In 1920 F Scott Fitzgerald took what turned out to be a rather rocky road trip from Connecticut to Alabama in a used Marmon so Zelda could rekindle with her childhood in the south. His upbeat account of the eight day adventure were later published in book form as The Cruise of the Rolling Junk. Zelda was less generous with the journey writing simply: ‘the joys of motoring are more-or-less fictional’. When building his 1924 Type 35, Ettore Bugatti modelled the engine first in wood to make sure the proportions were right for the car. In 1933 the racing driver Francis Turner was killed while testing Buckminster Fuller’s crazy-shaped three-wheeled Dymaxion since the architect and inventor didn’t bother too much with mastering aerodynamics and proper engineering so his prototype lifted at speed making it impossible to steer or brake as Turner was to tragically discover. The Fiat Lingotto Turin facility and its cinematic pista were the work of a naval architect by the name of Giacomo Matté-Trucco who was inspired by the theories of the Italian Futurists.
These are just some of the myriad of topics gathered from the car-besotted century by Stephen Bayley in his latest book The Age of Combustion – an edited selection of his Octane column, The Aesthete. This is a hugely engaging book and Bayley is a natural raconteur. His writing is erudite but also light and fun – forever weaving his immense pool of knowledge on architecture and design and cinema and literature and life into multiple narratives. Or to quote the industrial designer J Mays: ‘No one articulates the Theatre of Design like Stephen Bayley.’
Recently I joined a group discussion on the future of luxury. This is a theme that keeps coming up in meetings and with the clients I work with outside my role as a journalist. And I can see why. We are pretty much at the crossroads of change, with the pandemic acting a little like a punctuation point in history, allowing some of us time to reflect and rethink what had become normal and accepted simply because in the rush of life, few questioned its authenticity. Why, for instance, has luxury been caged and confined within a tightrope of clichés? Surely, it can be brave and bold enough to break free of the narrow confines of price, value and status.
I’m not so much interested in the physical luxury of stuff, but more so in unwrapping the spiritual concept of luxury, the poetic element, all those other parts that may not directly be linked with the concept but will come to define it ever more as we navigate the future. I’m talking about time, knowledge, intellect, ideas, art, craft, skills, history, love, passion, stories, poetry and a whole world of more elusive elements that make luxury special – not exclusive or expensive, but extraordinary.
Then, of course, luxury is rooted in context. During the deepest darkest pandemic hours, amid lockdown with no vaccination in sight, luxury became the sound of birds singing, trees blossoming, neighbours clapping in unison in support of health workers. Luxury was discovering that unnoticed path in the local park, a coffee lovingly prepared by the local barista, happening upon a new piece of music or a podcast to open up a world. With lockdown lifted, the height of luxury has become sharing a meal with family and close friends, hugging them, seeing live art, planning trips to other lands.
This got me thinking about the Rolls-Royce Boat Tail. The hand-built, one-of-a-kind motor car is a new private commission estimated to have cost over £20 million. On the one hand, it epitomises old-school luxury, the kind money can buy, the luxury of status that is exclusive and rare. But what makes the Boat Tail special isn’t the price tag – that’s just a number. Rather, it is the unique knowledge and artistry and imagination that went into creating it. And the Boat Tail’s perceived value is tied intimately with Rolls-Royce’s evocative narrative and its rich history. This is where luxury becomes storytelling. And this is where it gets exciting.
Layers of experience passed on from generations of winemakers, the uniqueness of the terroir, what happened in the year of harvest – this represents the height of luxury. Or it could be more ephemeral – that visceral feeling, that sense of wonder when you experience a new wine, or taste a unique dish, have an unforgettable chance encounter. Luxury is about the unexpected pleasures. Thomas Girst, head of global cultural engagement at BMW Group, told me he sees it as ‘the time for meaningful experiences, exchanges and actions that have the power to shape and define who we are’. And I couldn’t agree more.
What this means in terms of branding and design is to involve as many specialities and characters as possible in creative processes. It means mixing up sciences and arts and engineering and academia, proactively seeking different voices – be it gender, class, race, nationality, age. This is already happening to some degree across many businesses and educational establishments. And it can only prove to be a positive thing. It will help paint a more colourful, a more textured and richer world of luxury.
Viewing luxury as something far beyond the physical object opens a vast ocean of possibilities. We have the tools to make new forms of luxury a reality by harnessing the positive power of technology. And I’d like to hope the pandemic has opened our eyes to values that are fair that can be found in luxury. To my mind, the future of luxury will be more and more about shared beliefs – artistic, environmental, societal. It will involve intuitive and tailored experiences gathered around principles of imagination, expression and freedom. And it need not be reserved for a select few. What Covid and the climate crisis have plainly shown is the ephemerality of our human existence. Spiritual luxury, by definition, is democratic. It is inclusive and inviting and free and poetic and full of wonder.
‘It exists far beyond a mere means of transport,’ explains Alex Innes, head of Rolls-Royce Coachbuild design. ‘The Boat Tail is not about reaching a destination. It is the destination itself.’ Innes is referring to the marque’s latest project, one of only three specially commissioned nautical inspired custom-built motor cars, which premiers the new division dedicated to creating such hand built products.
I visited the home of Rolls-Royce at Goodwood a little while ago to see the car prior to its world premier today. And it is a stylistic tour de force, full of the sort of unexpected pleasures that define luxury today. Take a closer look at the design story as Innes guides me around and inside the Boat Tail here.
‘Some things disappear, some things have to disappear, but some things live on using different materials and technologies,’ says Sudo Reiko. The visionary Japanese textile designer’s work is anchored on exploring the possibilities of textile. Often fusing ancient and modern techniques, and involving unusual materials, her studio Nuno’s fabrics are almost always unexpected and imaginative. Now, Japan House London is hosting an exhibition dedicated to her work.
Making Nuno, Japanese Textile Innovation from Sudo Reiko (17 May ? 11 July 2021) is an immersive study of the artist and her studio’s creations. ‘Textile gives us the knowledge about our past, present and future,’ says Takahashi Mizuki. ‘I want to bring visitors to the journey of the textile through experiencing the production,’ adds the curator and executive director at the Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile in Hong Kong, where a similar show was displayed two years ago.
Sudo’s fabrics tell infinite stories of time, place and people. She says in Japanese textile making, there is a tradition of handing down knowledge and knowhow through generations, and so the human factor, the people and their personalities, are central to the work at Nuno. Working with artisans around Japan, the studio also helps preserve skills passed on through generation.
Five large dynamic installations offer Japan House visitors a chance to see some of Nuno’s experimental processes in action. The Kibiso Crisscross fabric, for instance, takes the discarded protective outer layer of silk cocoons to make yarns from the tough remnants in tailored machines. Or, to celebrate of textile’s industrial process, discarded punch cards, which control the movements of the warp yarn on the programmable Jacquard weaving looms, are roughly stitched together for a screen that projects ethereal shadows onto a wall.
There is a poetic energy to Sudo’s work that make her objects feel timeless. And her sustainable approach to product and production are extremely timely as consumers become more environmentally aware and expect greater accountability from brands they invest in.
‘I grew up in a small country town, where every spring and autumn we looked forward to the arrival of the travelling salesman and his bundle of kimono fabrics,’ recalls Sudo. ‘Hiding behind my mother, aunt and grandfather, I would watch spellbound as he presented these beautiful textiles, one after the other, on the tatami mats. That was probably when I first dreamt of one day becoming someone who makes beautiful fabrics.’
Balenciaga has been rethinking the unsustainable pace of fashion. The luxury house has been looking at how it can progressively evolve the way in which it presents its collections to the post-pandemic world. Balenciaga isn’t of course alone in challenging a system steeped in tradition which relies on a fixed and ecologically wasteful number of collections, and shows that are increasingly out-of-touch with the consumer habits of a young global audience.
Now the marque has said it will show just four key ready-to-wear gender-inclusive collections with a separate haute couture line annually. What’s probably more exciting is that starting with the autumn/winter 2021 collection, the shows will be performed to an exclusive list in digital format and through virtual runways via headsets, while animated and interactive video games will aim for a wider audience.
The first of the series was revealed over the weekend. ‘Afterworld: The Age of Tomorrow’ is an augmented-reality interactive video game set in an imaginary 2031, with Balenciaga’s avatars wearing designs made from upcycled materials and created through advanced techniques to signify fashion as enduring and sustainable. And they are driving Polestar’s visionary concept vehicles.
See the full story here and take a look at Afterworld here.