The luxury landscape is going through a radical makeover. No longer is it a simple case of expensive means luxurious. Time, authenticity, rarity, a compelling narrative – it is a collage of these elements that make an object, a place, a situation worthy of branding luxe. This is especially true of the motor car. Rolls-Royce is a brand with a long-lasting romance and history. It has reigned the motoring world since the beginning of time. It is the lion in the motoring jungle. So, the new Phantom VIII has had a lot to live up to. This pinnacle motor car is an incredibly significant product for the marque, since Phantoms don’t get to be designed and engineered from the ground up very often.
I caught up with the director of Rolls-Royce design Giles Taylor to see how he sees this product maintaining its position as the ultimate symbol of luxury on the road and to understand how, through design, he intends to evolve a traditional luxury car brand to be relevant for the modern age.
Nargess Banks: Having recently driven and experienced the Phantom, I’m convinced it is a car like no other with its sense of unmistakable classicism, majesty, stateliness even. How did you approach this latest model?
Giles Taylor: By paying respect to the history of the Phantom, getting under its skin, understanding the classical routes, the classical bedrock that defines the Phantom. At the same time, we wanted to take a big step forward in terms of modernity, to find a Phantom for the next-generation customer.
NB: Your typical customer has lately become younger and more international. Yet even though Rolls-Royce maintains its traditional patrons, the average age, I hear, is now in the mid-forties, which means there are an awful lot of twenty and thirty-somethings buying your cars. Is this one of the reasons for making this latest Phantom more of a driver’s car?
GT: We’ve attracted a younger buyer on the back of a complete range of new cars – the Ghost, Wraith and especially Black Badge which has been a phenomenal success. It has also been because of how we tell our brand story. And yes, absolutely. As our demographic around the world becomes younger, as much as they like to be driven in a Phantom, they also like to drive them. So, in terms of design, whereas the previous Phantom had a sense of formality, this one has far more gesture and flow. We are going back to the 1930s and 40s, spiritually, capturing the gesture of those cars.
NB: How important is it for you to appeal to this younger audience without alienating the more traditional Rolls owner?
GT: I’m a true believer in something that has timelessness – modern classicism. It comes down to proportions, beauty in lines, understanding how simplicity is classicism. Rolls-Royce has to be an expression of modern classicism to appeal to its patrons.
NB: What’s fascinating is how elements such as the headlamp graphics have been kept very clear, containing a great deal of advanced technology yet lacking the elaborate design you see so much on modern cars.
GT: I agree, they are precise, fresh and optimistic. They don’t have a lot of silly jewelry – so they speak of luxury.
NB: For me one of the main highlights of the Phantom is “the gallery”. Spanning the width of the dashboard, this is a chance for customers to commission their own works of art to form their on-the-road exhibition. It really is a stage for self-expression, taking the concept of bespoke, so crucial in luxury motoring, to an entirely new level…
GT: It could be a Pandora’s box! But it will be exciting to see what some of our more artistic and creative customers will do here. “This space is for you”, is the message we are sending. An art lover and the more confident clients wouldn’t be able to resist. The customers driving these cars have egos and characters that need expressing. Equally, many customers may ask to work with our team and seek an artistic hand. That is the beauty of it.
NB: Has it been an exciting project to work on?
GT: As designers working in automotive, the gallery has opened-up a whole new world. Our crafts people at Goodwood (England) love a challenge and have welcomed the gallery too. It really is a hugely innovative feature in an auto setting. It is something that couldn’t work in a tick-box world.
NB: You have spoken to me in the past about how luxury for Rolls-Royce involves the journey, it is about creating a world that revolves a little slower, a world that is more of a sanctuary. Here in the Phantom the interior is envisaged around the idea of “the embrace”. Can you expand on this?
GT: Yes, it is about embellishing a story. So, the embrace begins with the fascia at the front, balanced to offer a social environment. In the rear, the way the coach doors are positioned forward becomes a gesture of embrace, and the passenger bench seats can be tilted to encourage social interaction. Technology is remotely controlled allowing passengers to sit back as the world comes to them. A crystal decanter and cooled glasses made bespoke by us are housed in the rear console. Finally, the starlight headline completes the story.
NB: What role do materials, textures, stitching, the highly-skilled craftsmanship and expertise you can tap into at Goodwood, play in helping achieve this feeling?
GT: Every single interior element has been hand trimmed; it has the signature of the crafts people. There is an emotional connection. This is so unique to us at Rolls-Royce.
NB: Is Phantom VIII the most silent ride you have ever created?
GT: Absolutely. Psychologically, the embrace is also the touch of silence – the idea that you are riding with no noise pollution. As soon as the coach doors close shut, the Phantom driver can find inner solace. More than any of our cars, the Phantom is about this sense of privacy and sanctuary.
NB: Is this something that relates to the idea of luxury going forward?
GT: Yes, definitely!
NB: Talking of future luxury, the 1003EX experimental concept car (shown first in 2016) is a very bold statement on the future of design for Rolls-Royce in the new age of mobility. It offers the ultimate luxurious personal transportation portal for the future, replete with its very own virtual butler. Although a conceptual study, it has inspired some of the Phantom’s interior ideas, including the embrace you mention. Can you explain the idea behind the EX project?
GT: It is the ultimate expression of the future of super-luxury mobility – the haute couture of motoring. We speak to our customers all the time and in the last year they have expressed strongly that they do not want to be driving in an autonomous round-shape bubble car. Yet they want to be very much part of the autonomous future. This is where the EX guides us. The new Phantom also uses a new spaceframe architecture which will allow us to explore electric propulsion. This is very important to us.
NB: In a world where the word luxury is so overused, what are the challenges of expressing a true sense of luxury for you?
GT: When it comes to luxury you need to be able to arouse people by what I like to call storytelling and involving them in the myth of the brand. Doing some of the things we do now would have been unthinkable in the past. The Black Badge video, for instance, is a bit sexy for Rolls-Royce! But we can do it now, as our customers are substantially younger.
NB: And in terms of design…
GT: The Rolls-Royce DNA is about modernity. If you look back at our early Phantoms, for instance, there is a sense of purity in the design, of almost austerity. There is not a lot going on but clean shapes and incredible craftsmanship and execution. Modernity, craft, high tech is in our DNA.