Chevrolet Dazzles the City of Light

Any mention of baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie zips the mind straight to Chevrolet. But because these all-American icons lose their flavor on the trip across the Atlantic, some translation is necessary for continental consumption. On the eve of this year’s Paris Motor Show press day, Chevy expressed its spirit through couture, canines, and classic cars.

Chevy’s European arm hosted a memorable evening featuring dog and pony shows as the prelude to a haute couture extravaganza called the Chevrolet Fashion Catwalk. Given that Paris was concurrently hosting the world’s most celebrated fashion week, the timing was perfect.

The opening act consisted of a highly trained white steed dancing a repertoire of trots, gallops, gaits, and canters. A second equine pawed hooves in the air as if to say that Ferrari isn’t the only brand paying homage to animals put out to pasture by the automobile.

Held at Paris’s Theatre du Merveilleux in the Pavillons de Bercy, this pageant was built around a festival of vintage and contemporary Chevies. The golden oldies were a 1931 touring car (the first Chevy with four-wheel brakes), a ’57 Bel Air convertible (celebrating the small block V-8’s move from 265 to 283 cubic inches), a ’63 split-window Corvette Sting Ray coupe, and a ’76 Camaro in fashionable bumble-bee attire (the very car that starred in two Transformer movies).

The point of the exercise was to preview the four Chevrolets that would bow the following day for European sale: a Captiva cross-over (known as Equinox in the US), a hatch-back edition of the compact Cruze (deemed unpalatable for US customers), a fully refreshed Aveo (which we’ll see next year), and an Orlando seven-passenger wagon (the star model expected to be a hit in Europe but also not intended for US consumption).

Not to be left out, the subcompact Spark — the first modern Chevy introduced in Europe — also served a major role in the evening. There were four special Art Sparks standing in as vibrant static displays. One was revamped inside and out by Mischa Woeste, a Berlin-based lead designer for the Smeilinener label who used flamingoes, dragons, fish, and butterflies in her design. The second car, called the Spark DJ, was a working mobile disco system developed by a team of British audio engineers. The third set piece was a Spark Woody Wagon dressed by GM designers in a sixties surfin’ safari theme.

The fourth Spark literally set the stage for one of the evening’s featured events. This is the fourth year the bow-tie brand has hosted a Young Creative Chevrolet contest which celebrates emerging talent in four applied arts disciplines: fashion, music, photography, and video/visual arts. A total of 135 schools located in 20 countries were first winnowed down to 47 national-level finalists. A dozen judges then selected one winner and two runners-up for all four applied arts categories. The winning individuals and teams earned cash prizes and a ‘witness’ trip — opportunities to work with top pros in their respective disciplines on an actual project.

With the Chevy Spark serving as their canvas, the student artists were challenged to create innovative audio-visual presentations with the potential of establishing this small, affordable car as an object of desire for youthful customers. That they did. The visual arts winner by Jose Rocha of Portugal featured electrifying red-yellow-and-white exterior graphics that have already made the leap to a Spark used to pace a World Touring Car Championship at Brands Hatch in England. The same car returned to Paris to participate in Chevy’s Fashion Catwalk event.

To win the fashion-category prize, Jungeon Eom’s brief was to design a futuristic outfit consistent with the Volt, Chevy’s most technologically advanced production car. Eom’s form-fitting jump suit featured strategically located tire-tracks held together by a network of basic black panels. The tall, thin model wore the apparel proudly not only on the Fashion Catwalk but also the next day throughout Chevrolet’s Paris show press conference.

Austrian Daniel Kovacs won the first prize in the music category with a tune that played repeatedly through the evening’s show. For the video segment, a team of five French artists created animations and a sound track for an evening’s prowl by a youthful crew through an urban environment of the future. The judges concluded that Hugo Charpentier, Adrien Bakedji, Remy Mattei, Miliaon Topsy, and Cyril Taillat will surely prosper someday as feature film makers.

In the photography category, the contest was to draw the attention of the European lifestyle press to the Spark’s charm. Four photographers from England’s Burton College triumphed by composing an image with a Spark posing as the center-striped star between two fair-haired damsels. The lighting on the car was nicely executed to draw the eye of the beholder to the Spark’s youthful, energetic spirit.

Grand Couturier Frank Sorbier, the master artist who orchestrated the Fashion Catwalk, had some tough acts to follow. For his feature event, each of the vintage Chevrolets rolled center stage with lanky legged models adorned in his haute couture. Each occupant exited the cars with a pedigreed canine accompaniment.

The show’s final act was the new Chevy Orlando painted a chic charcoal granite hue and containing a family of seven — two fashionable adults with their four young children. Each wore a variation of a woman’s trench coat made of wool satin and silk printed with silver ink-jet and contrasting textured pigments. The mother wore a black tulle net slip under her fabric coat while the father’s cinched leather coat was complimented by a black pullover and trousers. The girls wore cardigan tops with black cotton skirts over tulle slips while the boys were decked out with hooded sweaters and black trousers accented in the silver ink-jet and sterling silver theme.

Sorbier first achieved Parisian haute couture acclaim in 1987. His initial 1991 fashion collection generated strong demand from high-end buyers. He was invited to join the Federation Francaise de la Couture de Pret-a-porter and, in 1999, became a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisiene. The French Ministry of Culture awarded Sorbier a Chevalier des Artes et des Lettres in 2004. He was further distinguished with a Grand Couturier title the following year. Expanding his horizons, Sorbier has created designs for the opera, popular music artists, and well known commercial product brands. Last year he branched into internet fashion shows earning additional recognition and acclaim. He also wrote and directed his first movie which celebrated recent changes in haute couture. He has recently ventured into home interior decor with his creation of silverware portraits made of recycled plates and cutlery.

To cap off the evening, Chevrolet Europe toasted its first century of car making by donating 100 cars to the SOS Children’s Villages International charity. This Wheels for Kids partnership between Chevy dealers, the manufacturer, and customers will provide both mobility and cash to support the charity when some of the cars are sold. SOS Children’s Villages is an independent organization operating in 132 countries that has so far hosted 73,000 youngster in 887 facilities. Families in distress are aided with material, psychological, and social support.

Chevrolet Europe’s celebrations of the arts and goodwill efforts are clearly working. After the brand was relaunched in 2005, sales soon doubled to half-a-million cars. By the end of 2011, the lineup will include the Spark, Aveo, Cruze, Captiva, Camaro, Corvette, Orlando, and Volt. By the middle of the decade, Chevrolet Europe’s president and managing director Wayne Brannon hopes to raise his brand’s coverage from 25- to 67-percent of the local product categories. His goal is an ambitious million sales per year.

So you might say Chevy has come home. Louis Chevrolet, a Swiss-born, French-raised mechanic and racer who help found this brand, would be proud.