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This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Thu, Jan 19, 2006

By: The LACar Editorial Staff


Marek Djordjevic

If you grow up in a country that creates the Yugo, you are not exactly in a hotbed of automotive design. And yet, from that very country came Marek Djordevic. In August of 2005, Marek Djordevic left Rolls-Royce to establish Marek Djordjevic, Inc., an independent strategic design and luxury brand development agency. The move marks an end to his fifteen years with the BMW Group, where he worked on concept and production BMWs, as well as MINI, MG and Rover models during BMWs ownership of Rover Group. He ultimately rose to Head of Exterior Design at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, and Creative Director of DesignworksUSA. His legacy: The Rolls-Royce Phantom and the delicious 100EX, which will spawn the next Corniche in 2007. On a beautiful sunny and warm December day - a day that only Southern California can create, - LA Car's Zoran Segina and John Grafman sat with Marek Djordjevic to discuss his past, his present, and above all, his future. LA Car: How did it all began? Marek Djordjevic: I am afraid it is very much a cliché story. My father saved some drawings from 1974 and showed them to me later. I used to get in trouble in school for having car drawings in all of my books, whether biology or math or any other thing. Most of the gearheards and car designers have a similar story. What is defining in my case that I pretty much locked on a designer's career from the very early on. Like pretty much everybody else, I originally believed that, to become a car designer, one has to have a graduate degree in mechanical engineering. While doing my research back in Belgrade, I spent a lot of time in the cultural centers of the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France, reading all the car magazines. Coming across all these beautiful drawings, I had hard time figuring out whether they were illustrations or photographs. Little by little, I found out that one needs an entirely different education to become a car designer. A defining moment was most probably one issue of Auto Motor und Sport, a well known German car magazine, where they sponsored a project involving different German brands given to various design schools that had transportation designers as part of their program. Audi was given to the Pforzheim design program, RCA got a Volkswagen, CCS worked on a BMW project and Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena received a Porsche project. I have to say it was almost no contest, because the Art Center had one of the best classes at the time. It involved people of the caliber of Grant Larson, now one of the main designers at Porsche, Ken Okuyama who is now at Pininfarina, Craig Durphy, a designer of the Dodge Viper, and Dan Sturges of LA Car: How old were you when you came to the United States. Marek Djordjevic: I was sixteen or seventeen. Actually there is a symbolic date: August 25, 1987 - the date when I arrived to California. I started my company on the same date. I came as a foreign exchange student. As I was filling out the paperwork to become an exchange student for my last year of high school, I realized that I could not pick where I got to go in the United States. The program managers could send me wherever they wanted. This was an issue, because I wanted to come to Los Angeles. I wanted to go to Pasadena because of the Art Center. I wanted to be close to there, because I wanted to apply for college within the United States, which is much easier than trying to do that from Yugoslavia. I remember reading this, and on top of that, I realized - I could be sent to a farm, or something. I was very much an urban kid, I grew up in Belgrade. I remember my sister saying: "Don't be so ungrateful you get to go to America." And I replied: "No, you do not understand, I can get a farm somewhere in the middle of nowhere, you know!" And sure enough, I got a farm. On my trip to the United States, I was on the plane with the bunch of students from all over the world, because we first flew from Yugoslavia to New York, where we met students from all the other countries, and then from there we dispersed. I ended up flying from New York to Denver, then to Seattle and finally to Spokane, Washington. There were five of us going to Spokane, somebody from Spain, Finland, couple of kids from Yugoslavia, and we are all glued to the windows to see where we are going to land. And there is absolutely nothing there. The plane starts to descend, and there is still nothing there. So we land in the middle of nowhere. As we are coming out of the plane there are people in the terminal with banners and signs: "Welcome so and so" for all the different students. So we said goodbye, exchanged addresses and phone numbers to keep in touch, and it was time to go. I then realized that the terminal is empty and there is no sign "Welcome Marek." There was no family for me. I figured, this was fine, no big deal. I am an adventurous type, I will collect my luggage, go into town, have some fun, and later call the number for my community counsel to find out what's going on. As I am heading out, I run into this lady who begins to speak about thirty sentences a second. At the time I spoke English but not that fast, so I asked her to slow down. It turns out she is the mother of the counselor, there has been a problem and there is no family for me, but it is going to be okay, she will take me to her daughter's house and we'll figure it all out. As I said, I am an adventurous type so I am not worried. We are heading into the parking lot, and I am very interested what kind of a car are we going to get in. As we walk through the parking lot, and I think "that one... " No, we passed that one. Maybe this one... But we pass that one too. Pretty soon we are walking by all the cars are there is nothing left, there is only one car left in the corner. And I am looking around, thinking, "We are not stopping here. ...No, no it can't be." And sure enough, it's a blue Pinto. So we get in. The car is filthy - stained wrappers from McDonald's, french fries, and all the other stuff, to my horror.

100EX concept car We arrive at the counselors' house in Spokane, and the conversation gets going as what to do with me. At this point my day is really long so I am getting tired. A decisions is reached at last where the counselor's mother will take me to her house which is couple of hours south of Spokane, and we'll figure it out from there, maybe I can stay with them, or go to high school there. By the time we leave it's eleven at night and I am jet-lagged, and exhausted. As we are driving, the elderly lady is reading my file, and exclaims, "Oh, you want to be a car designer, you will love our place. You know, my husband has got three hundred and fifty of them." At least that's what I think I am hearing, because I am half asleep. I then realize that her husband must have a Hot Wheels toy or some other model collection. But that's cool. So I fall asleep in the car. We get to our destination, and I go straight to sleep. I wake up in the morning, and get upstairs. The house is in a worse condition than the car. I say to myself, "If my parents only knew, I'd be going home on the next flight." I step outside to find out that we are on a hilly area. One half is covered in crops, and the other half - my hostess was not kidding - there are three hundred and fifty cars. It's a junkyard. I first could not believe it. But actually it turned out to be fun. There were all these old American cars in various states of disrepair. Besides farming, my host's husband, a great guy, with one of the sons who was still living with the family, would fix up cars and sell them on. They would get a bunch of the old cars, and put them together in various ways and sell them on. I could not stay there because the high school had only fifty students and not accredited to host foreign students, so I moved from there. My story went on from there, but that was the most interesting part. It was one of the most eventful years of my life. LA Car: How did you make the transition from Spokane to the Art Center in Pasadena? Marek Djordjevic: Very straightforward. I put together a portfolio, which is interesting because I used to worked at the Art Center in an office that received all the incoming portfolios. So, I got to see what other people's application portfolios are like. Mine was mostly based on these drawings made with a mechanical 0.5 lead pencil. I also did all my shadings in the lead pencil which was actually pretty absurd, as I found later. And I did a couple of drawings in airbrush I brought when I arrived in the United States. So it worked. I sent my portfolio, and got my letter of acceptance while I was still here in May of 1987. Then, I went home and moved to California in August of that year.

Marek Djordjevic's sketch of the 100EX LA Car: Tell us about your time with the DesignWorks. Marek Djordjevic: In my senior year, I realized that my parents will not be able to make it to my graduation if I graduated the following term. So, I took the term off and just did some freelancing here and there, and waited until the summer term of 1991 to be my last semester. I knew I would have a good sponsor project, as well, which was Toyota. During my off-term in the spring of 1991, I got wind of the fact that the BMW was looking into opening a studio in California, later named the DesignWorks. Then, I changed what we call a senior project thesis, from whatever it was at the time. This was a two-semester project - i.e., to design during the seventh semester and build the model during the eight semester. I changed the thesis to a BMW 7 Series. And then I did the entire project in one semester instead of splitting it in two. So, when the time came for the BMW visit, I was given the heads up that they would be coming the following day. I went into the school, took down all my sponsor project stuff and put up all of my BMW stuff. And sure enough, the BMW people came into the studio, saw my stuff, and we talked for about half an hour. A couple of days later, I got a phone call for an interview. I went over and started doing some freelance work for BMW during my last semester at the Art Center. I finally had to stop because I would not finish all the school work I had to do in order to graduate. That was the time of the electric car project - an E2 that the BMW was working on. So, I did a lot of sketches, stopped until I graduated, then did the interviews - and started working with BMW. Next: Rolls Royce. To read LA Car's review of the Rolls Royce Phantom, go to Fine Art.

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