Beauty, they say, is in the eye of the beholder. And of course, that is absolutely right: what we find beautiful is uniquely individual based on personal experience, the path we have taken in life and, of course, our cultural environment. It just takes a look at family photos from the 1960s, 70s or 80s – the bell-bottoms, the woollen jumpers, all the oversized glasses, shoulder-pad outfits and blow-dried hairstyles – to make abundantly clear the extent to which our understanding of aesthetics has changed. And this not only applies to looking at a photo album. A Mercedes-Benz looks just as different today as it did ten, 20 or 50 years ago. How is our understanding of beauty changing? What influences the eye of the beholder? One thing is clear: as much as we are guided by our personal influences, we never do so in a vacuum. We see what surrounds us and therefore our viewing habits are being continually revised. 

Familiar but excitingly different.

New technologies often inspire aesthetic change. They place different demands on design and open up new possibilities. The Mercedes-Benz Vision One-Eleven, which we take an in-depth look at from page 88 onwards, is one example of this. The exciting, streamlined body and the lounge-like interior, planned to accommodate forthcoming developments in automated driving, represent the search for the ideal mobility of the future. The EQ models, on the other hand, have long been in series production in electric form. The team, led by Gorden Wagener, chief design officer at Mercedes-Benz, invented a completely new look for them, which is also evident in the Vision One-Eleven: the distinctive one-bow design. Replacing the three-part construction, the side view of the all-electric luxury saloon stretches seamlessly along a curved line – harmonious surfaces blending into a single unit. Mobility should also look like this as an ambassador of a new era: familiar Mercedes-Benz, but also excitingly different and never before seen.

So what we hail as inspired design today may be unrecognisable from what would have been 50 years ago. The same applies to what we understand by beauty. This has morphed more rapidly than ever before in recent years – largely spurred on by the rise of Instagram and other social media platforms. People all over the world can put on public display how they live, how they dress, how they go about their daily lives – in real time and more or less unfiltered. The immediacy on which social networks are based has brought the world closer together – eroding long-established patterns of what was once considered beautiful. Influencers and brand co-­operations have contributed to this – influencers are considered authentic, can sway their communities, and many of their followers trust them almost blindly. Their style shapes the zeitgeist, challenges the previously defined boundaries of beauty. It is no longer just the campaigns that determine the look of a brand, and that is radically changing our viewing habits. What is considered beautiful has become more and more relative, more and more individual, simply because of the vast range of influencers. Because the influencers looked the way they looked. They live in Asia, the USA, South America and Europe. They are people with a passion for fashion, but for the most part they are not models. Moreover, influencers began to demand more diversity on their own initiative and on behalf of their followers. More non-white designers at big fashion brands, for example. Clothes that also look good on those who don’t have a “perfect” body. Unlike with products, perfection is of course relative with people. And beauty is individual.

Luxury fashion was quick to pick up on the diversity trend and led the way in driving it forward. Addressing people at their level and in the tone of their respective cultural customs made the brands – which were also closer to their customers through the march towards more diversity – more authentic, more likeable and more desirable. As a result, the body shapes, ages and origins of the protagonists and models in many brands’ advertising campaigns are now more diverse than ever.

Timeless and sensual.

Yet beauty is not solely a product of the zeitgeist. To this day, principles apply that are above all trends: the golden ratio, the immaculate and perfect-looking marble statues of Greek antiquity, even the proportions in architecture have evolved in the expression of detail, but still respect the seemingly eternal laws of harmony and proportion. It is no coincidence that the proportions of most cars follow this golden ratio: the window line divides most vehicles into a one-third, two-thirds ratio. And the ideal of an object’s flawlessness, elegant surfaces and sophisticated-looking materials applies equally to the marble statues of antiquity and the sculptural form of an EQS.

Because while the human ideal of beauty has become more and more diverse and thus also more “humane”, products are increasingly geared towards the principles of minimalism. An example of this is the minimalist feel of many smartphones that flatter the senses – including the Hyperscreen from Mercedes-Benz, whose glass surface not only looks elegant but also has a sensual quality and is pleasant to the touch. After all, controlling the functions of a Mercedes-Benz vehicle should feel as pleasant as possible.

And one thing unites us all: the need to surround ourselves with beautiful things and to be enriched by their functionality and extraordinary design. The Mercedes-Benz design language of sensual clarity is understood all around the world. To this end, the brand addresses the needs of all global markets in its development. Different cultures celebrate different qualities of a product, yet it is valued across all national borders. Hitting this sweet spot is the true challenge for Mercedes-Benz. Because ultimately, beauty is a dialogue – between history and the present, between tradition and innovation, between the individual and the community. Again, the underlying truism: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And in creations like the Vision One-Eleven, which defines the automotive beauty of tomorrow – today.