a ruined farmhouse with a stunning view close to Sinio and Charlize Theron is rumoured to have bought a house in the Langhe. Wow! Nice neighbours to have. But then I got wind that someone really interesting was living here. The New York Times had interviewed me about the area and the property market and La Stampa picked up on it and ran an article about the NYT article. On the same page was an article about Chris Bangle. Now, you might not have heard of him but you can be sure you see some of his work every time you go down your street. Chris was the Director of BMW Group Design for 17 years and changed the way cars looked forever. He and his team were responsible for the big changes in the BMWs we love, such as the X3 and X5. All those amazing angles and slashes we’re now so familiar with. He had his critics but then all great artists do. He was way ahead of his time. He was also the man who penned the amazing Fiat Coupé. Compare that to Fiat’s previous sports cars and you get an idea of what this designer is about.
Chris has now moved his attention away from just cars, he resigned from BMW in 2009. Now he’s into architecture, products, art, yachts, and big benches. Big benches? We’ll come back to that later in the story
Chris was the Director of BMW Group Design for 17 years and changed the way cars looked forever.
I was thinking it would be really good to meet him. We live 30 minutes away from his Alta Langhe home and studio and our work does cross paths. He was willing to give me a little time to talk about his move to the Langhe and about his current projects.
Google’s inaccurate business location sent us a little off course but eventually we arrived in the valley his house sits over. The views were simply stunning, with low mist and a beautiful clear blue sky and dazzling sunlight. His home and studio occupy about half of a Borgata (hamlet). Surrounded by Dolcetto vineyards, it really is a spectacular place. I was with my son Alex in his BMW 1 that Chris had had a hand in designing. It was going to meet its creator down the little dusty road between the vines to his home.
We were welcomed by his lovely assistant, Valeria. Her bright, contagious smile and happy demeanour told us this was a nice, vibrant place to be. We were taken to the studio’s kitchen and after a couple of minutes Chris walked it. Well, it was more like an explosion. Kind of like the shock wave of a nuclear test, you know for sure you’re in the presence of greatness. There was also a beautiful young woman there that seemed vaguely familiar, then we realised we’d met some years before. She’s an architect of some calibre and works with Chris as his Studio Manager. Then Chris told us he had a dream about a group of Indian people building a downsized, fully operational Chevy from bicycle parts and old junk. It was very animated – the shock wave....
We talked a little. Alex with Chris and I caught up with news of what Laura, the architect, was up to since we’d last met. I was happy to see there was car stuff all over the place - a calendar of the Fiat Coupe, and other nods to his illustrious past. Chris then offered to show us around this ‘new’ re-creation we were standing in. Now, I had got an impression of Chris from articles I’d read and snippets of news but not until you see his 2002 TED Talk 'Great cars are great art' do you really see what kind of person he is. He looks a serious professor type but he really is this animated genius that dreams of Indian Chevys and mad swimming pools. He pointed out many of the design features of his house, stuff you could so easily overlook or label as crazy. But he explained - everything has to be for a reason. We liked that. We tucked it away in our minds and hearts and carried on with the tour.
..he explained - everything has to be for a reason. We liked that. We tucked it away in our minds and hearts and carried on with the tour
It’s a huge project but one he is carrying out with so much passion and love. As someone living here for quite some time I can say there is one thing the area lacks, well Italy probably – and that is community spirit. It doesn’t mean to say that people don’t help each other or they aren’t kind, but their outlook on life is much like the way they drive - they only see just beyond the hood. I’m sure it’s the big reason for the crisis here. But that’s a long story. One of the nice things Chris is doing is trying to show people that working together is a really good thing. We all benefit from it, even if not immediately. It’s the thinking behind the big benches. Although they are privately built – no public funding – they are meant to be shared by everyone. There are 13 of them so far (and 1 unofficial “imitation") and they are great. People come from all over the world to sit on them, admire the views and feel like they’re 6 again. He and his wife, Catherine, have put a lot of time into realising this project and the Langhe and Roero areas are profiting. Be sure to visit one or two, or all of them! There’s a Web link at the end of this article.
People come from all over the world to sit on them, admire the views and feel like they’re 6 again.
So how did he come to live in the Langhe? He’s American, his wife is Swiss and he worked for a long time in Germany. One of the really nice things about him is that he often mentions his wife. Family is clearly something very important to him, and that’s a great thing. Soon after they married they moved to Torino where he began working for Fiat Centro Stile, Fiat’s in-house design studio in Turin (that brought us the wonderful Barchetta too) and so, he said ‘they work together’ in this area. They are most comfortable here. “As a couple ‘we’ feel at home in Italy. To paraphrase Nietzsche: “Here is where ‘we’ are possible". That’s so wonderful about this area – the family feeling is always present. We can feel relaxed, it’s as quiet or busy as you want it to be and it’s never dull!
Most buyers coming to this area are obsessed with the idea of buying in Barolo, Monforte, Serralunga but these places aren’t necessarily the real Langhe. For a start, very few houses come on the market close to these towns, so prices are high and the best bit of the Langhe is it’s people and in the towns 20 minutes from these sought-after areas are great towns full of amazing people. Smart buyers realise this. Chris and his wife took time to find this place. They had a five point brief – big place for themselves; not too far from easy access to Torino; vineyards around; mountains in view; castle in view - and got all of them. And the place is great.
We got some photos, thanked the man for his time and climbed back into Alex’s car and as we drove up the dusty road through the vineyards we both said ‘wow!’ Gorbachov changed the way the world is, sadly it seems to be slipping back but we still recognise his greatness. People like Chris Bangle changed the world we see and touch. It’s only cars but we have a long love affair with them - we crave them, we often despise them but I can say that driving a car like a BMW, that was hand carved by someone as talented as him, makes my day a happier one. My F10 (5 series) wasn’t built by his hand, but created after he left BMW, nevertheless, his shock wave can be felt in all its parts. It’s genius, and it’s beautiful.
So why not have some of this genius in your new home in the Langhe or Monferrato? Be it a laser cut balustrade, a special swimming pool or pizza oven, Chris’s team are available and I’d be very happy to introduce you. They can make 3D models and carefully think out your project - because everything has to be for a reason.