Paul Smith blends ‘sustainability and perfect imperfection’ in the new MINI Strip

Designed as a one-off electric vehicle model featuring an innovative material palette, the MINI Strip adopts circular design and sustainability as its core parameters.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Sep 20, 2021

Bare yet dressed. Raw yet refined. Simple yet intricate. These are a few of the paradoxical qualities embedded within the MINI Strip - the product of a collaboration between British designer Sir Paul Smith and iconic automotive marque MINI. Unveiled at an exclusive preview in London, in August 2021, the project was first announced in November 2020. Reinterpreting the classic MINI Cooper SE, the MINI Strip is a one-off electric vehicle model that boasts a Smith-designed interface, interiors, and body, channelling ‘simplicity, transparency, and sustainability' into an automobile design that blends MINI’s distinctive aesthetics with Smith’s own penchant for combining tradition and modernity.

  • Paul Smith co-designed the one-off electric vehicle model | MINI Strip by Paul Smith | STIRworld
    Paul Smith co-designed the one-off electric vehicle model Image: © BMW AG, Munich (Germany)
  • Oliver Heilmer, Head of MINI Design, and Paul Smith discussing the MINI Strip’s design | MINI Strip by Paul Smith | STIRworld
    Oliver Heilmer, Head of MINI Design, and Paul Smith discussing the MINI Strip’s design Image: © BMW AG, Munich (Germany)

Commenting on the unique nature of their collaboration in a press statement, Oliver Heilmer, Head of MINI Design, relays that “Paul asked essential questions right at the start of the design process with his fresh, non-automotive perspective.” As evidenced in its name, the MINI Strip’s design process commenced with the literal and figurative ‘stripping’ down of a three-door MINI Cooper SE to its bare essentials. Smith remarks in an official release, “I know and love the existing car, but by respecting the past and looking to the future we have created something very special and truly unique, by going back to basics and reducing things down.” This guiding principle of ‘maximum reduction’ led to a radical reimagination of the original vehicle, resulting in an elegant, minimal design with an offbeat charm.

Conceptual sketch of the MINI Strip | MINI Strip by Paul Smith | STIRworld
Conceptual sketch of the MINI Strip Image: © BMW AG, Munich (Germany)

In the vehicle’s exterior, this concept is reflected in the unprocessed state of the body, where a coloured paint finish was discarded in favour of a raw look - safeguarded only by a thin layer of transparent paint for corrosion protection. To identify the car as a ‘functional object and robust companion for everyday life', grinding marks from the manufacturing process were retained on the galvanised steel panels of the body, culminating in an effect that Smith describes as the ‘perfect imperfection'. The British designer’s passion for modifying bicycles is reflected in the visible screws in add-on parts to the main body, meant to signify the simplicity of dismantling and repurposing the vehicle’s components at the end of its life cycle. MINI’s instantly recognisable black band was 3D-printed in sections from recycled plastic, as were the distinctive rear and front apron inserts.

  • The finished exterior has a raw look without a colour paint finish | MINI Strip by Paul Smith | STIRworld
    The finished exterior has a raw look without a colour paint finish Image: © BMW AG, Munich (Germany)
  • Visible screws incorporated into the design were inspired by Smith’s passion for modifying bicycles | MINI Strip by Paul Smith | STIRworld
    Visible screws incorporated into the design were inspired by Smith’s passion for modifying bicycles Image: © BMW AG, Munich (Germany)

Recycled perspex was used to make the grille trim and aerodynamic wheel covers, which aid in reducing drag and extending the electric vehicle’s range. In addition, the panoramic roof was also made of recycled perspex, allowing a glimpse of the peculiar interior design within the shell. Smith chose to remove virtually all the trim parts of the car’s body shell - with the exception of the dashboard, topper pad and parcel shelf, leaving only the bare essence of the structure behind. The shell was also painted an intense shade of blue at Smith’s behest, to exert a unique identity of its own. Embodying the British designer’s ‘classic with a twist’ philosophy, the design incorporates playful details such as the signature five-coloured Paul Smith stripes on the insides of the door, as well as a charging flap with an engraved drawing of an electric plug, which reveals a burst of neon green when opened.

  • Recycled perspex was used to make the grille trim, wheel covers, and panoramic roof | MINI Strip by Paul Smith | STIRworld
    Recycled perspex was used to make the grille trim, wheel covers, and panoramic roof Image: © BMW AG, Munich (Germany)
  • The designers stripped away most of the add-ons to the body shell of the MINI Cooper SE while developing the vehicle | MINI Strip by Paul Smith | STIRworld
    The designers stripped away most of the add-ons to the body shell of the MINI Cooper SE while developing the vehicle Image: © BMW AG, Munich (Germany)
  • The body shell was then painted an intense shade of blue | MINI Strip by Paul Smith | STIRworld
    The body shell was then painted an intense shade of blue Image: © BMW AG, Munich (Germany)

An extensive, semi-transparent section with a smoked-glass finish, constitutes the majority of the dashboard. Here, Smith drew inspiration from MINI's preference for circular elements. Doing away with traditional configurations, the Strip instead employs a circular altar to accommodate the driver’s smartphone as the de facto media control centre. Aside from the toggle switches for power windows and the stop/start function located in the centre stack, the elaborate system of controls normally seen in modern automobiles is absent - replaced instead by a geometric and graphical design theme.

Playful details such as the signature Paul Smith five-colour stripes liven up the design | MINI Strip by Paul Smith | STIRworld
Playful details such as the signature Paul Smith five-colour stripes liven up the design Image: © BMW AG, Munich (Germany)

Leather and chrome are completely absent from the interiors, and in this vein, the MINI Strip’s sustainable design credentials are underpinned by a variety of environment friendly materials it features. Seats are upholstered in a knitted fabric, and dashboard topper pad, door shoulders, and parcel shelf are made of recycled cork. Featuring a terrazzo-esque pattern in black and blue, the floor mats showcase the heterogeneous composition of the material used in their manufacturing, which creates a tantalising play of texture and colour.

  • Recycled cork and rubber were used in the interior finishes for the dashboard and floor mats respectively | MINI Strip by Paul Smith | STIRworld
    Recycled cork and rubber were used in the interior finishes for the dashboard and floor mats respectively Image: © BMW AG, Munich (Germany)
  • The MINI Strip’s design discarded traditional control layouts in favour of a geometric, graphical theme | MINI Strip by Paul Smith | STIRworld
    The MINI Strip’s design discarded traditional control layouts in favour of a geometric, graphical theme Image: © BMW AG, Munich (Germany)

Another hint towards Smith’s affection for bicycles is seen in the handlebar tape-wrapped steering wheel rim, which has been reduced to its simplest functions. Connected to the rim by a trio of aluminium spokes, the steering wheel’s impact absorber possesses a mesh covering which allows drivers to see the airbag it contains. Visible screws have also been used here, as an extension of the theme from the vehicle’s exterior. Door panels feature the same mesh seen in the steering, exhibiting fluctuations in transparency when viewed from different angles. Bright streaks of orange from the seat belts and door handles made of wound climbing rope liven up the space, complemented by the circular door openers made of milled aluminium.

  • Conceptual detail of the dashboard design | MINI Strip by Paul Smith | STIRworld
    Conceptual detail of the dashboard design Image: © BMW AG, Munich (Germany)
  • Conceptual detail of the steering wheel | MINI Strip by Paul Smith | STIRworld
    Conceptual detail of the steering wheel Image: © BMW AG, Munich (Germany)

MINI views the car as possessing the potential to provide a catalyst for the sustainable use of resources in automotive design, and it might not be too much of a stretch to think so. Circular design and sustainability were key parameters driving the collaboration from its very genesis, and are reflected in virtually every detail of the final product. The result is an inside-out aesthetic tempered by classical sensibility - merging the best of both Smith and MINI’s styles to create something truly inimitable.

Bright orange flashes in the door handles and seat belts contrast the darker hues of the seats upholstered in knitted fabric | MINI Strip by Paul Smith | STIRworld
Bright orange flashes in the door handles and seat belts contrast the darker hues of the seats upholstered in knitted fabric Image: © BMW AG, Munich (Germany)

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