Black Label, part 1: Lincoln defines luxury… once again.

Part 1, Lincoln defines luxury… once again.

Every year, major brands such as Lincoln tour the regular auto-show circuit to give visibility to their new models, reach out to local audiences and keep the media up-to-date with their plans and results. Problem is, there is always a lot happening under the glowing lights of American convention halls and, whether you’re a potential buyer, an enthusiast or a journalist, time is always counted.

Over the summer though, it all changes, and local events such as the Woodward Dream Cruise and Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance to name just two marry the sunny blessings of vacation sites with a more intimate experience for the visitor. There, among unique examples of old-time coachwork and legendary concept-cars, the top manufacturers of today display exclusive models to the discerning eye.

Last August, at the 2013 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in Monterey, CA, the Lincoln Motor Company did exactly that when it officially released details surrounding its new line of designer-clad models, the Black Label.

Lincoln Black Label Vehicles - Modern Heritage Theme

2013 Lincoln MKZ with the Modern Heritage theme

It’s fair to say that everybody, young and old, knows Lincoln’s history of successful Designer Series, which debuted in 1976 on the Continental Mark IV and were retired in 2004 with the last redesign of the Town Car. For years, on sedans as well as coupes, they represented the top of the line in American luxury, a touch of often-European flair on Detroit’s biggest and brightest.

Initially, the concept was introduced by American Motors with the 1972 Hornet Gucci Sportabout, followed in some respect in 1973 by the Gremlin’s Levi’s interior trim package, and perhaps most notably the 1974 Oleg Cassini Matador. On a marketing level, the collaboration with a famed designer brought much-needed visibility for AMC, reaching far beyond the usual car buyer and into the general public. It also gave their “Brougham”-like models a certain aura of good taste, and played on the very modern idea of “trends”.

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1976 Lincoln Designer Series line for the Continental Mark IV, Photo credit: Lincoln Motor Company at Alden Jewell’s Flickr.

The benefits of a fashionable endorsement were not lost on Lincoln either and in 1976 the already critically successful Continental Mark IV personal coupe became available with color and trim treatments by American stylist Bill Blass, French couture houses Cartier and Givenchy, as well as Italian designer Emilio Pucci. He was soon joined in his Detroit endeavors by fellow stilisti Versace and Valentino. We plan to cover each of these particular editions separately.

Over the years, designers remained faithful to the Lincoln brand, extending their high-class makeovers to the bustle-back Continental, full-size Town Car and four generations of Mark personal coupes. Eventually, and following the demise of AMC’s designer models, it was to become a Lincoln staple and a truly unique offering in the high-end domestic luxury market.

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1977 Lincoln Designer Series line for the Continental Mark V, Photo credit: Lincoln Motor Company.

Indeed, apart from a rather garish 1979 Gucci Seville and Chrysler’s efforts to associate Mark Cross leather with its luxury K-cars, Lincolns were the only ones to be had with a professional stylist’s touch. Nowadays, technology is probably where car ownership and lifestyle choices meet most of all: iPhone integration can be a serious addition to any car’s credentials, and the finest automobiles now come with integrated iPads, WiFi hot-spots and the like. But back then, especially in the luxury market, it meant climbing to the highest of automotive hierarchy and planting your flag just a little higher than everybody else.

This was also a time where every model year usually brought significant or at the very least noticeable cosmetic changes, not unlike fashion collections of today. The same went for Designer series, which regularly rearranged color combinations, roof treatments and pinstriping to keep the models fresh, trendy, and interesting to shoppers, including owners of an equivalent but older model.

As years went by and the buyer’s taste for ostentatious luxury dwindled, Lincoln reduced its Designer offerings, ultimately leaving only Cartier at the top of the Town Car line. No doubt though that, even in 2004 when it was retired, the appeal of a full-size American luxury sedan featuring luxurious interior appointments, the Cartier badge (and even a “Cartier” clock!) remained important to its traditional customer base.

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2003 Lincoln Town Car Cartier, sail panel ornament, Photo credit: Lincoln Motor Company at Netcarshow.com

Indeed, even after the 2004 redesign of the Town Car, a neutral “Designer” trim level remained available although it was now second to the “Signature” series, the heritage of which we will discuss in a different article.

All that brings us back to today and Lincoln’s new Black Label. The name itself, although free of association to a particular stylist, certainly evokes the finer things in life: across the luxury trade, it suggests exclusivity in clothing and spirits for instance. More than a rich combination of colors, trims and materials, what is telling is Lincoln’s commitment to make this more than just the Designer Series of yore. More than a box to tick on your dealer’s ordering form. It is going to be an “experience”.

Lincoln MKC Concept

Lincoln MKC Black Label concept, in Chroma Flame

As such, it will build on the virtual Concierge service made available to Lincoln customers in the spring of 2012 and offer personalized service trough the sales and delivery process and into the ownership of the vehicle.  This whole new way of thinking the Lincoln customer experience is on par with what is now offered by the competition, especially from European manufacturers that sometimes go as far as including the very assembly of the car into the personalized experience.

On the subject of Lincoln’s Designer Series, I recommend the following resources:

In part 2, we will detail the “themes” retained by Lincoln for its Black Label series. In part 3, we will compare it to the competition and see how it fits with Lincoln’s reinvention.

Copyright: The Mark of Lincoln, https://themarkonline.wordpress.com/

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One response to “Black Label, part 1: Lincoln defines luxury… once again.

  1. Pingback: Black Label, Part 2: Choose Your Passion. | The Mark of Lincoln·

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