One of the side effects of living during a pandemic is that we are all zooming around a lot more. No, no, not just on our video conference calls, but in cars. A 2020 survey of 25,000 Americans by the Institute for Business Value found that 17% planned to use their personal cars more as a result of COVID. Since we started to get vaccinated in early 2021, passenger vehicle travel has been on the rise in the United States per the Bureau of Transportation Services. That means more time in a car—and the need to dress for it.
Fashion has been swift to meet the demand, of course. A devilish sports car has always required a wardrobe to match, whether you’re James Bond pairing Tom Ford with an Aston Martin or Kendall Jenner roaming Los Angeles in an acid yellow tank and a vintage lilac Cadillac Eldorado. Ferrari launched its own ready-to-wear collection and Rhude linked up with Maclaren and Formula 1. Now Heron Preston is shifting into gear with a first-of-its-kind collaboration with Mercedes Benz that upcycles airbags for a collection that fuses performance with protection. Each piece is unique and will be given away in a contest on GOAT starting September 10.
While Preston didn’t have the chance to witness a crash test himself—those are held just outside Mercedes’s central facility in Stuttgart, Germany—he did spend time in the factory town and the factories themselves. It was there he realized that rather than just use the airbag fabric in interesting ways, he should incorporate airbag technology into the garments. “I really challenged my team to figure out how we could inflate the clothes and puff up and deflate the jackets on demand,” he explained. The result is a miniature airbag inside the bombers that allows for instant volume—or instant minimization—depending on the user’s preference.
If those puffed-up jackets veer dramatic—perhaps not everyone will find the need for a circular hooded HPxMB cape?—other pieces in the collection are more aligned with Preston’s ready-to-wear propositions. There are loose cargo trousers and slim corsets alongside a classic tote. “As a material, the air bag is very durable and it has some weight to it,” he said. “It honestly reminded me of the workwear materials I had been incorporating into my collections; it’s a lot like the Cordura I had been using in recent collections. So as soon as I felt it, I immediately started to visualize pieces that could make sense.”
The capsule collection is made, Preston estimates, from hundreds of Mercedes Benz airbags. He chose to leave them unadorned and undyed, save for a special Heron Preston label. He said, “98% of what you see is authentic to the actual airbags. I preserved as much as I could; I didn’t want to change too much. I kept the integrity all there.”
That idea of purity and honesty of design is something Preston arrived at during the pandemic, inspired by—ahem, aptly—driving around New York in his Mercedes Benz G-Wagon. “I’ve been really studying human beings and looking at what people are wearing in the streets when I drive around every day,” he said. His new fashion ideal has less to do with logos and buzz, and more to do with creating something seasonless that a wearer could “fall in love with and never change.” He debuted the concept first in a new line of essentials for Calvin Klein and plans to bring it to his eponymous collection in coming seasons. Until then, look for his airbag couture in the driver’s seat while you cruise down the WSH, PCH, or any other fashionable street this fall.