Rolls-Royce CEO On The Brand And The Next Phantom

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…

Yes, absolutely.

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.

Nargess Banks

The Spirit of Ecstasy will be followed by a series of teaser films leading up to the Phantom in 2018.

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©

Introducing the softly radical future Bentley

Last month we were given an insight into the future of Bentley Motors design. Although not radical in the obvious sense, it is a very interesting and subtle approach to the evolution of luxury.

The marque is viewing new materials in terms of sustainability and usability, and is looking at how the interior, especially the interface, will evolve – in this case radically – to speak the language of digital natives with bendy, wrap-around screens projecting a virtual butler of sorts.

We saw some pretty innovative work. Production-ready 0.7mm stone veneer – slate and quartz – for interior elements, vegan luxury alternatives such as man-made leather that will have its own identity in smell and texture, as well as durable silk and cashmere. We were shown beautifully carved wood inspired by old guns for the dials and switches, and quilted wood for door panels that utilise the skills of the Crewe artisans.

The company is exploring 3D printing to help create intricate radiator graphics. Inspired by the cut crystal whisky glass, it is looking into animating the inside of the exterior lights so that, much like a kaleidoscope, they can welcome you and reveal the Bentley logo.

These are all highly intriguing ideas that are completely feasible in the near future making the second stage of the life of the automobile all the more exciting.

Read the full report published in Wallpaper* here 

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©

Julian Thomson on the Jaguar F-Type

These are images of the upcoming F-Type, a contemporary take on arguably Jaguar’s most notable car, the E-Type. This convertible sports car is a meticulously executed product that successfully avoids making retro references to its predecessor. I caught up a little while ago with director of advanced design, Julian Thomson, who explained the design thinking: ‘We study Jaguar design through our heritage, we look at the background of what’s out there and we look at British design – these facets come together to create a general theme.’

He says Jaguar’s heritage is about innovation. ‘We made huge steps each time in our so-called golden years. The cars were like spaceships when they came out.’ By the 80s, however, the marque had become a victim of its own success. ‘When we tried to expand in the US the company began to submit to customers,’ explains Thomson, ‘and the direct result was that the XJ, in particular, remained the same for almost 10 years.’

It was at this stage that he and director of design Ian Callum joined the Jaguar group – Thomson came directly from the Volkswagen advanced design studio. ‘When I first got here they gave me a brand book – a toy chest with design cues that almost told you how to design a Jaguar. You just can’t do that!’

With the new F-Type the design team are trying to make that emotional connection Jaguar had with its cars in the 50s, 60s and 70s ‘based on aesthetic values of proportion and stance which are very particular to Jaguar,’ he stresses. ‘Even inside the car it is all about an experience and about ambiance.’

Looking at the car that sits before us, the cabin is much more singular than Jaguar’s executive saloons, meaning the cockpit runs around the driver instead of being horizontal. The F-Type’s interface is full of tactility so the driver can feel the mechanics with the gear changes and pedals. ‘You want to feel you’re in control,’ says Thomson. ‘This is a real car.’

He continues: ‘You hear things about surface entertainment; they twist metal into weird shapes to shock the audience into submission.’ Jaguar, he notes, ‘is about purity and beauty in design and a sports car is the best way to demonstrate it. Sports cars should have a greater sense of poise, so this is the pinnacle of our design philosophy.’

Thomson’s favourite aspect of the F-Type is the sculptural rear of the car: ‘It is reminiscent of the E-Type without being a pastiche.’ For the future he reveals that Jaguar will have to create products that appeal to young people, a Golf type car, he admits. ‘We would love to do a city car.’

The F-Type will go on sale later this year.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Ian Callum discusses Jaguar design here.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | | Bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

All rights and labelled images are covered by ©