The Vertu of Technology

Frank Nuovo is the principal designer for Vertu, the world’s first luxury mobile-phone company, which he founded on behalf of Nokia
back in 1997-1998 when he was chief of design at the telecommunications behemoth. Today, Nuovo continues to work closely with Vertu as its
chief designer, overseeing product strategy and design together with
all of the brand’s talented specialists. He now operates through a new
studio in Southern California called Design Studio Nuovo.

JC Report: Let’s start by talking a little about Vertu,
and specifically the Ascent Range, which combines leather and metal in
its design. There are a number of seasonal editions of these phones,
like this summer’s "Strawberries and Cream" editions.

Frank Nuovo: The essence of Vertu, and specifically the
line and form of the Ascent design, was inspired first by luxury
European sports cars. From there we worked to create a range of special
editions that utilize unique colors, material textures, and patterns
that appeal to different tastes.

Do you consider the Range to be more masculine or more feminine? It seems like the design has a pretty masculine edge.

FN: Well, we work hard to find designs that invoke both
masculine and feminine styles. They are inspired by non-gender specific
themes — I love "Strawberries and Cream" and have seen that color
scheme on cars of all kinds.

What single feature on Vertu phones, for you, makes them stand out?

FN: I don’t think of single features specifically on
Vertu phones as much as the total experience. I suppose the character
of the product — its crafted materials and finishes are a feature and
that is the most visible and obvious. And the concierge service is a
unique feature that we originated at Vertu. Each phone has a concierge
button which directs the caller to a concierge service in the country
they’re in.

The concierge service does epitomize the luxury market, because there’s that expectation that you will
need someone there, at the end of the line, for whatever reason. As
someone who travels regularly for work, what items do you find
indispensable when not at home?

FN: The mobile is, of course, number one. You can read
mail and text and get information from the web. The main thing is that
I am in constant contact with my family, friends, and associates.
Design is my life — it’s not work in the traditional sense; it’s fully
integrated into my life. My sketchbook and special mechanical drawing
pencil are always there and my laptop allows me to review designs in
picture and 3-D CAD model form while on the road.

And when traveling for pleasure?

FN: Still the mobile for convenience and safety. Also, a
portable GPS unit is always around so I can find my way around exotic
locations on the planet.

Are men more attracted to technological accessories than women? And if so, why do you think that is?

FN: Ah, be careful not to underestimate women and
technology! I find many women increasingly interested at all levels of
technical feature complexity.

Traditionally, though, it’s been more acceptable for men to like things that work, rather than things that look attractive.

FN: Yes, I think men pride themselves on pure
techno-savvy knowledge and have always gravitated toward the finest
tools of the trade. But with all our customers, the idea of excellence
of performance and design is being taken to a higher level all the time.

Do you feel that men are beginning to see gadgets more as accessories?

FN: Yes. A definite yes! In fact, much of my design
career has been in pursuit of my own vision, that men and women would
view technical gadgets — in particular mobile phones — more as personal
accessories. After promoting "fashion and premium tech" at Nokia, the
creation of Vertu was very much following my heart and mind in support
of this accessorization of technology. It made perfect sense, as most
functional objects have found their way toward luxury craft over time.

JCR: We can see that quite clearly if we look back in
time at traditional men’s accessories, such as cigar cutters, hip
flasks, etc. (Dalvey of Scotland,
for instance, still produces some beautiful smoking accessories, like
single ashtrays, as well as hip flasks.) What’s interesting now is that
many of these things are still designed, produced, and sold, despite
the fact that their use has become pretty much obsolete. It’ll be
interesting to see how this pans out.

Which fashion brands — clothing and accessories, specifically — and their designs grab your attention?

FN: I find fashion brands difficult to comment on these
days. I remain very fond of top-tier brands that focus on quality of
materials, construction, and tailoring. Much of fashion today struggles
for attention like the lights in Las Vegas, and is hardly worth a
glance. I mostly appreciate the timeless classics — in fact, I have
some ideas I would love to put forward if I can find the time to do it.

Currently, where do you shop for clothes?

FN: I really do shop the world for clothes and find no
limit on where or what, as long as the quality is high. It’s somewhat
disappointing that you can find almost anything everywhere —
distribution is wide on the big brands, so it’s always a treat when you
find a custom or local brand somewhere more remote. I am known for
wearing black and dark grey most of the time. Due to my extensive
travel, black and grey are very efficient and make packing easier. I
leave colorful fashion for home and family time, which helps me to
separate my life modes — even though work and play are so integrated.
For black and grey menswear beyond the average, Browns in London is
always great, carrying a large number of brands such as Lanvin — which
is fantastic for less-structured tailoring in muted shades. We can see
this in Lavin’s s/s ’08 runway shows, which showed grey, relaxed
suiting with sweaters and canvas shoes.

In terms of technology and fashion, which marriages do you find winning?

FN: I think fashion and technology are working best in
the sports and high-performance clothing areas. Much of that tech is
finally transferring to leisure, because it is so comfortable. I’m very
fond of high-performance hiking wear — it’s light, easy to pack, and
can wash and dry with ease. Functional considerations are returning to
clothing more and more. Some performance sports clothing is constructed
better than average brands: keeping warm when it’s cold, cool when it’s
warm, and dry when it’s wet. I would love to design a high-performance
business suit. That’s a challenging thought!


Finally, what one luxury technological accessory would you love to own? This can be anything — it doesn’t even have to exist yet.

FN: Well, perhaps because you wear it, I imagine the
ultimate personal accessory is a jet pack. I have dreamed of owning and
flying one since I was a kid. Strap it on your back and fly off over
traffic, mountains, and just about anything; the sensation of free
flight would be just amazing. Until then, I would settle for my own
helicopter — it’s on my wish list before age 50.

Actually, you probably can buy jet packs these days. Jet Pack International
is gearing up to sell one of its models from November 2007. A snip at
$200,000 dollars (excluding the cost of training.) But then, it is
still cheaper then a helicopter…

This interview was conducted by Alex Butt.

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