In celebration of the launch of the ‘Limited Edition Barnato’ pen series, Bentley’s Director of Design Stefan Sielaff discusses the enduring appeal of the fountain pen, letter writing and ‘hand-to-paper’ design.
90 years ago, revered ‘Bentley Boy’ Woolf Barnato made a bet that he could travel from Cannes to London before ‘Le Train Bleu’ made it from Cannes to Calais. Using the Bentley Speed Six as his champion car, he won the bet with just minutes to spare. This remarkable victory later became known as the ‘Blue Train Race’.
As the Managing Director of Bentley Motors from 1926-1931, Barnato knew exactly what a Bentley car was capable of and demonstrated this in impeccable style.
It’s this legendary story that inspired Bentley’s latest collection - a series of limited-edition Graf von Faber-Castell pens named after Barnato himself. Each graced with an etching of Barnato’s handwritten signature, the elegant racing green pens are limited to just 1,930 pieces in honour of the year that the ‘Blue Train Race’ took place.
The Bentley Limited Edition Barnato pen series is just one of many examples that demonstrates how the exquisite engineering and timeless design of a Bentley car can inspire a different product. Despite us living in a digital era, the enduring appeal of a classic fountain pen cannot be mistaken.
To explore this last point further, Bentley’s Director of Design Stefan Sielaff reflects on what the art of writing means to him.
"I really like to write letters or dinner cards for private events with a fountain pen and… I also like to sketch with a fountain pen sometimes. It must be on a rather open pore paper. The fountain pen delivers a certain liveliness and a very soft and warm touch to the sketches. It is almost like playing a violin. You get very different ductus from the way you use the instrument and it delivers a very personal interpretation of doing just a line on paper."
Along with a fountain pen and good paper, are there any other items of stationery you can’t live without, or any other objects you always travel with?
I always travel with a little watercolours box, brush and pad. In these digital times, I think it’s a wonderful moment of recreation and meditation to create an analogue picture.
You’ve mentioned that using a fountain pen is a little like playing the violin. Do you like listening to music when sketching or doing creative work? Is there anything in particular that helps you get in the right state of mind?
It’s very often classical music. I like to listen to the likes of Bach, Hayden and Mozart. Then in special moments, I like to listen to jazz - Miles Davis and Stan Getz stand out to me. Ultimately, Queen and Kraftwerk deliver the most inspiration.
With digital tools dominating how designers work today, what role does sketching with pen and paper still play at a company like Bentley?
In every design studio in the world, digital tools are dominant. However, in a design sprint or jam session, a sketch on paper is the quickest way to express your feelings and communicate with your team.
Letter-writing is something of a dying art - what do you think we’ve lost in the move to email and messaging apps, and are there any famous letter-writers from history you admire?
To write a letter is a piece of art. You have to know what you want to express before you start. It is a mental exercise. You have to think before you act.
On top of this, it is an aesthetic statement. Calligraphy and how you deal with proportions on a sheet of paper can be a piece of art.
Famous letters of this persuasion have been perfected by the likes of Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde.
If you could strike up a correspondence with anyone, past or present, from the world of Bentley or beyond, who would you choose?
Of course, it would be W. O. Bentley. I’d love to learn about his way of thinking, his dreams on behalf of the brand and his ideas of how the future might look.
In regards to the ‘roaring’ lifestyle, my second choice would be Woolf Barnato.
The Blue Train Race was 90 years ago. If you could write a letter to the Design Director at Bentley in 2110 - 90 years from now - is there anything special you’d want to say, or any token gift you’d want to include?
For sure, I would tell him about our challenge and dream to transform Bentley’s design language and DNA.
The next step in propulsion technology will result in the biggest turnaround for the company since 90 years ago.
The gift would be a digital message in the bottle of a data set we are working on at the moment. In 90 years, it’d be interesting to see how the reality has developed compared to the dream in the bottle.