Eleanor Thornton was a charming actress and artists’ muse who took a job at Car Illustrated where she met John Edward Scott-Montagu, the second Baron Montagu of Beaulieu. They began a passionate affair, had a child and secretly stayed together until her untimely death when she drowned age only 35 as the SS Persia Asia she was sailing on was torpedoed.
The Baron loved his cars and in particular his Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, and so in 1910 he commissioned the English sculptor Charles Sykes to create a mascot to adorn the bonnet. Modelled on Eleanor, he called it The Whisper for Sykes had placed one forefinger to the sculpture’s lips as a symbol of this secret love affair. A year later, Charles Rolls and Henry Royce commissioned the sculptor to create a mascot based on Eleanor and so the Spirit of Ecstasy was born.
Earlier this week Rolls-Royce screened a short film based on this story. Voiced by the actress Kate Winslet, The Spirit of Ecstasy is the story of the mascot and how it theoretically guided the creators in the last 105 years to envisage the ultimate motor car. It forms the first in a series of short films created by the House of Rolls-Royce leading up to the much-anticipated production of the 2018 Phantom, the marque’s pinnacle car.
I caught up with Rolls-Royce Motor Car CEO Torsten Müller-Ötvös to find out more.
This is a truly beautiful film in that in just under three minutes it brings to life the seemingly opposing side of the marque – that these are highly engineered and powerful cars, yet hold the romance of Belle Époque, of an artistic and inspired era, all told in a very ethereal way…
Thank you. We couldn’t have put it more perfectly!
Why start with Eleanor and Spirit of Ecstasy mascot?
Spirit of Ecstasy has stood on the prow of every Rolls-Royce since 1911. For over a 100 years, she has seen it all, been around the world and witnessed the greatest moments and the greatest races.
How involved were you with the project?
Intensely, but not so much on the film as on the House of Rolls-Royce, introduced this year as a way of communicating the brand… storytelling under one roof that is more than just talking about products. So we decided to create a House of Rolls-Royce, much like Haute Couture, to tell these stories, to invite customers to the House so they feel part of the design process and part of the story.
As Rolls-Royce opens up to a much wider audience that includes a demographic group well beyond the more classic customer base, do you feel you can be more provocative with how you communicate the brand?
Yes, our customers are getting younger and younger – the average age has gone down from 56 to 45 and we even have 20-year-old Roll-Royce owners. This is 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.
In a world where the word luxury is so overused, what are the challenges of expressing a true sense of luxury?
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.
Part of the appeal of a luxury car like the Phantom is that it doesn’t get re-designed frequently so as to retain its classic feel. In fact, the current model has remained largely unchanged since 2003. The Phantom is your ultimate expression of luxury. What does the car mean to the brand going forward?
The new Phantom uses a spaceframe architecture which will allow us to explore electric propulsion. This is very important to us. We speak all the time to our customers 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. So for us the Vision 100 Next Concept [shown earlier in the year] is our lighthouse – it guides us.o for u Vision 100 Next Concept [shown earlier in the year] is our lighthouse – it guides us.
The artificial intelligence in the car is represented by Eleanor so there is still a link to the past…
Why release The Spirit of Ecstasy film now?
We are releasing the film at the end of this year to mark 2017 when the Phantom will be made after 14 years here which is a remarkable moment for us at Goodwood.
The Spirit of Ecstasy will be followed by a series of teaser films leading up to the Phantom in 2018.