When European car brand MINI asked fashion designer Paul Smith to collaborate on a one-off version of the Cooper SE to celebrate the release of the new electric model, they received an unexpectedly minimalist result in the form of the MINI STRIP. Using the guiding concepts of “simplicity, transparency, [and] sustainability,” Smith pared back every possible detail in the car’s interior and exterior to make “a statement about rethinking sustainability in a more lateral way.”
The fashion designer started with a trip to Munich, where he had asked MINI in advance “to completely strip out a car and collect the materials that are recycled and recyclable.” Smith said that this provided “a big list of various items, from boxes of rope to the seat cover and more. This stripped out car was so gorgeous inside. It just had nothing in it. I thought that it was lovely this way and questioned why don’t we keep the MINI as close to this bare essence as possible.”
MINI’s head of design Oliver Heilmer was happy with Smith’s direction from the outset. He explains that “for me, the MINI STRIP shows in an impressive way that MINI and Paul Smith share the same bold way of thinking about the future in terms of innovation and design – and together we create more. Paul asked essential questions right at the start of the design process with his non-automotive, and therefore fresh, perspective.”
The minimalist MINI STRIP has an unpainted body that boasts only a transparent protective coat, leaving the grinding marks from the manufacturing process visible to highlight the “perfect imperfection.” Smith also left screws exposed on the wheel arches and on the steering wheel for an “essentials only” look. The blue-coated interior covers electrical wires loosely with mesh, allowing access to them as needed.
And anything that he replaced, Smith tried to substitute with recycled or recyclable materials. The front and rear bumpers were constructed from 3D printed reprocessed plastic, while the wheel covers, grill trim, and transparent roof were made from recycled Perspex. Instead of utilizing leather, the seats are covered in a knitted fabric composed of reconditioned fibers, and the floor mats come from reused rubber. The dashboard and doors got a similar treatment in sustainable cork.
“One of the elements that we are really proud of is the use of the cork. Cork, as you know, can be extracted without killing the tree. Then, when you actually mold the material, its natural sap becomes the glue, and so, it realizes in a very organic method,” Smith adds.
The designer kept the aluminum door handles but also added pull handles made from bright orange climbing rope for the “make-do” aesthetic. He also ditched the buttons and switches of the steering wheel, covering the center with mesh to expose the airbag and wrapping the rim in handlebar tape.
The car’s iconic center console was removed and replaced with a space for a smartphone to provide all necessary information. The only electrical controls remaining are the start/stop button and the window switches.
Smith says the MINI STRIP still represents luxury in its own way, noting that “the whole concept of luxury is very different. it has changed drastically in the last 20 years; it is now all about perspective… as a creator it is a matter of being confident to experiment.”
He adds that “it’s a way of valuing things that are not usually valued. It’s the principle of making good and getting by.”