MEET THE TAKUMI: THE ARTISANS WHO BRING HAND-CRAFTED LUXURY TO THE ALL-NEW LEXUS LS
When it comes to luxury, it’s hand-crafted quality that distinguishes the everyday from something special. That’s why Lexus has called on the time-honoured skills of Takumi craftspeople to provide its all-new LS flagship saloon with unique features that represent the best traditions of Japanese culture and design.
It may be one of the most technologically advanced cars Lexus has ever produced, but the LS is defined as much by its exquisite detailing as by its precision engineering, the work of a select group of men and women who are true masters of their craft.
Kiriko glass-cutting, Origami pleating techniques and intricate woodworking have all been embraced in creating a vehicle interior like no other. It’s an approach Lexus calls “progressive luxury”.
It was Chief Designer Koichi Suga’s vision for the new LS that it should draw on traditional Japanese artforms. He said: “As a Japanese luxury brand, we wanted to integrate elements of Japanese culture and the timeless appeal of Japanese craftsmanship to express the artistic side of Lexus.”
Kiriko glass: a reflection of luxury
The delicate, hand-cut faceting of Kiriko glassware can usually be admired by turning an item such as a traditional Sake glass in the light. But Lexus wanted to create a similar effect with a static element, namely a sculpted piece of glass to adorn the door panels inside the new LS. Realising this ambition brought together the technical prowess of the Asahi Glass Company (AGC), leading manufacturers of items such as smartphone screens and television panels, with the artisan skills of Toshiyasu Nakamura, a Takumi native to Toyama City, the spiritual home of Japanese glass-making.
It was Nakamura who produced a design that would react to light inside the car. He said: “Cutting at altering angles through the hand-drawn lines on the glass results in a ‘twist’, allowing more light to reflect at different angles along those lines.”
It then took 18 months for a manufacturing process to be developed to transform his inspiration into a finished component that is not only beautiful to look at, but is also strong enough to maintain its quality over thousands of miles driving and years of use. AGC invented a whole new process to accomplish the task, using eight processes in eight different locations across Japan.
Lexus wanted something more than simple wood trim for the all-new LS, it sought to use the material in a way that excites the senses and creates a new sense of luxury. This has been achieved in a ground-breaking collaboration with Hokusan, specialists who call on thousand-year-old Japanese woodworking traditions, and craftspeople at Yamaha Fine Technologies who are usually responsible for the hand-production of musical instruments.
The result is Art Wood, new ways of using natural wood to create unique patterns of grain and colour. Hokusan perfected wood slicing techniques with an 18-stage process that takes two months to complete, producing vibrant patterns by cutting across the grain. The finished work is available as the Art Wood Organic option for the LS, which displays a high-contrast pattern resembling the flickering flames of a fire.
Yamaha has been producing high-quality wood trim for Lexus since the original LS 400, almost 30 years ago. For the new model, its Takumi have produced Art Wood Herringbone, using the Yosegi technique to glue multiple, ultra-thin veneers to create different colour shades and grains. These are carefully sliced by Hokusan, then combined to create the distinctive herringbone pattern – every one slightly different in appearance. It takes two months and 14 separate processes to complete the work, including individual painting and polishing to bring out the beauty of the woodgrain.
Hand-pleated door panels
Origami is one of the best-known Japanese artforms and it’s even used by Lexus Takumi in daily routine to test their dexterity. For the all-new LS, Origami skills have been applied to the folding and pleating of fabric to create a special door panel with a three-dimensional finish.
Yuko Shimizu is a Takumi master of hand pleating, the equivalent of Origami applied to sheets of fabric. Her work is usually seen in bespoke curtaining and wedding dresses, but her skills were perfect for bringing another element of traditional Japanese craftsmanship to the LS.
The fabric for the panels, provided by manufacturer Seiren, is luxuriant yet hard-wearing. It’s also significantly thicker and heavier than those Shimizu normally pleats. The challenge was to produce finished panels that both reflect the elegance and craftsmanship of the LS while still being able to withstand the daily wear and tear inside a vehicle cabin.
Shimizu’s unorthodox approach made that balance possible. “To answer this challenge, we brought a whole new way of thinking and completely overhauled our work processes,” she said. She doubled her team’s size to six artisans, dividing the 20 processes in the development between them. The completion of a single pleated panel is a culmination of an undivided three-day effort.
While pleating at Shimizu’s studio, Sankyo, is customarily carried out by a single Takumi, transforming this more durable fabric into pleated panels necessitated an extra Takumi, with both folding the pleats in synchronicity. That innovation was followed by another as Shimizu introduced new techniques to achieve a shine that changes as the angle of light does, and incorporate a graduating fold size in the pleats. As daylight or door trim illumination falls across them, one realises this interplay of light and shadow forms three-dimensional patterns along the door panel, each fold expressing the Lexus “L” motif.
Kiriko glass, Art Wood and hand-pleated door panels will all be available as luxury options in the all-new LS range in the UK. Orders can be placed now, with first customer deliveries early in 2018.