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Few people have transformed a start in clothing fashion into a career in automotive design. Anthony Prozzi, formerly a designer for Donna Karan, took the skills he learned from years in the fashion industry and applied them to Ford’s all-new Fusion.
I recently spent thirty minutes with Prozzi to hear his inspiring story, where he told the tale of his lifelong passion for fashion and how a summer job at a high-end Brooklyn clothing store led to a life in automotive design.
One fashion designer’s shift from runway to driveway
Anthony Prozzi’s love for fashion and design began early in life, launching when he was in college working at a store he described as a mini Neiman Marcus. A pre-med student at NYU, Prozzi had not set out for a career in design.
As a child, Prozzi referred to himself as an “artistic bookworm” whose parents emphasized the importance of a good education. “I was destined to be a doctor, lawyer or engineer,” he said.
“My path to automotive design was definitely not traditional.”
-Anthony Prozzi, Senior Interior Designer at Ford
“My second year of college I simply needed money,” Prozzi explained. “I always loved fashion and was fortunate to get a job at a shop still in existence in Brooklyn called Jimmy’s.” While there, a mentor guided Prozzi in his decision to ditch a career in medicine and follow his true passion.
Prozzi’s fate in design had only its beginning there. One evening in the late 1980s, a friend invited him over to a dinner party; she had someone she wanted him to meet. That person was well-known fashion designer Donna Karan, who just happened to be launching a men’s line and wanted Prozzi to be a part of it.
In 1999, Prozzi made the switch from clothes to cars, joining Ford Motor Company after completing his degree at the College for Creative Studies (CCS). He now leads the automaker’s next-generation interior design programs.
A transitional outlook
When asked what his biggest challenge was during the transition from fashion to automotive, Prozzi shared some inspiration that came direct from his boss, Donna Karan:
Something that Donna Karan taught me was that regardless of any object – in our case we were dealing with clothing – she was always obsessed with what is the story behind what you’re doing? It always has to start with this sort of fantasy. For automotive it’s the exact same thing. You really have to design the driver before you design the car. What’s the world they live in? How do you create something that takes them out of the everyday things in their life and offer them something even more?
Anthony also pointed to a direct change in the purpose of clothing fashion after September 11, 2001. He described the biggest challenge after the tragedy in New York, was defining what was behind the aesthetic-of-the-moment. “People realized it’s not just about looking pretty but what goes behind it. What’s the message behind what you’re doing? If there’s no message behind it, then it’s no more than cake decoration.”
With clothing, it was the idea of sensuality – you first dress for yourself, and you put a smile on yourself, but then you know that it’s not just for you but it’s for the world. I approach automotive design in the same way. ‘Who is this person, and will my design put a smile on their face?’
Designing the 2013 Ford Fusion
Prozzi has an eye for good design – that’s why he was mortified when looking at other hybrids on the market in preparation for the Fusion Hybrid. “Why can’t you look sexy and sophisticated while driving a hybrid?” he said. “The Fusion is that. There’s no compromise on design with it.”
Undoubtedly, the words “sexy” and “sophisticated” have rarely appeared in a sentence describing a mainstream hybrid vehicle. “Here’s a vehicle that gives you great fuel economy and you still look great picking up your friends, or dropping it off at the valet,” Prozzi said with satisfaction.
Anthony gleaned his main inspiration for the Ford Fusion’s interior design from Kate Lanphear, then editor of Elle Magazine. “To look at her, she has this intense blonde bob haircut,” Prozzi detailed. “What I found extraordinary is here’s this extremely fashion-forward woman whose job it is to produce a magazine that has a broad appeal. How do you produce something that doesn’t sacrifice its edget but still appeals to a broad audience?”
If you really want to make a statement, you have to appeal to these people on the fringe. That’s why fashion is so influential – because they’re the ones who want to know. They’r ethe ones who will break the paradigm of what’s normal.
The imaginative designer stretched himself to explore what he described as the dichotomy of edgy (literally, edgy – as in lethally sharp) jewelry by Eddie Bargo and the soft, sensual and inviting nature of human flesh. “How do you make this interior hard and soft? masculine and feminine? light and dark?” Prozzi asked himself.
In the end, Prozzi says, Ford has a vehicle with an interior that’s premium in appearance but also has a conscious. Prozzi’s interior uses fabrics that are made with sustainable materials, such as denim shoddy for sound barriers.
Prozzi’s undying passion
When asked what his future aspirations are for interior design while at Ford, Prozzi exuded passion – even 14 years after being with the company.
“For me, what’s very important, and what we constantly talk about is – we’re no longer a car company,” he explained. Yes Ford, and particularly Prozzi’s team, design and produce cars. But in the grand scheme of the global marketplace, Anthony is more interested to understand how automakers can still transport people without causing detriment to the environment.
“How do we manufacture products that don’t harm – that are all created from sustainable sources and 100 percent recyclable?” he said. Prozzi challenges others to visualize a vehicle that doesn’t just serve to get people from point A to point B, but does more than that. “Wouldn’t it be awesome for the car to park vertically so that it takes up less space?” a question he imaginatively posed.
The obvious question: Which ‘Project Runway’ winner would you love to collaborate with on a Ford interior?
I couldn’t allow a conversation with Anthony to finish without asking him a burning question (as a serious lover of Project Runway). I was excited that he picked my two favorite PR winners.
“Mondo hands down. I love him,” Prozzi confessed. “He’s got such – he’s got that sort of sixth sense and intuition where he doesn’t sacrifice his edge, and he really knows how to present his clothing to appeal to cross-generations. He sort of knows what women will want even before they know they want it.”
At the end of the day, if you don’t feel cute or look cute in this thing we call a car, then you’re not going to want it. – Anthony Prozzi on the reality of consumer demand, whether for fashion or automobiles
Not surprisingly, Christian Siriano would be Anthony’s close second choice for collaboration. Siriano recently spoke on a panel at a conference Ford sponsored. “You really get another industry’s influential’s perspective,” Prozzi praised. “Hearing him speak, it’s very much the same way us car designers think.”
Editor’s note: In the midst of New York Fashion Week, it only seems appropriate to tell the story of Anthony Prozzi, a fashion designer who got his start with Donna Karan and transformed his career in automotive design at Ford Motor Company.
Prozzi’s career shift is proof that when you have a skill, it can be applied to any industry to bring improvements to that industry and the consumers of that industry’s product.
Throughout our conversation, Prozzi was incredibly honest and open about his days living in the NY fashion scene. I appreciated his openness and for sharing his story with this website and its readers. | Article updated 9/10/13 at 10:20 am.
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