Mulsanne in the Membrane
This being the End Days, there’s a lot of people reaching for the ameliorating wisdom of the ancients. Since the Mayans have, if you’ll pardon the idiom, pissed on their chips post the whole 2012 damp squib, Chinese fatalism has been gaining some traction. Earth. Metal. Wood. Fire. Air. Traditionally, these elements were all significant in Chinese culture to assessing an individual’s character and fate. Having all five rendered you pretty perfect.
One hot bed of elemental worship that many people don’t give enough credit to lies somewhere up the A530 in darkest Cheshire. The mystical teachings of Crewe may not be as hallowed or revered as Lao Tze and the I Ching, but they are as penetratingly acute for the divination of character. An individual who chooses to surround himself and travel within £226,000 of wood, metal, fire and glass (and leather) in the form of a Bentley Mulsanne has at least demonstrated rigorous discernment – a more bespoke Rolls Royce Ghost, all Brit handcraft to the Roller’s off the peg European components. The Mulsanne may well be considered an overindulgence in motor vehicular terms. The tornados of fillet beef, pan-fried in butter, seared in madeira, decorated with morels, and covered in a cream veloute, fortified with foie gras of the open road. Too ornate, rich and heavy to be nourishing on anything other than a special occasion or anniversary. Perhaps this car is a banquet main, when realistically, the poached chicken in dill on rice would be a more sensible choice. The Merc S is poached chicken in dill.
As a man of dubious character, who’s had a triple heart bypass due to certain long-term abusive relationships with some saucy French sauces, I’m here to tell you – EAT THE BEEF. Actually, let’s drop the tortuous culinary metaphors – GET A MULSANNE.
One morning, earlier this summer, six of these civilised, 7,500 lb beasts are parked on Bruton Street, Mayfair. No overspill from Jack Barclay’s emporium of delectable vehicles, a few yards down on Berkeley Square – this cavalcade? has specifically lined up outside the flagship London store of luxury crystal manufacturer, Lalique. More on why in a moment. ‘Pick one’, they say. Mmmmmmm. Decisions… There’s the grey one. The champagne one. A silver one, a black one and two blue ones. Out of those two, Monaco Blue is a vivacious, aquamarine. A tone that speaks of a villa near Nice, of langoustine tails on barbecues, of yachts bobbing at St. Trop, of lithe girls from the Sorbonne, slow dancing to Get Lucky. You know when you’re flying in to Nice on a baking hot July day and you look down at the sea and gasp in anticipation, knowing you have a well-earned two-week appointment in that Cote D’Azur water? That. However, this being Mayfair, the Savile Row, worsted dark navy of Windsor Blue is speaking to me. In fact, the colour seems to enhance the car’s muscular physique and I say a small prayer of humility and thanks for the herd of benighted cattle that sacrificed themselves to be the ice grey leather interior. I’m wearing the appropriate Jermyn Street shirt and knitted tie sacraments. It’s 8.30am. Let worship begin.
The million pound convoy gently departs. Pulling away, gliding into Berkeley Square, rounding Hyde Park Corner and then on to Victoria, one feels that, finally, one’s automotive environment is in harmony with the locale. The Mulsanne is simply another piece of classic British architecture, to be pointed at and photographed by gawping tourists. I feel as big as the massaging armchair that is masquerading as my 12-way car seat. I didn’t even know my body could move twelve ways. The semi-mean streets of South London provide a wee challenge as its youthful tykes languidly walk out in front of my moving luxo-tank. I’m assuming they do it to everyone, but their grasp of basic physics and appreciation for the solidity of high-end British engineering is weak. A small tap from this baby could mean a permanent end to their energetic high jinx. Luckily for them, I’m a bit vigilant and the cast iron brakes are totally amazing. Eating the A2 to Folkestone for breakfast, we’re through the Eurotunnel and cruising on a French toll road before 10.30, local time.
This car slightly confuses people. Do you buy one to be driven in or to drive yourself. Is it the world’s most suave limousine or the world’s most sumptuous saloon? The answer is, of course, both. Three weeks before the French bring in hefty on-the-spot fines for British motorists breaking the 80mph, I look down at the dial and find myself nudging 120 mph, without any conscious attempt to do so. So quiet, so civilised, so solid and understated, you can actually whisper at these speeds and hear yourself.
When I turn the dial that changes the ride settings to Sport, the 6.75-litre twin-turbo V8 just seems to exhale gently and, with a genteel bow, gets on with the job at hand. Steering just a little more accurate, grip just a soupçon more insistent. The mighty integrated sound system is made by British audiophile favourites, Naim – they of the £23,000 combined pre and power amp combo. Turning it down, I remark to my German passenger, the charmingly loquacious Matthias, that I could happily go straight through to Poland. ‘Yes!! We should!! We should! We must stop in Berlin, though. You must meet my girlfriend.’ Sadly, we have a previous lunch date in the Champagne region. After a little detour around the intersections of Reims, we pull into the sweeping gravel drive of L’Assiette Champenoise. Remarkably, I step out of the cockpit after a solid six hours at the wheel and I may as well have just pootled down to Crouch End for a granary loaf. The only physical discomfort is that I seem to be much nearer the equator now and my jacket is no longer required.
This charming Belle Epoque manor house, surrounded by manicured parkland has been in the hands of chef Arnaud Lallement’s family for years. After taking over from his chef/proprietor father a decade ago, he took the interiors to a heightened level of modernist declutter. Whilst the old guard may have grumbled about that, they couldn’t knock Lallement Jr’s passionate adherence to his pere’s classics, since he’s earnt the place a second Michelin star. The signature tourte au pigeon, a perfectly formed mini-Wellington of Bresse pigeon, foie gras and local ham, cosy within a perfect igloo of glazed pastry, is absolutely worth driving over 300 miles for. Sadly, being still on driving duty means that I can’t sample from the stunning cellar. Oliver Krug is a personal (and local) friend who regularly collaborates on menu pairings, so down below they keep some eye-popping vintages. Read those numbers and weep – ‘73, 79, 81, 85, 96 and 98. To compensate, an iteration of wild raspberries in multifarious forms of mousse, tart, creme and paste begins to challenge the Bentley for today’s most stunning collection of disparate components.
Replete, it’s time to cruise eastwards towards Alsace. Here, not 20 miles from the German border is the real draw for our drive. Specifically, a factory in Wingen-sur-Moder, home of Lalique, arguably the finest crystal glass manufacturer in the world, and, of course, celebrated parfumiers. Rene Lalique started his career in the 1880’s, becoming the leading jeweller of Belle Epoque Paris, a maestro who made the most beautiful examples of the Art Nouveau, as sensual body art. By the 1920’s, he had left jewellery, using his graphic training to define the simpler Art Deco style using glass as his medium. He became an expert at interior adornments, creating lighting and wall pieces that defined the era, including compartments of the SS. Normandie and the Orient Express.
The factory he started is still very much at work today, creating stunning and elegant objets d’art, now exclusively in the finest crystal.
After negotiating winding Alsatian roads at low-speed (which the Mulsanne does with very little effort) we get to the factory gates and park up. It’s a hot day, so the prospect of entering a smouldering foundry, with molten crystal being heated up to 2,400F, is not one I’m fully prepared for. Luckily, it’s only that hot in the kilns. Hand-carved out of clay in the basement, they have a brief lifespan. Their newly-born replacements, lined up and awaiting their fiery fate and covered in draped muslin crouch in shadows, penitent monks with heads bowed, as they say their final prayers.
The whole of the process, from the intensely physical glass blowing to delicate polishing and fastidious finishing is a revelation. That such pure craftsmanship is still available today is something that certainly should be cherished. We are here to celebrate two brand new collaborations between Lalique and Bentley, since both brands are approaching their centenaries and have chosen to collaborate on fragrances – ‘Lalique for Bentley Crystal Edition’, an impressive crystal flacon with the legendary ‘Flying B’ Bentley mascot. Finely wrought in gleaming crystal, the dynamic styling of its wings epitomises the classic, endearing qualities of timeless design both brands still stand for.
According to Daniele Ceccomori, the Bentley Designer, “The crystal edition is a masterpiece of craftsmanship, reflecting the unrivalled luxury and elegant values of both Bentley and Lalique. Just as the ‘Flying B’ sits gracefully on the front of our flagship Mulsanne model, we wanted to communicate the same importance with the preciousness of the crystal artwork and the uniqueness of the essence treasured by its delicate flacon”. We watch the Flying B bottle-stop go from molding, to sandblasting and then water polishing. It’s an exquisite object and a fine assimilation of two vital luxury brands.
The eau de parfum itself, composed by Mylène Alran, from the French perfume house Robertet, combines fine woody notes and exquisite leather. Furthermore, precious orris butter accord is added to enrich and fix the scent. The ‘Lalique for Bentley Crystal Edition’ is limited to only 999 pieces. One imagines, even at £3,000, a fair few have gone already.
They have also developed a slightly less exclusive fragrance range, the ‘Bentley for Men’ and ‘Bentley for Men Intense’ fragrances. Created by top French perfumer Nathalie Lorson, from the perfume house Firmenich, they naturally include those must-haves for what is Bentley’s debut fragrance, fine wood and leather notes.
“I chose cedar because of its powerful unadulterated scent and patchouli for its sensual depth and natural elegance” explains Nathalie. The ‘Intense’ version takes these notes higher by infusing the rich scent with aromatic African geranium. I’m sure fine cigar and fresh engine oil would make most Bentley owners happy as well.
We point our cortege in the direction of the crossroads of Europe, the charming town on the banks of the River Ill, Strasbourg. After a couple of hours, we park up in a 14th century courtyard, leaving the cars to Bentley’s brilliant support team. A new batch of journos is due to make the return journey, all the way back, tomorrow. I’m booked on a prop plane home. But I could as happily sit in the back of a Mulsanne. Or the boot. I have no idea what that says about my character.
Bentley Motors manufacture handcrafted motor cars in Crewe, England, and have a rich heritage of 90 years as a pinnacle, British automotive marque. Visit the website at www.bentleymotors.com. The renowned French crystal manufacturer Lalique has created the first perfume crystal flacon for British luxury car maker Bentley Motors, the exclusive and limited “Lalique for Bentley” Crystal Edition. Find out more at www.lalique.com.