It’s what on the inside that counts–and creating impactful interiors for GM’s passenger cars is Crystal Windham’s specialty. Since the mid-’90s she’s done just that as one of the company’s top design talents. Today, the 37-year-old holds the title of director of interior design, the first female African-American director in GM’s design history. Even after 16 years as a designer, Windham still bubbles with an intern’s excitement about the minutia of picking colors and trim materials–and even the sometimes exhaustive effort required to convince the engineering and finance departments to put her team’s proposal into production. The 2004 and 2008 Chevy Malibu, the 2006 G6 coupe and convertible, and the 2007 Saturn Aura are just a few of the vehicles that bear the Windham touch. Here she discusses the handbag as muse, helping hands, and Bulgari.
Breaking into the business: Drawing was something that I loved to do. I was able to find my passion and the link to lead me here, [starting] with an art teacher who led me to the College of Creative Studies. From there I was able to learn about automotive design.
Draws inspiration from: All over–design is all around. We get a lot of influence from fashion and product design. I’ll give you an example. We were designing the seats for the 2008 Malibu and were looking for a unique texture to put on the leather insert. Inspiration from a Louis Vuitton handbag found its way into that texture for the seat.
REFLECTIONS: Hometown: Grew up in Detroit, currently living in Farmington Hills, Mich. * Creds: B.S. in industrial design, College for Creative Studies in Detroit; M.B.A., University of Detroit-Mercy * First job: General Motors * Advice she would have given herself 10 years ago: Spend even more time with the people you love. * What keeps her up at night: Looking forward to completing a creative project, or a model coming together. * Words to live by: “No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helped you.” Althea Gibson
DIVERSIONS: Reading now: “You Can’t Have Hope without Faith” by Dwayne and Angel Merritt * Reading next: “Slaves in the Family” by Edward Ball * Last fun purchase: iPod Nano * Recently discovered: (Well-known jewelry designer) Nicola Bulgari has a passion for and collects Buicks.
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