Q&A: Inside the world of Bentley design
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There’s a couple of things to know about Bentley’s head exterior designer, Jean Paul Gregory, as Driven found out at the exclusive reveal of the Continental GT in Singapore recently, just days after the launch at Frankfurt motor show.
First, despite his name, Jean Paul, he’s not French, instead he’s from northern England. His Catholic parents named him as Pope John Paul had visited Liverpool just before Jean Paul’s birth in 1980. He’s better known as JP, or JPG by the industry.
And second, he’s getting a name by the motoring industry and an up-and-coming rock-star designer.
He joined the Volkswagen Group after university and moved to Bentley eight years ago before being appointed Head of Exterior design last year.
The affable Gregory had just flown in from the motor show, where his revamping of the famous British grand tourer received unanimous praise.
Despite his jet lag he hosted a dinner for Asia Pacific motoring writers then revealed the Continental GT the next day, just metres from the Singapore GP track.
We sat down with him - after he gave Driven a walk around the Bentley to discuss his latest project:
Bentley's exterior designer, Jean Paul Gregory, at the reveal of the Contintental GT in Singapore. Photo / Liz Dobson
Driven: You talked about jet fighters being the inspiration of the design of the Continental GT. What other inspirations did you have?
JPG: Well, of course, being Bentley, we have an absolutely fantastic characters to draw from, and it's something that we don't want to relive, but we want to definitely draw inspiration from, you know?
There has to be a nod to our heritage, especially in sense of Grand Tourers. We have a really clear lineage when it comes to Grand Tourers.
We were inspired by a lot of different things, including the aviation and nautical industry. In the beginning, in the design studio, we peppered close-ups of all of these fantastic forms and sculptures on the wall just to inspire us and get our creative juices flowing.
But then at the same time, as making a kind of modern statement, it was also important to make it unmistakably a Bentley. Unmistakably a Continental GT.
Driven: You're obviously a custodian of a legacy there, but with making it unmistakably a Bentley, is that sometimes the end of the design process?
JPG: Every designer has a different challenge. Some designers have a blank canvas, but they don't have the heritage to draw from.
I don't consider it a hindrance; I consider it privilege to be here, to be able to carry on the legacy of a car that people really care about.
The Continental is a beautiful car, and I think it would be wrong of me to have the ego to say, "I want to make my own statement".
I'm doing something that's the larger part of an important lineage, and so I don't find it a hindrance.
Driven: But there was one element you couldn't touch, really, is the grille.
JPG: No. Like everything on the car, it has to be interpreted, doesn't it? In a more modern way.
So, it's not just the grille itself that's changed on a Continental; it's lower and wider, and obviously we've been able to do that because of the fantastically technical package we've got, but we also, if you look into the detail, we've deleted a line from the bonnet.
On the new car, we've got one continuous line that comes all the way down to the bonnet and all the way down to the grille.
It's more about execution, the more modern execution, so you're taking the ingredients, the recipe of what makes a true Bentley, a true Continental, but you're interpreting everything in a more modern way. I think that's the trick, I think that's how it's evolved an icon.
Driven: You had to also include quite a bit of technology in this car, did that affect you with your design? In the interior is the rotating display, which is cool.
JPG: It is cool, isn't it? It's rather James Bond, isn't it? Okay, so I think from the beginning the mission statement on the interior that our customers expected and required when it comes down to a Continental GT and it has got all the toys you want and more.
What was very important in terms of approach and ethos was the fact that we didn't want that technology to dominate, because that isn't really a luxury experience.
Technology has to be there if you need it, but it's in the background, and what dominates is the beauty of the architecture, and the beauty of the materials. Of course the interior is filled with these fantastic hand-crafted materials.
To work around the square infotainment screen is limiting, and somehow we wanted to keep. About the interior, it's full of soul ... That would have been diminished somewhat if the interior was dominated by a infotainment screen.
Driven: What about externally?
JPG: The modern car, including Continental, they now have to have a vast array of sensors and cameras, that even 10 years ago weren't there.
As a designer, how do you reconcile that? It is singly the biggest challenge in the design process.
Of course we talked about, the early part of the design process with sketches and defining what you're inspired by, and creating the sculpture. Then when you're moving closer to production and you're integrating all of these sensors, you're integrating all the geometry.
One of the ways we constantly question ourselves is by keeping, almost we freeze in time, the kind of ideal sculpture.
So, we reach, a fairly late version in the design process, but not everything has been integrated, it's still very pure sculpture, very spontaneous statement.
So, we keep that next to do the developing production model, so we constantly reference it. We constantly ask ourselves, "Have we lost any of the spirit?" And then if we have, through these various constraints and requirements that we have to work around, we ask ourselves what it is, why? How can we get it back?
I think it's very important to constantly question yourself, you know on a daily basis. Have we still got it? Have we still got that character that we set out to do in the beginning? And that's what being a good designer is. It's about translating something spontaneous to something that you can sell in all the markets.
Driven: Who do you see as competition for this Continental GT?
JPG: It's funny, the Continental is kind of stand-alone product. There's no direct competitor. It's really extremely comfortable.
But then when you reach the part of your journey where you want to unleash performance, it's all in the car.
So, you can go from a kind of a very relaxing, a romantic experience almost. You know the romantic essence of a traditional grand tourer, but then you can switch to the visceral experience of almost super car levels of performance.