AHHHH……Experiencing The New Car Smell of Leather

Last week, by the grace of God, good fortune smiled on Beau Satchelle as one of our co-founders became the new owner of a 2018 automobile. Mind you, The NAIAS2018 may have sparked some persuasion as automakers displayed some of the best cars, trucks and SUV’ this world has to offer. Needless to say, nothing equates to the absolute pleasure one gets from a whiff of the “new car smell”. Being part of this experience, had me revisit a description I wrote in a previous blog about the impressions of purchasing a leather product.

Comparing the experience to a five-star meal where many senses are heightened by the touch, smell and sights that only leather can bring about. Touching leather is a sensual experience like no other. Caressing your fingers across a leather allows you to feel both perfections and imperfections of the skin, the cut edges that have been smoothed and varnished to feel baby soft, the textures of the hide that has gone through various process to prepare for the hands of the artisan. The astonishing smells of leather that trigger powerful memories and bonding us to the earthy, natural smells of Mother Earth; leather consumers LOVE the smell of leather. And finally, the look of leather, just like snowflakes; every hide has its own beautiful distinct shapes, patterns, and how it takes dyes.

The backstory on car leather interiors encompasses swings in design: in the early years of the automobile, leather was prevalent throughout – the seating, door panels and even the headliner (the ceiling of the car). During the early mid-20th century, interiors were a mix of leather and vinyl, then car companies, in an attempt to cut down on costs, relied heavily on vinyl for upholstery materials, however by the end of the 20th century, the industry has returned to leather.

Automotive Interior design companies typically use the method of vegetable tanning to produce the desired feel and colors. Vegetable tanning is an old-world process that uses tannin that comes naturally in the bark, branches, leaves and even some fruit of many plants. The raw hides are soaked in large pits for several weeks in increasing concentrations of tannin until the hide becomes leather. Depending on the goal of the tanner additional dyes or processes are used to alter the colors. With vegetable tanning, the colors have a more natural and organic look and the patina (sheen and darkening produced by age and use) will occur naturally as oppose to chemical dyes.

The upholstery (including the weight of the sewing thread), particularly the seats in a car must withstand the repetitive uses and wear it will undergo for years. Even factors such as ultraviolet rays (sunlight and temperature extremes play a role in the science of tanning to guarantee longevity. With automobiles, cow leather is the main choice, yet in custom cars, owners will use bison or other premium leathers to upgrade the design of the leather seats and other surface that can be covered (gears and steering wheels for example).

The leather design houses that supply automotive leather, may also include in their repertoire, creating and manufacturing interior designs for private jets and huge commercial airlines, as well as yachts. It is a fascinating industry that designs and incorporates cow and exotic leather for clients into residences, businesses and transportation.

Working firsthand in the leather fashion business and living/working in the Motor City, much appreciation goes to the innovativeness and skill that goes into the interior leather design elements of an automobile… which in the end, completes the sensual beauty of driving a work of art. -AJ

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