The Bentley factory, Crewe: a large, red-tanned hide is mounted with pride on the wall opposite various seat options it can adorn.
It’s an enormous piece of leather, to show you how unblemished and downright high on quality it is.
Its size is impressive. Certainly, I wouldn’t have wanted to be the person responsible for removing it from its male, Spanish and, from what little I know of bulls, probably quite grumpy owner.
He and his ilk are chosen over other bovines with good reason.
They become chief interpreters of the arse-Bentley interface because they mooch around vast Andalusian plains where farmers don’t use barbed wire that could damage the leather, and because bulls don’t get the stretch marks cows do.
Any blemishes are usually caused by fighting, because boys will be boys and, like most of us, they’re unaware of the futility of their existence – and Maserati now offers a silk-based alternative to leather upholstery that their sides will end up as a lumbar support (with massage function).
So they ignorantly keep their blows to each other’s heads and necks, surplus to the requirements of automotive interior decorating anyway. It can take 20 hides to cover the interior of a Bentley Mulsanne.
The hides of 3000 bulls pass through Bentley every week. The care taken with them is extraordinary, the stitching exquisite. We looked around in quiet awe at the attention to detail.
“I don’t suppose,” I asked, “there’s a vegan option?” Not that I am a vegan, or even vegetarian, but if one comes to visit, I don’t slap a steak on the table.
Yet as I pick them up from the station, they might not get a choice about being seated on Ratón or Deslio or Islero, or all three plus 17 friends.
“Actually, we’re working on that,” Bentley says, because there is interest.
You can get artificial leather, but there are two things at play: one, it’s still perceived at the top end as less pleasing to sit on than the real thing, and two, for the luxury game, not enough effort goes into it.
It’s not unique. Your synthetic leather is just like mine. But your bull wasn’t.
Interesting, then, last week to drive a Maserati Quattroporte with a new interior material made from silk. This isn’t vegan, either, obviously. Far from it, although it is one of the more acceptable faces of doing animals over for our convenience and pleasure. (I’m not judging; guilty as charged.)
Maserati says 300km (186 miles) of silk goes into each Quattroporte. It’s hard work, in other words, so it passes the luxury test. And while feeling nothing like leather, it still feels opulent.
So, no, not the answer, but another sign the industry is starting to look beyond the material that has graced luxury seats for a century.