What's it like to design a Bentley?
John-Paul Gregory or "JP" as he prefers to be called is the man responsible for the exterior design of the most luxuries performance cars in the world. Esquire Middle East met up with JP at the Bentley showroom on the Sheikh Zayed Road. As with most things in Dubai this 7,000m2 flagship retail space is the largest in the world including a personal commissioning area, and a roof garden.
ESQUIRE: How do you define luxury?
JP Gregory: Luxury is an opportunity for somebody to have infinite possibilities to make the car unique for them. That’s why customisation is very important.
Are there new cars in the works?
There are always cars in the works. We have a fantastic range that we have just added to recently with the Bentayga [the world’s fastest SUV]. It’s was an exciting proposition for me and the team as the challenge was how do you take a product that Bentley has never made before and make it a true Bentley? We had pragmatic and philosophical discussions about how to the car will unmistakably be a Bentley and still have new design features.
What's the process of designing a car from scratch?
It is still as romantic as you would imagine. You start with sketching, brainstorming ideas and really understanding the project. We surround ourselves in a creative world, with images and voices; it’s like a living, breathing mood-board. What is the spirit of the project? We need to understand the customer and what lifestyle he has. What would he want? We have the spirit and feeling before we put pen to paper. A theme is selected, all the designers sketch, we select two or three proposals and go into the CAD process.
Bentley is all about a powerful front and a long bonnet, a substantial cabin to protect the passengers and ensure privacy and a long, elegant overhang. Once the proportions are set, we move in to the key lines of Bentley, and these are the power line and the haunch, which is the muscle of the car.
When you design a car, do you break it down into regions and assess the commercial aspects in design or is it a global process?
What makes Bentley unique is the element of Britishness. We have this deep and rich heritage to draw from, and that’s the appeal. When we put pen to paper the core criteria is to make a stunning Bentley. The sketch is the start, so with the Bentega, for example, we had a very clear concept of how big the car needed to be, where the wheels sat, so we had constraints to work with. You blend luxury, elegance, power and performance.
You have some worthy competitors in the luxury and performance sector. Talk me through the main elements that set Bentley apart?
What differentiates Bentley from other manufacturers is the level of refinement. It’s all about making the exterior design timeless. We don’t follow fashion which comes and goes, we create a timeless design. We refine by hand, designing the car in a clay model and have a team of sculptures that sculpt the thing. Bentley’s jewellery like details is one of the elements that defines the car, and it’s a great honour to design such things. That about sums up the design process in a nutshell.
The love of sketching, is that something that comes from childhood? You are essentially living every child’s dream, sketching the most luxuries cars in the world and getting to make them into reality.
It's actually, it might be a cliché but I have been sketching for as long as I can remember and when I found out I could make a career out of it, well I went for it. I’m lucky enough to call it my job, if you can call it a job that is. (He laughs)
Let’s talk about customisation and limited edition cars...
Bentley have a lot of limited edition work done by Mulliner (the custom devision at Bentley). The level of customisation beyond the standard offering is largely infinite. The customisation we are involved in is how to develop limited editions. In the design studio you have a kind of blank canvas. There are different types of materials you can work with, different stitching on the headrests.
What about GCC limited editions?
We have a regional take on the matter, Falconry is of cultural significance here so last year we did the Mulliner Limited Edition called the Mulsanne Sinjari, after the majestic bird of prey which is famed for its strength and agility. Distinct Falcon on the front of the car. When we can we like to use a regional theme.
Who would determine what kind of customisation is to be done in a particular region, would it be someone sitting at head office?
At Bentley the guiding principal is always a story behind a limited edition. One of the best recent ones was the collaboration we did with the Blue and Yellow Breitling display jets, Continental GT Speed-Breitling jet team series. We did this in the United States, only seven cars were produced because there are only seven jets. We met the jet pilots, spent time with them and soaked up what makes them go, the formations etc. We built seven cars incorporating some of the design ques into the cars. There you have it, it’s a story.
Does Bentley go out to concoct stories to produce a range?
These stories have to happen naturally, we don’t make one up to just sell cars. It has to be a natural synergy. We have done Cherry Blossom Marquetry in Japan. It’s not about brash, overt visually aggressive customisation, its personalisation. This will mean a lot to the specific people who get to own these cars. We pride ourselves in taking a very different approach to other manufacturers.
Going back to the Continental GT Speed - Breitling jet team series cars, who gets these magnificent examples?
As soon as we made seven and they all went to pre-determined collectors in the US. Immediately there was a huge demand for more, and we said no! There are only 7 jets, we launched the range with Britling and that story is closed.
I’m aware of the vow of silence about revealing new models but give us something on a new car you’ve got in the works? Some design features.
Well in the design studio we are three to five years ahead of production, I could say we are investigating a little bit more of an adventurous exterior surface language, we call this ‘fuselage’ it’s actually inspired by aeronautical lines. We think there is a real synergy between the aeronautical world and Bentley.
How about the concept – EXP12 Speed 6 E, the one you introduced at the Geneva Motor Show a few weeks back? Does that hold clues to Bentley’s new lines?
That was a concept car. Fully electric and you are right, a couple a ques that will give you a clue about the future of design at Bentley. The back lights have a cut crystal glass effect, this is a dramatic luxury statement. Bentley is looking to contemporise what is luxury, taking our fantastic heritage and values and moving it forward with different interpretation of luxury. Have look at the headlights for example and you can see into the future of Bentley design. The idea behind a concept is to gauge reaction, principals mean luxury and this means convince. I can say that couple of the things you see on this car is a preview of what’s to come in the next few years.