An Impossible Future Reveals Itself

Today finds us back on the hunt for special fabrics in vehicle interiors. And I can tell you it has been an uphill struggle to harvest these meagre gleanings.

2015 Maserati QP Zegna edition: source

The truth is that I did not find nearly as much as I had wanted to. The most easily found items are well-known examples such as the Gucci Cadillac Seville, the Joseph Aboud Buick Regal and the Fila Ford Thunderbird  which have been discussed here before. I was really hoping to
find something else.

To start with there is the 2015 Zegna-edition Maserati Quattroporte, notable for its tweed-effect headliner and the use of silk-mix fabric for the seat inserts. The decision to use the Zegna cloth for the headliner is a brave one given the complexity of that particular part. Seat panels are relatively easy to do being fairly flat. Headliners are large and oddly shaped and may involve exploding parts. Notice also the door skins with their diagonally quilted details.

2015 Maserati Quattroporte Zegna: source

The end result is rather fetching yet also makes me think that this is exactly what a Maserati interior should be like. That means that maybe the standard interiors are not really making the grade. A special edition is supposed to be the best expected plus a bit.

If we go back in time to 2011 we can also gaze in wonder at the Maserati Gran Cabrio Fendi edition:

Just 50 made: source

That is quite an effective combination of patterns and colours, no? “The seats are in Fendi’s finest Grigio Chrono leather embossed with the Fendi logo in the central section, while the headrests are emblazoned with the Maserati Trident logo embroidered in yellow. Fendi’s finest Cuoio Romano leather lines the instrument panel and the gear lever, with shift paddles on the steering wheel too. For an even more luxurious, exclusive interior, Pergamena Fendi wood inserts line the restyled interior, spanning the length of the dashboard and the doors, embracing the front and back seats.”

I am put in mind of an over-elaborate menu description: “Hand-cut, pan-fried, heat-seared olives paired with bespoke-crafted oak-smoked Lebanese organic goats cheese butter-layered pasty roillionettes…. etc.

2008 Bugatti Veyron Hermes interior: source

The 2008 Bugatti Veyron Hermes (above) achieves the same level as the Zegna Maserati. it is quite restrained – quite probably the luxury level it attains is not easily visible in a screen photo. You have to sit in it to see where the extra gazillion euros have gone. For this car, Hermes got to do most of the trimming themselves on their premises rather than merely sending raw material to VW for them to glue it into position.

2008 Bugatti Veyron Hermes interior: source

You can read a little more about it here. Before I get to the next car, I will admit that I skipped over the Land Rover “with” Victoria Beckham and the Versace Lamborghini. Neither offered me what I was looking for in terms of opulence or interest.

2015 Scion xB: source

Which makes the Scion xB special edition by 686 relatively more interesting than either Beckham or Versace’s offerings. Toyota made the Scion for the American market and the brand is now dead- I think they were aimed at the younger demographic. The US is a place where a very great number of university students drive to college and supposedly this kind of car is designed for those who don’t want a mashed up Ford Laser or Honda Civic as their commuter car.

The xB was produced from 2007 to 2015 and was the vehicle for a number of cross-brand tie-ins. ” The 2015 Scion xB 686 Parklan Edition is a limited-run package that includes unique visual and functional tweaks inspired by the snowboard apparel company 686″ (Source)

2015 Scion xB Parklan interior: source

As with most special editions, the exterior differences run no deeper than paint and badges though the metallic brown is pleasant. On the inside we find khaki camouflage detailing mated with cross-stitched leatherette patches on the upper seat backs, where wear is least.

2015 Scion xB Parklan interior: source

The camouflage is something of a design solecism since the interior of vehicle is not where the camouflage might be needed; it ought to be on the outside of the car.

My survey ran out of breath right here so the next item is the 2014 BMW i3 interior, presented as a sub-concept i.e. this trim was not available to customers but shown at the car show launch. Bait and switch?

2013 BMW i3 interior: source

The pity about this is that apart from the wood, the whole thing looks a) delightful and b) wholly plausible. The warm tones are well in keeping with the geometry and I would have hoped that any customer willing to take the plunge and buy an i3 would have a higher tolerance for unusual fabrics than the normal 318i customer.

2013 BMW i3 interior: source

Bridge of Weir is the last port of call. Excuse my ignorance but they are not just providers of one-off interiors for unique concept cars. They do all Volvo’s leather. Unlike the interiors shown above, a BoW interior can be yours for the price of an S40. There is YouTube film clip of this which is rather interesting, showing how the panels are cut out of a hide. To get from a 3D model of a seat to the exact shape of hide needed to make it takes a fair bit of tacit knowledge, much that can’t be written down.

Early on in the film you can see the craftsmen and women positioning dies to cut the hide: even that single task can probably be done nine wrong ways easily enough. As marketing films go, it’s more compelling than usual.

I will have to leave this topic for another three years. The dearth of information and news indicates to me that interesting product tie-ins and novel uses of high-end fabric are far between and few. I see this as an opportunity waiting to be taken by companies near the upper echelons rather than more mainstream makers: Porsche, Jaguar, Maserati, Bentley (but not Rolls – curiously). Rolls do use high-level suppliers, of course. What sets them apart is that nothing should distract from the Rolls Royce brand hence the inappropriateness of a tie-up with Gucci. Maybe Kiton?

Lower order manufacturers probably have volumes set at too high a level to make limited runs of hand-made elements feasible. Once you have run a design past the checks needed to ensure mass production you have eliminated all but the most basic changes – maybe a cloth option could be chosen and not much more than that. Hence there is no Toyota Auris Purdy edition.

I am disappointed by this survey. I keep hoping to find some more gems. Where are they?

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

19 thoughts on “An Impossible Future Reveals Itself”

  1. Curios about the i3 pics and bait and switch remark, the top one shows what was readily available on production models with synthetic materials making up the bulk with leather as an added touch for those desiring it, the lower pic with the arched side window profile is at odds with the i3 shape, is this an i3?

  2. I do like that cut of Zegna cloth on the Maserati – very warm and yet smart and classy. Makes me yearn for more nicely cloth-trimmed cars over the usual DFS-grade sofa effect leather.

    Funnily, one of the nicest trim I have had on a car was that which covered the centre panels on the seats on my old Cinquecento Sporting. The worst in my memory was that on the Mazda 3, of which I still otherwise have fond thoughts – basically dull, ugly and shiny. I recall that Rover’s of the mid nineties had an amusing paisley-esque pattern to them, which looks quaint and charming these days (as it probably also did at launch).

    I think the i3 still boasts one of the most attractive and inviting interiors of any new car on sale today. When you look at BMW designs since, you have to ask yourself, ‘what happened?’.

    1. That’s a question I’d like to ask Benoît Jacob (former BMW i chief designer) one day, in a private setting. Or Anders Warming.

  3. Yes, the upper i3 photo depicts the production car. I’ve experienced that specification on a few occasions and find it delightful.

    As far as fabric options are concerned, Richard might be interested in finding out about the Range Rover Velar’s optional Kvadrat interior. Or one of those wonderful velours interiors Mercedes offered for the W140.

    One of the most pleasing cabins I’ve come across recently was that of a Fiat 500 customised by Garage Italia. I don’t know about that leather’s provenance, but quality and craftsmanship were simply impeccable. They even went easy on the visible stitching…

    During a recent discussion with a saddler, I learned that Hèrmes is not only the sole French top-end luxury brand that produces its goods in-house, but that they also took over all but one remaining artisan tannery, for fear of this sector’s know-how getting irrevocably lost, due to lack of succession plans (apparently, young ‘uns aren’t interested in running this kind of business these days). In contrast, Louis Vuitton et al are happy with leather produced on an industrial scale (and involving far more chemicals in the process).

  4. It depends how far back in time you wish to travel, but you could add the 1974 Jeans Beetle to the list (see:, complete with Denim upholstery. I never understood why that car was yellow and not blue.

    I also hoped the Lacoste Peugeot 205 might be one for the list, but apart from some lurid green carpet Peugeot missed an opportunity there.

    1. Yes – the Jeans Beetles seem to have been predominantly yellow, although other colours were available.

      I guess yellow was chosen as a contrast, and it’s the colour used in the stitching of some jeans (plus it was the 70’s). Volkswagen also did Jeans versions of the MK1 Polo…

      …and, more recently, the up!

      How about this for a colour combination? (Audi 50):

      Some of the Citroën 2CV special edition seat trims were fun, too.

      Incidentally, I knew someone who worked in the interior design department of a manufacturer. She and her colleagues used to spend all their time coming up with interesting designs, only to be told that they’d be going with dark grey again, this year. She resigned, which stunned her boss, as there was fierce competition to get a job like hers.

    2. I had no idea about the extent of VW’s Denim fetish. I can see it makes sense as an interior fabric for a volume car manufacturer, being popular and hard-wearing.

  5. Triumph managed to combine Coca-Cola, Levi Strauss and a TR7 back in the mid 70’s. A red wedge with a distinctive white stripe outside and seats and door cards a la denim. What’s not to like?

  6. The zegna maserati is beautiful; as said, a car like that should have a worthy interior. And the Fendi edition is cool IMHO. Too many interiors are like this evening; as dark as when November falls on a small village. We need more fun, colour but most of all, better design. But they cost more hence black, grey, charcoal norm.
    I am lucky enough to have sampled a seat made of kvadrat in a first edition Velar and can confirm it felt and looked truly exceptional. But folk still want leather: your car has cloth seats? Urgh, pithy comment, etc.
    The Volvo/ Bridge of Weir video was interesting too, nice one DTW

    1. Nice – really like the Kvadrat option. I much prefer cloth to other materials.

    2. There isn’t just a Zegna Maserati.
      Ermenegildo Zegna produced a fabric called ‘pannò Lancia’ in the Fifties which was rediscovered in the Eighties for beta and Gamma models with myriads of ‘L’ letters woven in.
      Alfa used wonderful Momo leather on their 156 and 166 models and the Lusso versions of the 916s. My wife always said she’d be happy to have a handbag made from leather that soft. The Poltrona Frau leather they use today is very nice, too.

  7. Breaking news: the just-released Range Rover Evoque can be equipped with a textile option made from eucalyptus:

    I guess using a service such as BMW Individual, you can choose any materials you want, at a price. I wouldn’t go with monograms, as shown in the video, though:

    Something for our friends Robert & Claudia to aspire to.

  8. Interesting topic. I suppose making anything for cars is subject to a long list of criteria for wear, temperature, resistance to sun fading and UV, and so on. Plus the occasional soaking for when you forgot to close that window. Artisanal burlap bags don’t qualify, but a spot of oiled canvas should work, and bamboo cane might creak too much. I find embossing leather all a bit tacky – just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

    While searching, I came across this compendium, long but complete:

    Then I looked up Ultrasuede, and found that Alcantara is the same stuff, being invented by the Japanese in 1970. The commercial company Toray which produces genyouine Ultrasuede in Japan owns 70% of Alcantara in Italy. While they can’t give Ultrasuede away because its name has been co-opted into daily usage like Hoover, Alcantara has back orders. That’s brand power.

    Not a fan of it for seat bottoms, it gets knappy a bit too quickly, but a spot on the dash instead of a swath of pimpled plastic lifts my mood, as does a decent slab on the door cards. Fuzzy. Reminds me of my Clarks Desert boot days 50 years ago.

    Now that Carlos Ghosn is working his way through the different flavours of Ramen one by one in blessed peace and quiet, the question I’m asking is this: is the worldwide industry for grey plastic car interior pieces in jeopardy? Nissan has kept that sector going almost singlehandedly, but may wish to disavow their recent master. The beige brigade are rubbing their hands in anticipation of change.

    1. That compendium would make a good course text, thanks for that. I think I dealt with Ultrasuede in a previous post. It´s one of the few easy-to-find sites for a time-pressed hack like me.

    2. Fabrics and carpets used in cars are the most wear resistant stuff of its kind known to man. No grade of furniture type fabrics comes close to what the car industry demands. Then add Teflon coating to make your seats stain resistant…

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