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Stefan Sielaff, Bentley’s director of design, is a veteran of the auto industry. He’s held previous design positions at the Volkswagen Group with Audi and DaimlerChrysler before joining Bentley in 2015. Already having worked with the Bentley design team on the Bentayga SUV and Speed 6, he has a deep understanding of British luxury. Whitewaller spoke with Sielaff just after the new Continental GT debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show.
WHITEWALLER: You’ve said that it had been your dream to work with a legendary British car brand. What did a brand like Bentley represent to you?
STEFAN SIELAFF: I have maintained a long-lasting love affair with Great Britain for the last 30 years. I studied at the Royal College of Art when I was young. My daughter lives in London, and also my wife is an enthusiastic Anglophile.
Bentley was and is for me the British car brand. It reflects for me a part of the British soul. The brand represents two things to me: performance and elegance. Being a sportsman and therefore also a gentleman. This describes the fusion of the best for me.
WW: You’ve described your approach to design as akin to creating a sculpture and an interior living space. How so?
SS: Exterior design is love at first sight; interior design is then the long-lasting partnership that evokes admiration for the product and the brand. I think that our exterior design has to be a timeless sculpture and the interior design has to overwhelm our customers with a great variety of individualization—in colors and materials of extraordinary quality. We have to fulfill the dreams of our luxury customers. Or sometimes even define them and give inspiration.
WW: As an automobile designer, you’re thinking many years ahead. What is it like designing for the future?
SS: When you work with the first concepts for a new model about five years ahead, it is essential to observe trends and the society around you. At best, you can perceive how societies in different cultural contexts are developing all over the world. How will people live, what fashion do they follow, how is product design changing, how is architecture evolving, how is technology redefining the world, how is social awareness changing? Even fine art is a great indicator for these trends. And then it becomes an artistic digestion and interpretation of all these indicators to create the next product. It is still a very human process and not (yet) digitally possible.
WW: The new Continental GT finds inspiration in aircraft and aerospace shapes and technology. How is the aircraft industry of inspiration to you?
SS: With inspiration from an aircraft, I mean that it is mainly the beauty of a sculpture. You find a lot of sharp lines and then the fuselage theme of air-ducting that creates wonderful sexy surfaces in between. Very organic. This tension expresses a lot of the dynamics that join both airplanes and cars. Both are dynamic objects.
WW: Can you talk about the importance of touch, and therefore material, in the interior?
SS: Human beings are tactile beings. The German word of “Begreifen” literally means to understand, but also to touch. People always want to touch to be able to understand or enjoy. A baby who is not being gently touched is going to suffer serious psychological harm. And just think of all the “Please do not touch” signs in exhibitions. So our interiors deliver the finest materials, and our customers want to touch them and this tactile experience makes them feel extremely well. This is what we deliver. To push the subject even a bit more, I have been talking to customers who have confessed that they hand-wash their Bentleys and experience an erotic moment. Wonderful, isn’t it?
This article appears in Whitewaller London & Paris 2017.