The customer can have any colour they want, as long as it's black (or red, orange, blue, purple…)
“The customer can have any colour they want, as long as it's black” is a well-known phrase in automotive folklore, more commonly translated in today’s world as you can have any colour you want as long it's green. The truth is automotive leather companies can make leather in any colour you want. Whether it's for mass production, 20,000 hides a week where every one needs to be made to an exact specification, or if it’s a one-off run for a $3m hypercar. What you want, they can produce.
The automotive leather industry pays close attention to the current fashion and automotive trends to ensure they stay current and relevant and promote leather to new generations looking for the ultimate luxury car interiors. The colour of the interior is one of the most important decisions when designing a new car.
Colour and finish are the final parts of the leather-making process, where the magic happens. Automotive tanneries have specialist departments with highly skilled, qualified technicians who create the final colour and appearance, ensuring the leather in your car is perfect. It's more complex than colouring other materials, such as bodywork, as each hide is unique and has its own characteristics, so ensuring colour consistency across a batch takes hard work and years of training.
The process usually starts with the customer sending in a request, whether a Pantone reference or an object to colour-match. Small samples are then made and sent for approval, followed by larger batches to prove consistency. Once the specification is met and production starts, each tannery has a process to check batches and ensure each hide is of the same quality and exact colour to ensure consistency. It is vital to ensure no deviations when making seats, as different panels used on a seat can come from other hides, and any variations would be unacceptable.
As well as being able to produce the required colour, the leather must also be made to very exacting technical specifications before it will be used on any car. Testing is carried out on thickness, strength, extensibility, adhesion and flexibility of the coating, abrasion resistance, light fastness, fogging, flammability and more, depending on the unique customer needs. Ensuring the quality and finish will look the same in 10 years or 100,000 miles is paramount.