Omotenashi is a word that is used to describe the Japanese's unique approach to hospitality, in which guests are entertained wholeheartedly. Japanese automaker Lexus has built this concept into their vehicles by incorporating luxury materials, modern design, and functional use.
Interior designer Junko Itou is responsible for the unique approach to the 2018 Lexus LS500. When conceptualizing the vehicle's interior, she went to the pinnacle of Japanese craftsmanship: Takumi design. This vehicle, in particular, includes hand-pleated fabric, Kiriko cut glass, and "art wood." We spoke to the designer about her tireless approach to redefining Lexus's omotenashi.
What about the Lexus brand resonates with you and your work?
I resonate, particularly for LS, with two of the Lexus Differentiators “Takumi Craftsmanship” and “Brave Design”. I worked on LS color design with these two concepts in mind.
What is it about Japanese craftsmanship that separates itself from the rest of the world?
I can only speak to Japanese craftsmanship, but I believe obsessiveness to precision and attention to the detail is unique characteristics of Japanese craftsmanship.
Omotenashi, the Japanese “spirit of hospitality” is a big part of the Lexus brand. How do your designs affect this spirit of hospitality?
I always strive to make the Lexus customers’ lives richer and, therefore, make them happier through CMF (Color Material Finish). We are always thinking of what kind of life Lexus customers are dreaming to lead.
The interior design of the vehicle seems like it’s in movement, even when the vehicle isn’t. What aesthetic were you trying to achieve with the interior of the LS500? Can you describe the feeling you wanted to create?
That feeling comes through the Lexus design philosophy of “L-finesse.” L- finesse’s “L” signifies Leading edge. By combining two completely different essences: leading edge and finesse, we try to express new aesthetics via the LS 500 color design. There was no compromise in the process stemming from deeply rooted Japanese traditional aesthetics.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when asked to design the interior of the LS500? Did you have to make any compromises or though decisions?
The biggest challenge we faced in the color design was to apply artistic crafts such as Kiriko Cut Glasses and hand-crafted pleats into an industrial product. We did not regard this as a compromise but instead tried hard to achieve what we aimed for. Finally, we did it.
Female designers are still a rarity in the automotive industry. What does it mean to you to represent a group of people who are trying to break into the industry?
In the area of color design, my sense is that there are many female CMF designers at our company as opposed to, for example, car body-styling designers. In fact, more than half of CMF designers at our company are women and the composition has been in this way for quite some time.
Can you talk about the origami door paneling – where did the idea come from, and how is such a design produced?
We wanted to express three-dimensional representation in design using a single material. Then we came up with the origami idea. Origami is an art form using one piece of paper to create a three-dimensional object. Depending on how it is folded, it can create various designs. We decided to apply this technique but using fabric. So, this is how the handcrafted-pleats idea came from.
The pleats were realized in collaboration with a company located in Kyoto—the ancient capital of Japan where many traditional Japanese arts originated. The company specializes in the pleating process. Their technique transforms a flat piece of cloth/fabric into a new object: handcrafted pleats inlaid as door trim, lending 3-dimensionality in an unexpected application. Applying their pleats technique, craftsmen transformed a large piece of cloth into a handcrafted door trim piece providing a new and unique design value. Where we struggled the most in composing the design was the “pattern” of the pleats.
In order to suit the simple and elegant interior design flow of this new LS, it required to change pattern gradually from smaller to a larger pattern. I spent a lot of time and made a lot of effort to come up to the pattern that suits best the simple and elegant form of the new LS interior. I felt that the changing pattern gradually from smaller to larger was a must. We tried various patterns and found this as the best fit. Because of the thick fabric, the process needed to be achieved by hand not utilizing a machine at all. Therefore, in an 8-hour day, only 12 pieces can be created, which equates to having enough for just 3 cars. As you can imagine, it is extremely difficult to produce elements that are hand-crafted into an industrial product, and it was achieved through relentless effort through all the people involved in this project to realize it. It took us almost six years to create this piece into production form.
The inclusion of Kiriko cut-glass in the interior of the LS500 is considered a detail that is usually reserved for high-end luxury vehicles due to its complexity. Why did you decide to include the feature?
One of the images we wanted to express in design was the theme of resonance between fabric and lights. In order to express that best, we thought to use glass. Glass is a great material to exhibit a beautiful sensual scene created by lightings from various directions and its refraction.
The LS500 is supposed to represent a timeless design that owners will appreciate for years to come. What about the car’s design makes it timeless?
The important thing is simple: does one feel that is pretty and beautiful? Such feeling often comes from an absolute value on materials and innovative ideas beyond a conventional sense of what design in cars looks like. The balance between innovation and tradition is also important.
What is Takumi craftsmanship and why was it so necessary in the creation of the LS500?
Lexus strives to transform into a Luxury lifestyle brand with a design that stems from Japanese culture. For that, Takumi craftsmanship needed to be in every aspect of the LS500 development. All Lexus models have been crafted by highly skillful Takumi.