Oct. 29, 2013 at 1:24 PM ET
The world of fashion is reaching deeper into vehicles, where every piece of the car’s or truck’s interior has to be used to raise its profile and make it more appealing to customers.
“We’re seeing manufacturers think increasingly of using the interior of the vehicle as a way to differentiate their products,” said Mandy Sarotte, Lear Corp. vice president of global trim operations for seating, who is also in charge of the company’s growing team of designers.
Demand for more distinctive interiors and more durable seat covers is evident in all kinds of passenger cars, from subcompact to more expensive luxury vehicles, Sarotte said. Customers in every segment are looking for something that stands out, she said.
Lear used a fashion show at Detroit’s flashy Fillmore Theater to unveil a new line of fabric and leather concept car seats, and the talents of the aforementioned designers.
Lear entered the leather business in recent years to keep up with expanding use of leather across a broad range of automotive seating, noted Jeneanne Hanley, Lear vice president, who is responsible for keeping tabs on trends in seating and materials. Roughly half of all car seats now have leather components.
Re-inventing the interior also represents an opportunity to innovate and to win new business for businesses such as Lear, which is one of the leading suppliers of automotive seats, Hanley said. The demand for leather has been robust for new vehicles despite the threat of rising prices, she said.
Customers like natural materials in their vehicles, Hanley said, adding that Lear researches fashion, architecture, home interiors and pop culture trends as part of its product development process.
The show also gave Lear a chance to showcase the talent of the young designers it has recruited in recent years to work on vehicles. To showcase its new products, the design team used fashion models wearing items of clothing including evening gowns, leather jackets and sportswear made entirely from the materials developed by Lear and its subsidiaries.
“All of these are made from automotive leather,” said Rachael Beresh, a designer in Lear’s Southfield, Mich., studio who joined the company two years ago. She showed off a seat design dubbed Rebel Shred and high-fashion leather jacket made of the same material that was carefully pieced together with nearly invisible thread.
The idea was to show off the craftsmanship that Lear can bring to designing a seat for a future vehicle, Beresh said.
Jeanette Puig-Pey, global manager of fabric/leather design, noted the seat also demonstrated how the company can combine leather and fabric in the same seat to create a bolder look and varied textures.
“With the previous launch of our Aventino leather brand and recent acquisition of Guilford Performance Textiles, Lear now has unmatched capabilities in providing a wide range of unique seat covers,” said Matt Simoncini, Lear’s president and chief executive officer.
“We have a long history of excellence in cutting, sewing and assembling automotive seat covers. Our seat surface material capabilities now extend to a full range of custom finishing techniques, including laser etching, embroidery, embossing, perforations and polymer printing," he said. "We can design and develop anything our customers can imagine, and the purpose of our event today is to showcase our complete capabilities in automotive seating surface materials.”
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