Giles Taylor on the Rolls-Royce Wraith

The Rolls-Royce Wraith references the glamour of old Hollywood with the elegant Deco inspired sweep of its long fastback body – think Cary Grant and Grace Kelly in Hitchcock’s most stylish of movies To Catch a Thief. Displaying this Ghost-based coupé seems to be a self-conscious separation by the marque from the supercar power struggle that dominated the 2013 Geneva Motor Show in March, where this car was first revealed to us. This doesn’t mean this is a whimsical car, though – the Wraith is the most powerful and sporty car Rolls-Royce has ever built.

‘We have gone out of our way to make this a car in its own right. This is very much designed to be a gentleman’s GT,’ explains Giles Taylor. ‘This may sound exclusive to women, but I believe this is very unisex car,’ notes the design director as I catch up with him at the show. He leads me to the coach doors, which he notes ‘have all the glamour and expression that will appeal to lady drivers’. He says balancing duality is a very Rolls-Royce quality. ‘We don’t go overtly in one direction.’

From initial sketch to the Wraith we see before us took three and half years involving a team of five designers. Giles says his team don’t work in an ‘automotive cocoon’. He says: ‘We are designers who love design and will go to the Monaco yacht show and Milan design fair  to be inspired. So many of our solutions are not automotive related.’

The proportions of the car express what’s beneath the metal, he explains. ‘There is a very powerful engine at the front so we need to express this. To reference heritage we felt it needed this wonderfully tensile silhouette. The teardrop look makes the car look like it can go fast.’

The car was designed to be in two-tone. Giles explains that this begins to break the car into modules and creates a stronger architectural sense. Rolls customers naturally opt for the bespoke colour combinations for which five are offered on the upper deck and 32 on the lower. ‘We allow our customers to pick-and-mix but there are things we wouldn’t recommend. We are keen for a personal statement to creep into your choice.’

Over at Goodwood, where the cars are assembled, over 500,000 colours are on offer and the team can mix and match almost any shade. It all dates back to the days of Valentino who famously ordered a purple Rolls and Marlene Dietrich’s emerald green Phantom II that was specified to match her favourite necklace. ‘There is the glamour side of our brand that we can’t deny,’ Giles smiles.

The styling is cinematic – step inside and you are transported to the set of To Catch a Thief, you can almost see yourself cruising along the snaky roads of 1950s Côte d’Azur. Giles is clearly delighted with this observation: ‘As a design team we look at Cary’s jacket and Grace’s dusty pink dress [in the film] and visualise how we would get that colour in the interior.’

The heavy coach doors can be ordered shut with a press of a button; the boot too has sensors that triggers it to close automatically. The cabin is cosy with its soft leather seats and brown sheepskin floor mats. It is also contemporary in its treatment of natural texture wood, a play on balancing the analogue and digital on the dashboard, and the racy graphics that light up the roof at night.

The Wraith, the designer feels, is perhaps for a Rolls customer with a more ‘spirited approach to life’. The saloon, he notes, has more formality and is a car that lends itself to being chauffeured. ‘We’re expanding beyond our traditional customer base and reaching out to a younger minded person in certain regions,’ says the designer candidly. ‘In China our customers are very young, and many are women. So for us it is a case of putting a contemporary edge to this product.’

Read my interview with the Rolls-Royce chief executive officer Torsten Müller-Ötvös in Wallpaper* and the making Rolls-Royce cars at Goodwood here.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

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