Want to sit inside something outrageous? Check out the Rolls-Royce Phantom – which I recently had the opportunity to test drive. According to the company rep who handed me the keys, the luxurious sedan features a cashmere-blend headliner and is trimmed in 15 to 18 hides of Bavarian bull (Rolls-Royce doesn’t use cow hide because female cattle are prone to getting stretch marks during pregnancy). But that’s just the tip of the iceberg…
The bulls slaughtered for the Phantom’s upholstery are raised in a region of Europe where the climate is too cold for mosquitos to live – minimizing the presence of insect bites and other blemishes. Rolls-Royce claims that by choosing bulls over cows and raising them in such a climate, their leather interiors end up being softer to the touch than any other automaker.
It sounds outrageous, but that’s exactly what Rolls-Royce is. Which is why their latest press release about the 102EX Phantom Experimental Electric – the world’s first electric ultra-luxury car – doesn’t surprise me one bit. Describing its interior leather furnishings, Rolls-Royce writes:
Its leather interior is derived from a natural vegetable tanning process christened Corinova. This gives life to the car, adding definition to the seats, floor and arm rests.
Most leather produced for automotive applications is chrome tanned. This is an important constituent that helps to stabilise animal hides and transfer collagen into leather fibres. The barrel-dyeing process used to colour Phantom interior leathers gives a rich, uniform pigmentation while maintaining the natural feel and softness.
An experimental leather, Corinova distinguishes itself by being entirely chrome free. It starts with a preparation of Glutardialehyde to prepare for tanning. Chestnut extract, sustainably sourced from Southern Europe and Tara powder from crushed fruit of the Tara bush in South America are used for drum-spun colouring. Fruits are harvested without damage to the plant and the product is finished with a combination of natural binders and high tech polymers.
The process lends itself only to certain earthy colours – in the case of Phantom EE a chestnut colour for seat covers and Quebracho Brown for other areas such as the floor and trunk lining, both of which are made of durable saddle leather.
As well as aesthetic differences, Corinova leather presents a number of practical benefits. It uses less paint finish than in standard chrome-tanned leather and creates less waste. It negates the use of petrol-refined products and with further development, it may be possible to use recycled Corinova leather in agriculture to aerate soil.
Rolls-Royce fully expects perceptions to be challenged and first impressions will no doubt focus on appearance, as features that define the life of the animal are more clearly visible in areas like seats and armrests than in production Phantom interiors. A change from the sumptuous finish applied to Phantom leather may imply a compromise to some owners, but others may welcome distinguishing features that stretch individualisation for Rolls-Royce Phantom models ever further.
Uhhh yeah… where do you suppose I can buy a hide of that? Because I certainly can’t afford the Phantom’s $380,000 to $450,000 price tag!
Bonus: Check out this video sneak peak into Rolls-Royce’s world-famous leather shop: