MEN’S FASHION: Design director Max Wolff is overseeing the rebirth of the Lincoln

MEN'S FASHION: RenaissanceMan
Photography by Jess Baumung

MEN'S FASHION: RenaissanceMan
Photography by Jess Baumung

The interior features leather in a perforated pattern that suggests bubbles rising in a glass of champagne. The exterior is the colour of cognac, with a base coat covered in multiple clear layers that impart an intoxicating shine. And the front is spanned by a grille that’s like the wings of an eagle in flight.

Looking at this new Lincoln MKZ Concept—unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January and presented at the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto in February—it’s clear that Lincoln is aiming high.

Derrick Kuzak, Ford Motor Company group vice-president for global product development, acknowledged in a January press release, “With the Lincoln MKZ Concept, we are not introducing a new car. We are essentially introducing a new brand.”

“It’s a tremendous responsibility,” says Max Wolff, who, at the age of 38, joined Lincoln as director of design at the beginning of last year. He heads an all-new studio dedicated to the reinvention of the iconic luxury brand.

No one is disputing that the time for reinvention had come. In January, Business Week ran a story that pointed
to Lincoln’s declining sales, its geezer demographic and, as an example of further indignity, the 1970s-era Continental that carried the coffin of North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il.

In restoring Lincoln to a more debonair image, Wolff looked back to earlier heydays: the Zephyr of the 1930s and the Continental of the early ’60s, which, says Wolff, “stood apart as much for what it didn’t do as for what it did do.”

What it didn’t do was go in for the decorative fins that were then all the rage. Likewise, the MKZ Concept avoids what Wolff calls “surface entertainment.” Instead, it features sleek lines and an understated attitude that nonetheless announces that, as Wolff puts it, “It’s not going to be pushed around.”

Wolff’s words reflect a passion for cars that he’s had since he was a boy growing up in Australia, when he used to spend his time drawing pictures of them. Having worked for General Motors in Australia, Korea and the U.S. before taking a job with Ford, he still believes in automobile design as an example of art for everyday living.

But while his spiky hair and what he calls “the unkempt sort of half-beard thing” imply an artistic streak, Wolff gratefully admits that technology is a boon to design. Directing attention to the interior of the MKZ Concept, Wolff explains that there is no mechanical linkage between the transmission and the gearshift, which makes possible a full-length centre console. This offers a customer more places to put things, and Wolff proudly declares it to be “an amazing piece of sculpture.”

A production model of the MKZ Concept is scheduled to arrive in dealerships later this year, and plans are in the works for seven more all-new or significantly refreshed Lincoln models. Wolff promises, “The best is yet to come.” 

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