Book Review: Jaguar Design
The very history of Jaguar Cars is 'A Story of Style' - so can even an exhaustive tome such as this do justice to the rich heritage of this most styling-led of companies?
One thing is obvious the second one lays one’s eyes on Nick Hull’s Jaguar Design - A Story of Style: the book itself isn’t particularly stylish, which comes as a bit of a surprise, given not only its topic, but its very name.
The rather dated cover actually serves as a good preparation for what’s to come, as the book's layout is both somewhat confusing and not terribly aesthetically pleasing.
But even when dealing with a company that put style first from the day of its inception, one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover (or layout, for that matter). And even when merely browsing the 500 pages of Jaguar design history author, Nick Hull, - himself a former Jaguar stylist - has gathered up, it becomes abundantly clear that Mr Hull must have spent a fair few weeks down in the archives of Jaguar Land Rover and the British Motor Industry Heritage Trust.
The usual suspects, i.e. archive photos one can find through simple means, such as google searches or visits to certain online archives (such as aronline.co.uk), are there and presents, but also a fair few candid, formerly classified photographs that would probably have been forgotten, if Mr Hull hadn’t been as thorough and painstaking throughout the research process.
In addition to this, a great many of the main players are either quoted directly or portrayed in good detail by contemporaries, including the less well-known protagonists (such as Fred Gardner, Sir William Lyons’ 'styling interpreter' - the man in charge of turning the master’s ideas into actual forms). But the problem is that Mr Hull isn’t quite satisfied with letting the voices of these people speak for themselves, but feels compelled to evaluate and pigeonhole the roles of some of them.
Sir William himself, for example, isn’t being cast in the most flattering of lights, given his disorganised and impulsive management style. But at least he isn’t being mocked for any kind of physical shortcomings (no pun intended), which is the kind of treatment Mr Hull deems appropriate for Doug Thorpe, Jaguar’s chief designer during the 1970s. Thorpe is not only said to have been exceptionally unassertive a character and utterly misplaced in such a leading role, but is on more than one occasion the object of ridicule, due to his short build. However, what this knowledge is supposed to add to the reader’s understanding of the inner workings at Jaguar remains Mr Hull’s secret.
Even more disappointing though are the last two chapters. 'Jaguar design today‘ in particular is nothing other than marketing fluff masquerading as serious reporting - which isn’t surprising, given current Jaguar design boss, Ian Callum, wrote the foreword for Mr Hull’s book, not to mention the kind of support the author is likely to have received, courtesy of the current Jaguar management. But why this chapter is included at all, given the obvious limitations that come with writing about current corporate dealings, remains unclear. That part of the substantial price of this book went into such a dull, superficial section is actually quite frustrating to the reader, and that’s even before one comes across two double pages being devoted to what can, at best, be described as banal 'corporate artwork'.
Similarly stunning, it must be said, is some of the photography. A few recent PR photos are put right next to the contemporary pictures, some of which are aforementioned priceless archive images. Worse still, the author chose to include a few snapshots (flashlight reflections, wrong colour mode) that simply shouldn’t be printed in any professional publication - and definitely not in A Story of Style.
Nick Hull’s Jaguar Design should be the one Jaguar book to rule them all. That it falls short of this aim is not a disgrace itself, but certain elements - the obvious tendentiousness, the lack of visual flair - are hard to digest. Particularly as the obvious strengths of this tome, such as the depth of archive materials and direct quotes, are thus badly affected.
Enthusiasts of the marque will still need to have it on their Jaguar shelf. But they should leave a space next to it, for the definitive book on Jaguar design Jaguar Design isn’t.
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