Silk is not the most durable material. Rather, it’s the sumptuous, insect-spun fabric of shawls, slippers, and the linings of better coats—a textile that transcends commodification, more shimmering asset than sturdy cloth. Lovely, but with the integrity of a pecorino shaving. Silk, in its grained opulence, is party-at-night, not workaday. Even as automakers outfit their cabins with materials seemingly poached from a high-luxe spaceship—carbon fiber, open-pore wood, fiber-optic lighting, and glove leather—silk has remained off the menu, too delicate forthe interior of a sporting car.
That’s exactly what the head of Maserati, Harald Wester, thought. Looking to add a dose of exclusivity to his company’s already rarefied sedans, the Quattroporte sporting limousine and the smaller, stiletto-quick Ghibli, Wester turned to another century-old Italian powerhouse, the textile manufacturer and fashion brand Ermenegildo Zegna, for ideas about a new, ultimate interior fitting. Zegna’s chairman, Paolo Zegna, suggested silk.
In June, telling that story to a gaggle of prosciutto-addled journalists wilting happily in the Hemingway Suite at the Grand Hotel des Iles Borro-mées on Italy’s Lake Maggiore, Wester reiterated his reply: “Preposterous.” A trained mechanical engineer, Wester thought immediately of Maserati’s battery of durability tests and had visions of hydraulic pistons punching clean through silken upholstery like a spoon through ricotta. Silk, he said, would never stand up to rough treatment.
At first, he was right. The initial silk Zegna produced—a cut of its finest apparel-quality material—did not survive even 10 percent of Maserati’s testing regimen. In Wester’s words, the result was a seat cover with “more holes than silk.” Undaunted, Zegna and Maserati spent two years working to find a silk—pure, not a micron less than 100 percent—that was strong enough to live inside Maserati’s athletic sedans.
The final product is an exclusive Zegna mulberry silk in anthracite gray, double the weight of Zegna’s suit material. Paired with Pol-trona Frau leather, it covers the seats, door panels, roof lining, ceiling-light fixture, and sunshades: Overall, one Zegna-equipped Maserati uses four times as much silk as a Zegna suit. According to Maserati, the silk meets every standard of its leathers and will last the life of the car.
As we snaked out of the Hemingway Suite, the journalists were assigned sedans—mine, a perfect Ghibli S Q4 in lustrous Grigio with a red-anthracite Zegna interior. After I plopped with no undue delicacy into the car, Zegna’s mastery became immediately apparent. The silk fittings were stitched meticulously, with sharp detailing recalling the crisply cut suits for which the fashion house is famous. The panels were visually understated, with the low-sheen richness that makes the material so bewitching, and as a tactile experience, they crackled with allure. It was impossible not to run palms, knuckles, and cheeks (yes) all over the interior of the Ghibli like a trapped truffle pig.
Then I punched Maserati’s starter button and the car’s rorty motor sprang to life. With fingertips placed gently on the aluminum paddle shifters, I conspired with the Maserati’s 410 horsepower and Zegna’s custom-built Panoramica mountain roadway to treat that gorgeous interior to the drubbing of its life. I threw the Ghibli into corners, prodded its twin turbocharged V-6 to screaming, and left an Italian tollbooth with a haste usually reserved for newly enriched criminals.
In the face of wanton abuse, the silk stood strong, sleek, and unperturbed. In truth, I was the party much worse for wear.