Yorgo Tloupas is a busy guy, and if you’re into design, you’ve likely heard of him. If not, he’s the Art Director of his own design studio, Yorgo&Co., based in Paris. He’s also the Art Director of the French Vanity Fair, as well as for the ski brand, Black Crows, that he co-founded with skiers Camille Jaccoux and Bruno Compagnet. He’s also the mind behind INTERSECTION magazine.
In his studio he’s created templates for Louis Vuitton’s magazine, designed the French editions of GQ and Vanity Fair, and he recently helped redesign the identities of Artcurial, Martell, and Yves Saint Laurent. He’s owned a 1981 Honda Prelude Hondamatic complete with French dashboard labels for about ten years now, and he recently bought an Alfa Romeo 159 SW V6 3.2 Q4 Q-tronic TI. It’s way longer to spell than say “Audi RS4,” but this car is also beautiful, and I thought this pair of cars were some pretty tasteful drivers that were not the most common duo either, so I decided to call Yorgo to see if he was interested in sharing.
I caught up with him at his place in the 18th Arrondissement of Paris, just in front of the Sainte-Geneviève des Carrières church. He bought a pretty little two-floor house and added two floors to it back in 2014 with Bump Architectes. The result, Saganaki House, is pretty original and cool as long as you don’t break a leg on the staircase!
A friend of his passed by during our chat to grab a couple of chairs made by Yorgo’s late father, Greek sculptor Philolaos Tloupas, for a photoshoot of their own. After that, we took his cars for a spin. The Honda Prelude was parked at the door of his house, as it always is whenever he’s not driving it. She’s suffered some dings and bumps parked out there for so many years, and Yorgo thinks it may be time for a restoration, but not quite yet.
Later we went to grab his Alfa Romeo, parked in a garage that he rents to the diocese just on the other side of the street. After taking a few photos with the snow calming down, we went back inside to talk around cups of Greek coffee, and Yorgo showed me a few of the books he has collaborated on or has been inspired by over the years, like this remote-control book that BMW had made some years ago.
Romuald Clariond: So how did you come into this “car thing”?
Yorgo Tloupas: Like every little boy I liked cars when I was a kid, and I first had a passion for Honda. My first three cars were Hondas, and my fourth is that Alfa. I was working in the art, fashion, and design world in Paris, and I’d noticed that everyone in my environment seemed to be big car fans, whether artists, architects, musicians—they all had a passion for cars, but no-one would buy a car magazine back then. It was taboo, a bit cheesy… They would not even recognize they were into cars, but secretly they had a car collection so… So I decided to start a magazine to talk to these people and about these people which is how I started INTERSECTION with Dan Ross and Rankin back in 2001. It’s been quite a funny adventure for the last fifteen plus years, trying to talk about cars without knowing much about them. I’m more about aesthetics, and pleasure, and the experience, than the performance and stats.
RC: You were in London back then, right?
YT: Yes, we started in London. Dan has been very active on launching foreign editions, so at some point, when print publications were still a valuable thing, we had something like 13 editions throughout Australia, Italy, Russia, Germany, France, Dubai… the USA of course… It’s been a fantastic experience, because we met so many people—car designers, architects, all types. I remember going to interview the architect Zaha Hadid in London, where she had her own black-cab. Which is legal, you can have your black-cab. She had a driver, always using the bus lanes, so she was always quicker than anyone to the next meeting. She was quite big, and super stylish with her Issey Miyake black outfit matching her black-cab… we were always meeting people like this. It was a way to touch people, talking about cars. Like this time we interviewed Karl Lagerfeld. No-one had ever talked to him about cars before.
RC: Oh right… he said it was the Vogue of the automotive world!
YT: Yeah! And he was really excited to talk about something different for once. He showed us his cars and did a self-portrait with this big GMC van he had in France, showed us his kind of golf-cart thing he had in his property in Biarritz. We used cars as a conversation starter, in a way. To talk about something else, really.
It was not only about taste either, it was also about the relationship with culture. We did a lot of stuff about the car culture in Iran for example: how young people in Iran used cars back then as meeting points. You couldn’t meet up in bars, because boys and girls were not supposed to be seen together. So they would be driving and giving each others through the windows, sending phone numbers, and then speaking through the phone afterwards. There are so many ways that you can observe society through cars. That’s what we were doing. There was also a feature about Palestinian female racing drivers that I’ve even seen on the BBC since then. It’s a matter of culture, and even religion in that case. But we’ve been using cars as a pretext for it.
RC: Nowadays you’re less involved because you are a very busy designer in other capacities, is that right?
YT: Yes, I’m less involved now because I have many other jobs to do! I’m the Art Director of Vanity Fair in France, I have a design studio, I’m the co-founder and co-owner of a ski brand called Black Crows. I’ve also shifted the way I use cars. I don’t drive that much anymore, I cycle almost everywhere in Paris. Nowadays, I see cars as a hobby and less as utility. I have my old Honda still of course, which I use sometimes just because it’s cool and fun to drive. I use my Alfa for longer road trips, as it fits as many skis, or surfboards, or bicycles as I need. But around Paris, as much as I can, I take my bicycle.
I don’t skateboard anymore more than once a year, but I still snowboard, ski, surf… That’s why I’ve bought this car, I wanted an estate car to put my stuff in the back, a 4WD to be able to drive in the snow to Chamonix where I have an office, and I wanted it to be fast too. These three things reduced the possible choices quite a bit, and then if you add in the fact I’m not very keen on German cars, it reduces even more of course! So it left me with Subarus, Volvos, and maybe a few French cars…
It took me a year and a half to look throughout Europe, on every website, every day, every morning. I was checking, checking, checking… And finally this very specific model came up. An Alfa Romeo 159 estate, so SW for “Station Wagon,” with a V6, 3.2 liters, Q4 because it’s a 4WD, and I wanted the TI finish that included the lower suspension, bigger wheels, and a better interior. That combination of TI, Q4, V6 3.2 was almost impossible to find for a while. When the car came up, I contacted the guy immediately.
The other day I was in my 159 around Chamonix and I saw a car sliding down sideways in the snow, I thought it was gonna hit the barrier. That was a Stelvio. The problem with SUVs, if you don’t have snow-tires, you’ve got a huge heavy thing high up, and if you don’t know how to drive, there’s no point having a SUV… you hit the wall! To me the Stelvio is a problem, because it means that Alfa Romeo is not going to make an estate Giulia Quadrifoglio, which would have been my next car. But if they do make one, definitely I’m going to have one!
RC: It’s hard to believe this Alfa 159 is about ten years old now; what do you think of car design nowadays?
YT: It’s so subjective. I’m super precise in what I like, and sometimes you might be quite surprised in what I could like. In general car design now is a bit disappointing, but there are good surprises. Like the new Alpine, I think it’s a great, great design. I have nothing bad to say about it, which is quite rare!
RC: And it’s a great car to drive also! I can attest to that.
YT: I also like weird stuff like the Nissan Cube, which was a complete failure from a commercial point of view. But I think it looks really cool. I still like new Aston Martins, most of them. The pedestrian safety standards and all those things have made all the cars look more or less the same. They have to, technically. You end up with quite a generic design story, you know… Sometimes I surprise people when I say so, but I really like the Citroën C4 Cactus, with the air-bumps on the side, I think it’s just brilliant. Colors were great, and…
RC: And they stopped it! I loved this design too!
YT: Yeah, I was thinking about it… in the end, you can’t fight against the bad taste of masses. If people don’t buy it and say at the dealership they’d have bought it without the plastic thing on the side, what can you do? I think it was great, it was brilliant, it was practical, funny, the colors were fantastic… Only thing, the headlamps could have been a little different on the first Cactus, but still a great car.
RC: Getting more high-level, what pockets of mobility inspire you nowadays? I think for example of our friend Alex Roy, who’s exploring electric and autonomous cars more and more like so many others lately.
YT: I think we’re at a big turning point, we don’t know what things are gonna look like on the road in ten years. I literally don’t know! May be we’ll all be driving autonomous cars, and we’ll be playing video games while the car drives on the highway.
RC: Would you like that?
YT: I don’t know… If it’s safe enough, sure! But you know, I still take great pleasure in driving too. I mostly drive for pleasure now. I don’t commute, I don’t have to, so if I drive it’s gonna be for pleasure. This week I’m going to Chamonix: I could have taken the train, but I’m gonna drive. So that I can take my snowboard, my skis and stuff, and because I like to have my car with me when I’m in the mountains. It’s just such a fun thing to drive on snow!
Would it be the same with an autonomous car? Probably, if I could sleep on the way to the Alps, and then take control of my car again when I get there? And if it’s a Tesla with crazy power, obviously it will be funny to drive in the mountains right?
But design-wise, I think Tesla has made a mistake. They’ve decided to be super generic, to not scare people, which is exactly the opposite of what Toyota did with the first Prius. They decided to make it kind of crazy, so that people can feel proud to have it and feel different. Tesla did exactly the opposite: let’s make it super normal, looking like a Mazda or a Ford, literally. From not all that far away, a Tesla is not that different looking to me.
RC: From a design point of view still, what’s your all-time podium of cars?
YT: My favorite is the Aston Martin Lagonda, from the ’70s. The design is just… wow! If I could have that car and have it be reliable today, that would be my car!
RC: Or maybe the Roos Engineering shooting brake version! So number two on your podium?
YT: Number two… I don’t know… just three cars? It’s super difficult! The Defender, the last limited edition they did was incredibly good looking, you can’t have better taste than that today. White roof, green body, white wheels… Then I don’t know, all the angular Lamorghinis are good, mean, minimal too in many ways… But I would say the Renault Twingo. The first generation. No car has ever been so different from the rest and thought-out better. When you’re inside that Twingo, you feel you have more space than in a Mercedes S Class! It was just crazy! And you could sleep in it! I’ve done so many kilometers in my mom’s Twingo! I loved it!
RC: Yes, the orange one! I remember this one picture with your orange hair in the orange Twingo!
YT: When they were about to launch it, Renault looked at French people to figure their favorite car color. They determined that it was white, so they’d done a whole range without white. First they had…
RC: There was this purplish, blue, froggy green, pink…
YT: Yes, and none of them were metallic. They were… opaque! There was a mustard as well. They were just so cool! Patrick Le Quément was the head of Renault’s design at this time. So yes, Aston Martin Lagonda, Land Rover Defender, and a Renault Twingo… imagine that car-park with those three!
RC: I’d love to find a first-generation Twingo in mint condition too. It’s an important car, a game-changer. You’ve been working in the automotive industry for some other projects than the magazine too right? I remember this installation for the launch of the Range Rover Evoque for instance.
YT: That was interesting, but even more is what we did for the launch of the Alfa Romeo Brera. We asked six fashion designers to do a car cover for the launch of the Brera, which is almost the same car as the one I have today. We had six designers: Martin Margiela from Paris, Adam Kimmel from New York, Visvim from Tokyo, Ksubi from Sydney, Richard James from London, and Bless from Berlin. They all made a different car cover for the same car. Giugiaro had designed a beautiful car, and everybody did something very unique with it.
The Range Rover Evoque was an interesting car too, it was pretty much looking like a concept car on the road, especially the two-door one. There was another one that made me feel the same… but for me it was the first Audi TT that had blown me away when it was released. Then they sell too many of them, you see too many of them, so it’s not as cool anymore.
RC: Do you think you would like to design a car?
YT: It’s too difficult, you know… Marc Newson designed the 021C concept car for Ford, almost twenty years ago… It’s a super good looking car, it could be on the market today. But it’s so heavy in the automotive industry, you have a designer, plus a designer, plus the engineers… Marc Newson didn’t manage to design a car, so how would I? But yes, it would be interesting! Headlamps are, to me, the problem today. Looking like mean robots… thin, complicated. Just make round headlights! Look at my car: three round headlights, and that’s it!
RC: Or the Alpine A110…
YT: Yeah. Design-wise, I’d like to be a consultant on some cars, but I don’t have any hope… maybe my taste is too angular besides the headlight shape!
RC: Then you could apply at Lamborghini!
YT: I like even more angular: Chevrolet Caprice! Tac… square! I think Volvo should own squareness, they should go back to squareness. But it’s difficult today with aerodynamics.
RC: Next to your podium of Lagonda, Defender, and Twingo, what would you drive ultimately, if you could pick anything as a daily driver?
YT: My Alfa. As a daily driver you can’t beat it, really. If Aston Martin had made a shooting-brake of the Rapide, that would be interesting. But if it comes to just driving, Caterham CSR 260. The only time in my life I’ve had the blurred-vision!
RC: That would be a nice diverse setup wouldn’t it? From Twingo to track car? Thank you for talking with me today Yorgo, I enjoyed catching up!