Sitting Pretty

A seat designer for the auto industry says new technology may help vinyl to make a comeback
Insider - Sitting Pretty
Photograph by Jason Marker

The nuts-and-bolts end of the fashion industry — textile milling and factory lines and other niches that don’t require supermodels — works a lot like the car business. Everyone is thinking three or four years ahead, and not much gets done on short notice. And so it is that Lilana Nicoghosian finds herself in Paris and Bologna and other European cities looking at everything from leather and vinyl swatches to Christian Dior shoes, trying to translate them to automotive upholstery.

As design manager at Canadian General-Tower in Bingham Farms, Nicoghosian is a different sort of designer. Her “clothes” are worn by seat cushions, but as much thought goes into them as what goes into a couture gown. She must incorporate the technology with the inspiration, and come up with something that can be sat upon every day for a decade or more. Canadian General-Tower opened its new Innovation Studio last spring to showcase its dedication to that most lowly of seat coverings — vinyl.

This may be vinyl’s century, Nicoghosian says. New coatings give it a drier, silkier feel, and improvements in lining can even make it breathable. And, with designers bent on giving it the grain and blemishes of fine leather, it’s possible the day will come when vinyl will take its place as the other luxury upholstery — or even the green alternative.

Canadian General-Tower is embracing eco-technology — think soy in place of petroleum products and recycled plastic bottles and sustainable cotton for its fabric backing. There’s some guesswork in tracking trends four years out, but green has legs, Nicoghosian says. “And metallics are huge,” she adds. This is not your ’70s eco-friendliness.