Apologies for being so impertinent, but if you own a leather sofa, or any other furniture covered in cow hide, I think it is irredeemably naff.
And given this is an opinion column, and that is a straight up, starkly-expressed opinion, I will pledge here, up front and before Mr-Angry-Of-The-Internet strikes up his keyboard, to respect your differing viewpoint if you agree to respect mine.
I’ve been perplexed at the claimed appeal of of leather covered furnishings for as long as I remember. When the weather is cold, so the leather is colder. When it is warm, so the leather is warmer, and it also does a great job of escalating the discomfort by recycling any ensuing sweat. To appear long-lasting, as all furniture bar that previously adorning French palaces seemingly must, it must be treated to the point it looks like plastic. And if you place your derriere down too fast, or catch an unclothed limb at the wrong angle, it makes a noise that makes boys of all ages giggle like they’re back in primary school.
Yet for decade after decade, the car industry has stuck with it, charging us more for the apparently premium qualities of bedecking our cars in the hides of butchered bovines (I’m not a vegetarian, nor a tree-hugger, by the way), while charging even more to overcome its shortcomings, via the mediums of elaborate stitchings, heating elements, cleverly hidden ventilation blowers and ever more curious chemical treatments to soften and colour it.
My entirely unscientific hunch is that the march of leather as a premium car material has been powered forward by the dominance of the German-based makes at the sharp end of the market, who have set a blueprint that we haven’t questioned - until now.
If, like me, you spent a childhood sat on a mix of nasty fabrics and vinyl coverings in some of Ford’s finest mainstream vehicles, I get why that might be the case and why part of you might hanker after something better, to prove to your childhood self that you’ve done rather well. But I also think the world has moved on - and that there is a generation brought up with altogether broader (better) tastes that is starting to be heard.
So take a bow, the new Range Rover Velar, which will be offered with a leather-free interior option co-developed with leading European textile manufacturer Kvadrat. Now, I know what you’re thinking: the use of the phrase “leading European textile manufacturer” has set your alarm bells ringing, especially in conjunction with the words Range Rover, and particularly in reference to the Velar, which is brilliantly and unapologetically style-led rather than the rough-and-tumble, go-anywhere car Land Rover traditionalists favour. Bear with me…
Having examined the materials up close, and marvelled at the fit, finish, textures and quality on offer, I get it. The part-wool, part-polyester blend is warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s warm. It’s hard-wearing, they promise, and you won’t regret ticking the option box at the first spillage. To my (admittedly very non-expert) eye the seats are stylish and the surfaces are eye-catching, There’s every bit as much, if not more, craftsmanship on display than on leatherwork. Sure, there’s no cost saving in ticking this option box over the leather one - but to eyes like mine, that’s fine, because it looks and feels superior. Above all, I love it because it showcases a different way of thinking.
Land Rover bosses won’t disclose the percentage of customers they expect to take up the option and nor do they shy away from admitting they are testing the market with its introduction. There is, I sense, a nervousness but I fear that is because car companies are typically run by older gentlemen with, shall we say, established viewpoints.
I’m desperately hoping that Range Rover’s rather better heeled customer base share my views and can see that there are different ways of expressing premium values. A movement towards an alternative view of luxury would be welcome, and while it has also been much promised by the likes of French car maker DS and even Volvo previously, the fact that Land Rover could be at the forefront of this free-thinking, progressive take on luxury warms my heart and earns my admiration for its trend-bucking bravery.