Rolls-Royce expresses modern luxury with Dawn

The idea of luxury has evolved to be something quite complex. The word is being overused, often misused, and is in danger of losing its power and prestige, forcing its custodians to explore luxury further and within the context of contemporary life.

A recent exhibition What is Luxury?, set out to speculate on the concept for future generations, in the process adding such words as authenticity, legacy, access, resource, journey, skill, and memory to the more classical adjectives associated with luxury.

Certain industries have taken the concept of modern luxury to a hyper level. In the world of haute cuisine, for instance, eating is now a grand theatrical experience. At Heart, Ferran Adrià’s – of elBulli fame – latest project with Cirque du Soleil, Paul Pairet’s Ultraviolet in Shanghai and the €1,500 per head Sublimotion in Ibiza, the emphasis is on performance, the theatre of dinning, the experience, and of creating an almost cinematic expression.

The new Dawn has similar ambitions – albeit on much more subtle lines. Rolls-Royce, a beacon of traditional luxury, has had to re-evaluate its identity. The marque has been wise to evolve to meet the demands of the new world, the future and frontier markets, first with the smaller Ghost, then the Wraith. These are cars designed to be driven, not chauffeured as with traditional Rolls motor cars, and are aimed at younger customers.

We were introduced to the Dawn a week prior to yesterday’s official unveil via ‘Digital Dawn’ which revealed the car to the all corners of the world simultaneously. The physical unveil was much more old school at a stylish residential penthouse in the heart of London with vistas of the city’s architectural gem past and present – and some in the horizon.

The Dawn is so beautiful in the flesh – a gorgeous metal sculpture with elegant proportions and packed with delicious tactile surfaces. It pays tribute to the 1950 drophead Silver Dawn. Unlike the Silver Dawn that was factory built, the drophead models were the last cars to be custom built and sculpted at coachbuilders. Only 28 of these rare motor cars were made until 1954.

The car, says director of design Giles Taylor, is a tribute to the Post War era, it pays homage to the optimism of the 50s, a wink to Federico Fellini’s delicious La Dolce Vita. And sitting in the mandarin orange cabin, parked in the garage of this exclusive penthouse, I almost feel a movie star.

Rolls is insisting that the Dawn is not a convertible Wraith, that some 80 per cent of the exterior body panels are newly designed to accommodate an evolution of the design language and to encapsulate four-seat super-luxury architecture. The canvas roof and the drop-head proportions certainly differentiate this from its siblings, but much like the Wraith and Ghost, the Dawn begs to be driven.

‘It was essential that this car looks good with the hood up or down,’ says Taylor, so the proportion of metal to the glass and the way the canvas rolls over offers a unique character with the hood either way. Like the car it honours, this is a voluptuous car, yet the surfaces are less swoopy; they are simple, quiet, offering a relaxed informality.

It features a beautifully crafted canvas roof – cloth after all still evokes the free spirit of open top driving. Besides few Rolls customers wouldn’t have a secure garage to store their automobile away.

The retractable roof has a great width; it also seamlessly melts into the metal body. It is beautiful watching the roof unfold with such grace, elegance and precision. Taylor says it has the quietest mechanism in the industry. We also love the weighty ‘click’ at the end as it touches the hand crafted mirror-matched open pore wood rear deck cover. You can almost see the artisans at work in the Rolls Goodwood factory.

The windows are shallow and slightly raised for that bit of privacy and exclusivity. The stance is low at the front enhanced by the wide front windscreen. The side view, Taylor motions, offers the best viewpoint: ‘The sleek far centreline profile that starts with the heavily raked front screen, stretches over the four occupants and plants down effortlessly onto the tail of the car,’ he says.

The whiff of delicious leather welcomes without being overpowering as we enter the cabin. Inside offers a wonderful sensory experience with every surface bathed in tactile leather, wood and chrome.

For Taylor the design had to be primarily about the purity of line, the simplicity of form, ‘three or four lines that evoke the glamour and the style of some of the most beautiful drop-heads ever created by Rolls-Royce,’ he says, adding that above all it had to have a ‘crisp, modern edge that would fit our contemporary customer’. It needed to be the ultimate open-top cruiser.

‘We wanted to create a design experience, a cinematic one for our customers, for a subliminal expression of luxury,’ concludes Taylor, ‘for we are making a statement about modern luxury here.’

Nargess Banks

Read our interview with Giles Taylor on the Rolls-Royce Wraith here.

The spirit of the sweet life, of dolce vita was also at the heart of our latest book The Life Negroni, just published.

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