Could the Citroen DS’s reign as a supreme design object be coming to an end?
Swiss architect Christian Sumi’s new book is perhaps the final word on the creation, status and legacy of the remarkable automobile
The Citroen DS started the 20th century as the preeminent designer fetish object. Yet the last two decades have seen the fabled French automobile lose some of its lustre, as emerging young designers get less and less likely to include a car in the catalogue of things that inspire them. This new book is perhaps the final word on the creation, status and legacy of that remarkable automobile. Authored and illustrated by the Swiss architect Christian Sumi of Burkhalter Sumi, The Goddess – La Déesse is a piece companion to the British architects Alison and Peter Smithson’s book ‘AS in DS’, originally published in 1983 and re-released by Lars Müller in 2001, a new edition that was also edited by Sumi.
The DS’s legendary status is due to three things: Flaminio Bertoni’s design, the media circus that surrounded its unveiling in 1955, and — for the design-obsessive — the car’s inclusion in Roland Barthes’ Mythologies. Barthes declared the DS as the contemporary equivalent of a great gothic cathedral, a ‘purely magical object’ that has ‘fallen from the sky’. And finally there was the name: ‘DS’, a not-so-subtle play on the French word for ‘goddess’, practically demanded one bow down and worship at the car’s technical and aesthetic sophistication.
The book includes comprehensive archive imagery of Bertoni’s design approach together with extensive analysis of new studio photography demonstrating how the DS evolved over its lifespan and the detailing that still makes it so distinctive. Sumi and the Smithsons were not the only architects and designers to be smitten, but the car was also a popular hit and stayed in production for 20 years, with nearly 1.5 million models made. It continues to define Citroen — the company’s stand-alone sister brand is actually called ‘DS’ — and many are still on the road.
The final chapter features a series of images taken by Sumi of a DS graveyard in France, a field of these sleek wonders slowly rusting and being reclaimed by nature. Could the DS’s reign as a supreme design object be coming to an end? Although the name lives on, this book serves a fitting eulogy for an enduring symbol of consumer fetishism on its path from delight to decay. §