“Design as much as strategy”
We will talk to you about cows, fish, colours, materials and above all, a profession that is undergoing a transformation in a world of shattered automotive design. Welcome to the office of Sabine Le Masson Pannetrat, a designer, in charge of the “CMF” unit, understand: “Colours Materials and Finishes”.
LIGNES/auto : Before going any further in the interview, I would like us to break – or not – a ‘cliché’ : men are in the exterior design while women are in the fabrics. Is that still true?
Sabine Le Masson-Pannetrat : “The colours & materials department of car manufacturers has historically been very feminized, but at PSA, whether it is us, DS Automobiles (https://www.dsautomobiles.com/) or Peugeot and Citroën, the ratio of women to men is almost identical, around 2/3-1/3. In my team, we are nine people : six women and three men. »
No more ‘clichés’ then !
S. Le M-P. : “What counts in such a team is not necessarily parity, it is to have men and women with different sensibilities ! »
Your department is called “Colours, materials and finishes”… What exactly does your job consist of ?
S.Le M-P. : “I am in charge of a team of designers. Together, we make sure to offer colours, materials and finishes that match the identity of the DS brand. Everything that is touched, seen and felt in terms of exterior colours, interiors – from the materials of the carpets to the textile of the pavilion – is concerned. »
Working for DS, a very young brand associated with French know-how, is it different ?
S.Le M-P. : “This is a unique opportunity to work for a French brand that is being created, with an extremely wide scope in the world of colours and materials. We position ourselves as a brand that is inspired by French know-how. We really tickle the world of luxury ! »
Do you tickle German competitors especially ?
S. Le M-P. : “Actually, we don’t look at them too much ! We position ourselves in relation to what the DS brand wants to express: to promote French know-how. »
…which is not German know-how, but at the same time, DS first established itself in China : you too can be inspired by the Chinese know-how… ?
S. Le M-P. : “We are obviously interested in the Chinese market but we are not inspired by their know-how. Instead, we look at how the Chinese communicate on their own know-how. »
Concerning German premium products….
S.Le M-P. : “…they are obviously very good products, of good quality… But they lack a soul. They are in territories other than ours. »
Is your office far from the brand’s design studios ?
S.Le M-P. : “No, we access the studio through the hallway. Our department is very much in demand both by the DS brand and also transversely within the group. It is true that one of the fundamentals of the DS brand is based on colours and materials. It is a strong value. With the interior design, we manage quite complex designs, such as the “watch bracelet” upholstery (below). We work in pairs with interior and exterior designers.”
Is there training for colours and material designers as there is for external and internal designers ?
S.Le M-P. : “In fact, there is no training as a designer in “colours and materials”…
…is it a lack ?
S. Le M-P. : “There would be a school, we would go and pick from his students and it would be an easy solution, because the designers would be very formatted. In fact, we recruit very diverse profiles ! In my team I have an interior designer, colorists, a designer engineer… in short, not a single identical profile ! And that’s the great richness of the team, they have different reflexes, different sources of inspiration, it’s not like they all come from a school of automotive design. »
How do you recruit then ?
S. Le M-P. : “It’s complicated to go and recruit… For example, we’re going to look for textile designers and we fall back on rather feminine profiles. For DS, what interests me a lot is this search for atypical profiles. It is not necessary to be an interior designer to work with colours & materials but you still have to know how to think in terms of volume, have a good sensitivity to colour, necessarily ! »
To acquire these sensitivities, there are many other schools ?
S.Le M-P .: “There are several who train as colorists, notably in Montauban (https://iscid.univ-tlse2.fr) below. We can also mention the training courses at Oliver de Serres’ school in Paris (l’ens aama : http://www.ensaama.net/site/), more generalist training in the world of textile design, Arts Deco, masters in design as at Strate (https://www.strate.design) but not necessarily in the mobility field. You can also mention woodworking schools. In any case, we are recruiting for five years of higher education. »
And you are currently recruiting ?
S.Le M-P. : “I would say that we are currently a team in the right format for our range but we are still interested in atypical skills. We do not recruit, but we offer six-month internships each year for the Bac + 5.” (baccalaureate degree + five years)
Do you work with outside consultants, such as the designer Karim Rashid (http://lignesauto.fr/?p=11357?)
S.Le M-P.: “In my first life at Citroën (Sabine worked at Citroën from 2002 to 2005 before moving to Aston Martin, see below the post. NDA) we consulted designers. Today, for DS, we consult craftsmen instead. They can be art houses, from embroidery to cabinet making. But we also collaborate with very well-known French luxury houses. Recently, for the DS X E-Tense concept car, we worked on wood in marquetry and laser cutting with the house Farouche (https://www.farouche-paris.fr/fr/home-2/) to create unique pieces. These works serve as a reference for us to then go and see our industrial suppliers. »
Since the interview, the ASL concept car with many new materials on board, such as the… straw confirms this desire.
So the craftsman can’t follow you in mass production ?
S. Le M-P. : “The craftsman is not necessarily interested in mass production. What interests him is to encounter another universe, that of the automobile. It is a challenge for him because we work with him on new materials in a new world : that of the automobile. »
You’re thinking about the feathers of the DS X E-Tense ! Feathers in tomorrow’s car, is that conceivable ?
S. Le M-P. : “Fragile materials must be protected by placing them in areas where they are not constantly in contact with them. But for the feather, it won’t be enough. It is also necessary to take into account the light fastness, it is complex. Then we’ll reinterpret the feather. We are looking very closely at how to find an equivalent with our quality requirements. »
How do you find these craftsmen very particular ?
S.Le M-P. : “We work with the “living heritage companies” which identify the best of French know-how. There is also the Colbert Committee (below) for luxury houses (created in 1954, the Colbert Committee brings together French luxury houses and cultural institutions. They work together to promote the international influence of the French way of life. https://www.comitecolbert.com). But our main inspirations are captured at exhibitions or in showrooms.”
Between the craftsmen and the series production, I have trouble grasping the big leap !
S. Le M-P.: “Sometimes we do too ! Our research does not all lead to series production, that is the interest of our concept cars which are there to pioneer these advances towards new materials. There are projects that stop before the industrialization stage, because sometimes we have probably dreamed too much. And then there are others who go through the process of adapting. For example, the specific patina of our handmade leather in our DS E-Tense concept was validated for the series after working with our leather supplier. We have moved to a more industrializable screen printing technology. The supplier had the example of our handmade patina by our saddler and we owe it to him to have adapted his production to obtain a similar result. It is a great success when we reach such a transformation that goes beyond the specifications ! »
In luxury, however, some people claim that leather has no future ?
S. Le M-P. : “Leather is durable because it is waste ! The cows used for their leather are cows raised for their meat because it is totally illegal to raise cows only for their leather. Even brands like Hermès communicate on this and as long as we eat meat, the leather in the car will last ! »
However, manufacturers are testing new materials to replace leather !
S.Le M-P. : “We too are looking very closely at alternatives to leather. Meat consumption is decreasing, so we are also looking at fish leather…. »
…Fish leather ?
S. Le M-P. : “We know how to tan fish skin. Its smell disappears during tanning, it is no longer that of fish but that of leather. Today we know how to make shoes or clothing, but our specifications require that this material be placed in areas that are not very large and not very stressed. »
Silly question, but concretely with a fish leather, you can see the scales?
S.Le M-P. : “Yes, we can still see the shape of the scales… »
Let’s move on to the woods. We have seen them on concept car floors, like the VW Noah…
S. Le M-P. : “Wood is constraining because it is even more alive than leather and very affected by humidity or heat. To resist the stresses of a car floor, the customer would have to accept that it would be damaged like a parquet floor in his home, with mandatory sanding. Or else, the wood will be hyper-protected and lose its appeal. »
Wood is therefore not a material that sticks to the DNA of the DS brand ?
S. Le M-P.: “Yes, of course, but it will be reworked more in marquetry, simple or complex with assemblies that can take up to five years of work because they are truly innovative materials for automotive interiors. »
Tomorrow’s materials will have to integrate the controls as you did on the Citroën C-Airplay (below) and as BMW did on the iNEXT concept. The controls are then hidden by a textile or plastic coating…
S. Le M-P. : “It’s an idea we’re working on. I personally worked on the C-Airplay concept with François Duris in colours and materials on a drawing by Christophe Cayrol. We had moulded controls under the console skin, a polyurethane skin, but it takes time to set up industrially. »
Your department does not only work on the interiors, you also work on the body colours…
S. Le M-P. : “This is a huge field ! In addition to the tints themselves, we will work on the rendering of a chrome, the finishing of a rim, even the tints of glazing. Box colours are a very technical subject. We also pursue a sharing strategy in our French plants, which have very beautiful shared shades that we call “bases”, shades that we complete with shades very specific to DS. »
Are the bright colours definitively lost for the automotive world ? I am thinking of those of the 1970s in France, but also in Germany !
S. Le M-P .: “I think that, overall, there is a vicious circle with the idea of resale that pushes the customer towards non-cleavating shades. It should be noted that the most popular shade on the planet is white. We try to break these principles with more visible shades, as on DS 3 Crossback. And then, we can now count on the evolution of pigments which allows us on our range to have evolutionary shades according to the lighting. For DS, we are looking for remarkable shades, not because they are overly coloured, but because they offer interesting effects, especially with pigments. We are looking for these effects of colour variations according to the angle but it does not make us forget that we must take into account the industrial data.”
Interview by Christophe Bonnaud in 2019 at the ADN PSA – Vélizy.
Sabine Le Masson Pannetrat and… Aston Martin !
Before packing for DS in 2011, Sabine had an exceptional experience : working in Aston Martin’s colour & material design ! “I was looking for a new experience. I had already met Toyota in Belgium and in particular its Lexus branch with many trips to Japan and I wanted to discover new processes… It was very formative, I was very young, I wanted to discover, to travel. I don’t mind travelling, I’m Canadian and French ! Switching to a very small structure in England, in the heart of the factory, and entering the luxury sector was very formative.” An experience that now seems to fit perfectly with the rest of his career in a French brand that clearly shows its ambition, that of embodying in the automobile the know-how of French luxury ! When the planets are aligned…
Find the excellent book “Damsels in design” (below) on pioneering women in the world of automotive design (1939-1959) on our “post” published last February : it is here http://lignesauto.fr/?p=7649=7649