Somewhat late in life I’ve developed a curious fascination with fabric in design. This is an extension of my interest in colour. The two go together and often a fine fabric is presented in a rather dreary hue or else a nice set of colours is marred by an unsuitable pattern or weave. For quite some time the world of vehicle fabrics has been stuck in a bit of rut. Fiat are perhaps the most notable exceptions to this, chiefly in their smaller cars. The rest of the world is trading – it seems – in dark grey woven cloth or unconvincing leather.
Kicking off this short tour, we find Alcantara in the news. Automotive News reported recently on the impact of weight reduction on car fabrics. Alcantara’s chief “estimates the synthetic suede is about half the weight of leather. That means using a 5-meter covering made from the leather alternative would save about 2kg per car compared with the real thing.” Alcantara list the Martindale value of their synthetic suede at 30,000 rubs.
A little research shows this value is precisely what you’d expect for a material subject to heavy wear. Yet my perception is that it does not wear so well. I have asked a supplier of automotive fabrics, Sage, to provide some values for other materials and I will report back in due course. Alcantara is more than just a flat fabric, I discovered. According to Alcantara the future of their fabric is not only about lightness but involves “greater use of embossed, woven or perforated raw and synthetic materials incorporating a wide array of techniques including tone-on-tone stitching, thermo-welded synthetics and innovative electro-welding on foam bases”. So, who is going to be the first to use these fabrics in a car we can buy?
Sage offer a similar kind of fabric they call Dinamica. It’s a “luxury microfiber suede from Miko* that is made primarily from recycled polyester fiber and is 100% recyclable. It meets the most stringent requirements of the automobile industry for luxurious, timeless beauty, as well as the needs of the most demanding drivers for comfort, elasticity and breathability.” They also like to emphasise their eco-credentials as the fabric is made of recycled material. As far as I can make out, Dinamica has a Martindale value of 50,000 using DIN EN ISO 12947. That seems to put it ahead of Alcantara. Sage also sell what looks like a woven material called Yes Essentials and a technical material called FXC which resembles a fabric from a sporting garment and which is tougher and more comfortable than vinyl or leather.
Both of these suppliers show an alternative to this:
If you want to read more about Martindale tests, click here.