In the two years since Ian Callum left his post as director of design at Jaguar, the Scottish designer has had to contend with a lot. Launching a new design agency in the teeth of the pandemic was his first challenge. Seeing his beloved alma mater pivot away from the design direction he was instrumental in defining has also been tough to watch from the sidelines. His new agency, CALLUM Designs, is free from the complexities that can come with working for a major car company.

That’s not to say that the new agency is a free for all. CALLUM’s first project harked back to pre-Jaguar days, and the first-generation Aston Martin Vanquish, one of Ian Callum’s most famous car designs. The result was a limited edition that revisited the Vanquish with fresh eyes, new technology and a new level of sophistication. Although it’s still finding its feet in an uncertain working landscape, Callum and his team have several other projects on the go, including the much-anticipated Kincsem ‘Hyper-GT’, as well as a design for Prodrive’s BRX T1 desert racing car.

From cars to chairs

The company is also keen to go beyond automotive design and we spoke to Callum and creative designer Aleck Jones, about their next steps. Callum spent much of 2020 working remotely from his home in Scotland but the team is slowly getting back to their Warwickshire HQ. ‘Most creatives are people people – we like to communicate,’ the designer admits over the ubiquitous Zoom link. Even when they’re back at full strength, it’ll still be a relatively small outfit. ‘This studio size is right for me now,’ says Callum. ‘Our team are much younger than me, and maybe my objectives are a bit different to theirs – but I just want to do things I enjoy.’ 

Ian Callum’s ’deconstructed tartan’ is one of many materials and textiles explored by the design team
Ian Callum’s ’deconstructed tartan’ is one of many materials and textiles explored by the design team

The new scale brings with it a marked difference in design culture. ‘After 40 years in corporate life it had become pretty challenging,’ he admits. ‘You know the rules, you know what’s happening next. I think I’ve paid my dues in that respect, so it’s time to step out and be more indulgent and work at a better pace. Decisions can be made within days, not weeks or months. The clarity just comes out of better communications and being small and nimble.’

At Jaguar, Callum headed up a department of around 400 people. As can sometimes happen in big companies, design and management didn’t always see eye to eye. ‘There’s a huge pleasure in having direct engagement with people. There are no surprises,’ he says. Jaguar’s recent announcement that it’ll go all-electric from 2025 came as no surprise to Callum. ‘I’ve become much more aware of the outside world in general and enjoy not having to toe the company line. EVs are a perfect example. I can see that it’s imperative they happen – there’s no debate. We knew this years ago.’

‘A chair doesn’t have to pass any kind of crash test, which is refreshing’

Another facet of design that Callum is keen to explore is furniture. Having been associated with automotive design for almost his entire career, he admits he doesn’t have much track record in this department. ‘I buy it and I sit in it,’ he says, ‘but this is about making our own rules.’ CALLUM’s first foray into furniture is a lounge chair, one that takes its inspiration from a familiar modern source, adding contemporary materials and trim to a refined new shape. ‘We’re very familiar with things like carbon structure and sustainable materials here, so creating the chair was an exercise in experimentation and curiosity,’ the designer says, ‘Ultimately, we’ll do a series of three different models – it’s a way of getting the experience and working with new suppliers.’ 

The design team is exploring a variety of new and traditional materials
The designers are exploring a variety of new and traditional materials

Structure, materials and more

The CALLUM team has a great relationship with Scottish firm Bridge of Weir, one of the best-rated leather suppliers to the auto industry. ‘We challenged ourselves with what we could do,’ says creative designer Aleck Jones. ‘We looked at about ten different material approaches for the chair.’ The jumping off point was the 1956 Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman, a long-standing icon but one which the designers feel could be made physically and visually lighter. As well as wood and carbon, the plan is to use wool and felt as part of the trim.

‘We have a trim shop in house, something that’s always been very close to my heart. The joy of materials is that there are a lot of new options out there today,’ Callum says, ‘the use of recycled fabrics is a big thing now. In automotive design we often defaulted to leather because durability levels in cars are extremely high.’ Furniture gives the design team many more choices. ‘I did an aircraft interior once,’ Callum recalls. ‘Oh, the regulations…’

Carbon fibre is paired with wood or recycled materials
The lounge chair usese carbon fibre paired with wood or recycled materials

The other facet the team is keen to explore is the structure of the chair. ‘I love the efficiency in structure. Of course, a chair doesn’t have to pass any kind of crash test, which is refreshing. But car seats are still extremely sophisticated things.’ In contrast, the lounge chair has a sinuous elegance concealing a steely core and a minimal material palette. Exposed carbon fibre is paired with wood or recycled material, with fabric designs that explore a familiar Callum design territory, the tartan. The chair and the two other upcoming designs will remain one-offs unless a customer – or customers – can be found. For now, Ian Callum is happy to be working in a more experimental, hands-on capacity. ‘If you physically build something and put it in front of people, it’s better than any number of images. We’re doing it to gauge the reaction.’

As well as the chair, there are a number of limited-edition Vanquish models to be assembled, and other automotive projects in the pipeline. CALLUM Designs looks to be honouring its founder’s desire to do something different. §