George Koukos is a successful car designer from Athens who migrated in order to follow his dream. Since 2006 he has been based in Turin, Italy, where he has designed various models for Toyota, Lexus, Subaru, Suzuki and Bolloré, together with another Greek talent – Sotiris Kovos. Currently, he works as the Exterior Project Chief Designer for Changan’s European Designing Center, and he recently spoke with Neos Kosmos about cars, music, and his migration experience.
After working as a professional automotive designer at a very high level, how do you feel in terms of achieving your goals and making your childhood dream a reality?
Actually it feels really good, although this work sometimes eats you alive. Nothing comes by luck or by accident. The journey from the blank paper to production is long and painful. Most projects stop in the middle. Some [perservere] till the end. There’s this moment of completeness but it’s just a moment . . . [the] next project is always waiting! So, ‘it’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock & roll . . .’ but I’m a stubborn guy. From my childhood years to university and then to the workplace, it took too much hard work and insisting on believing in my destiny.
Which one of your creations do you feel most proud of?
The reality is that each project has its own character to love. That could [relate to] its design but it could also [relate to] the process of making it. In addition, it’s teamwork no matter how heavy each member’s responsibility is. Therefore I don’t call them ‘my creation’; I consider them all ‘children of the group’. In any case, to answer your question I’ll use someone else’s (very famous) response. ‘My favorite creation is my next one.’
How do you see the future of the automotive industry with electric and autonomous cars taking over? Has the role of a car designer changed very much since the old days?
Yes, it has. The autonomy does not [relate] only the mobility but also the process of making cars. The timelines have been shortened viciously and the designer doesn’t have the time to properly think and discover new forms. This is why we see cars with high technology but old, boring and repeated design. Practically, the appearance of the car hasn’t developed much during the last decade – especially the exterior. It has lost its importance in the market for other reasons too. That’s why new generations do not desire it as much as we did. Autonomy can be dangerous as it concludes the ‘non-desirability’ of driving, owning and dreaming of a car. However I believe in the designer’s power of creativity. We are passing a ‘medieval’ period in car design but I hope and believe that we designers will find a loophole for the dream. We have to anyhow, otherwise we will lose our jobs.
How do you feel today about your decision to leave Greece to study car design in Italy?
There’s always the question mark [of] ‘what if?’. But I guess it has to do with the result of having found your balances or not. I believe that I have, or at least I’m very close to, having found them. Leaving my country, I met the world, but I always kept in touch with Greece – and I think there’s the key. It’s important to [return] often. It’s important to keep some rare parts of the culture alive. It’s important to try to speak and write well in Greek because it’s a marvelous language! It’s important to feel the difference when breathing the air [in] that beautiful corner of the world. It’s important to remember the good music we have.
Besides cars, I know that you have a strong connection with music and especially rembetiko, is that another form of expression of your artistic nature?
Yes, it is! When people ask me about this side of me, I answer that ‘this is the good one.’. Not because I love music more than cars; you cannot compare the passion. Passion doesn’t have dimensions and doesn’t have reason – it is just there. And for me, passion is ‘the vehicle’ of my existence. However, I don’t live without music and therefore I don’t have to compromise. I play the guitar and sing only when my heart says so, with people I feel like playing with, for people I like or love. My relationship with music will never end.
Living abroad for more than 15 years, what are you views on migration, and how do you feel about your homeland? Has living mostly in Italy eased the feeling of nostalgia?
Actually not. No matter if I am in Italy or in China, the homesickness is the same strength. We all live for our own particularities. Those ones that make each one of us a different person. [On] one side I’m happy and proud to be a citizen of the world but from another I’m still proud to know why I’m happy to be Greek. After 15 years I [have] found a good balance between the two.
In your opinion, what is the essence of being Greek? How did your origin affect your character?
Each one [of us] feels differently [about] his origins or his milestones in life. I’m unhappy for the root the ‘the new Greek’ has chosen. I don’t like the superficial way of thinking, way of judging and also the music he likes. However amongst this general image there’s people/characters that make a huge difference. Those characters were developed in an environment that normally wouldn’t let them excel. However they do! In worldwide levels! How the hell do they do this? Especially in [the] arts! I have observed this only in Greeks and I don’t know how or why. I have met such phenomenal people in my life and that has affected me a lot.
What are your views of today’s economic crisis in Greece? Do you feel optimistic about the future of our homeland?
No, I don’t. This is an old recipe from above. It’s never the people’s mistake though . . . this ‘management’ has been building our ‘new mentality’ that serves for people’s punishment, since about 200 years. We will get out of the crisis when ‘it will be needed’ and we’ll get in a new one again ‘when needed’. Our climate, geographic position, and [our] country’s unique nature, together with the strong connection of the family members, saves us a bit. But it’s not enough. The core of the culture is being attacked dangerously.