The story behind Rolls-Royce Coachbuild La Rose Noire Droptail

Rolls-Royce’s Coachbuild La Rose Noire Droptail is the story of artistry, craft, skill and sheer determination. The dream of an unnamed customer, and inspired by the Rosa Black Baccara, La Rose Noire is the first of only four completely new motor cars Droptails, each of which will have its own unique character.

Read the full story here 

From wabi-sabi to crafting sustainable surfboards, why we should all take up making

© Do Make by James Otter is published by Do Books. Photographs by Mat Arney

Wabi-sabi is the belief in the beauty in imperfection. The ancient Japanese philosophy seeks charm in the incomplete object, in the worn and weathered – products with a storied past. A growing movement is championing wabi-sabi, and it is being largely led by generations fatigued with the fetishization of busyness and the cult of perfection. Echoing the Arts and Crafts movement that came before them as a reaction to mass industrialisation and ruthless commercial expansion, today’s social rebels are purposely disconnecting from the hollowness of the corporate world. Instead, theirs is a slower life choice found, also, in the art of craft.

‘Perfectionism is such a funny thing,’ says James Otter, surfboard designer and maker, and founder of Otter Surfboards. ‘Our western cultures celebrate it – tirelessly. But it is a completely unrealistic target for any of us to aim at. It is an unhealthy and often damaging way of thinking.’

Otter has recently authored ‘Do/Make: The power of your own two hands’. by Do Books – the publishers of pocket guides designed to inspire action and positive change. He offers a simple guide to making while posing a compelling case for embracing a life in the arts and crafts. Otter is an award-winning designer who works with wood, sourcing ecological timber and making sustainable surfboards that celebrate beauty in the process.

‘I used to take pride in considering myself a perfectionist until I realised that this way of thinking revolves around judgment from others and when you feel things aren’t perfect, you feel a sense of shame,’ he says. ‘So your options are to achieve something that is technically impossible to reach.’ That doesn’t sound productive, I note. Otter agrees. ‘I found that reframing my making into a journey of achieving excellence was a much healthier way of thinking.’ Otter is also an advocate of the wabi-sabi philosophy. ‘I think it would be amazing if our cultures could move to a place where experimentation and striving for excellence were revered far more than the outcome.’

© Do Make by James Otter is published by Do Books. Photographs by Mat Arney
© Photography by Mat Arney for Do Books

Our entire education system is geared towards promoting perfection though, I say. Otter agrees that we are all likely to suffer from the fear of non-achievement – that at some stage in life our creativity has been knocked back by someone or even ourselves. ‘But what if we lived in a society that celebrated play – a place where having a go, and making mistakes were acknowledged as a way to progress? What a wonderful world that would be!’

Even before the pandemic took us by storm, many of us were reconnecting with the art of making, and the process of creating. Otter’s book happens to coincide with our current crisis. ‘As we progressed with the editing phase during the start of the pandemic, we noticed how people were reconnecting with their local environments, taking time to be with the people around them and reconnecting with the art of making,’ he tells me. ‘There is such a mental, physical and spiritual benefit to be found from reconnecting with our hands,’ he adds, ‘and there is no better time than now.’

Then there are the health benefits of creating. With wellness and mindfulness becoming increasingly pivotal in our lives, the art of making can cultivate a healthier lifestyle. If mindfulness is the idea of being in the present in each moment, regardless of activity or state of mind, then what could embody the spirit more than taking up a slow-motion craft.

© Do Make by James Otter is published by Do Books. Photographs by Mat Arney
© Photography by Mat Arney for Do Books

‘Mindfulness is about being able to calm the mind, recognising thoughts, acknowledging them, then letting them pass,’ agrees Otter. ‘So, when we embark upon any journey of making, we are given the opportunity to be completely absorbed in that process and by doing so, we can be present. With that in mind, the more opportunities we can create to make things, the more chance we will have of forming lasting habits that keep us making and provide us with the mental benefits for years to come.’

It seems like a win-win situation but I’m interested to know the necessary steps towards cultivating a passion for making. How do I know what I want to make, for instance? Otter has some helpful tips: ‘The first would be to pick something you are already excited or passionate about. For me, this was surfing. Then create a space to work in so that you can keep coming back to it as and when you are able. Then schedule the time to devote to it. Then release yourself from judgments by others and yourself.’

He says it is the fear of not being good enough that likely stops most of us in our tracks. ‘So, recognise this and let is pass. Finally, get stuck in – there is no right or wrong way to do this, mistakes made whilst making provide an opportunity to learn and help with the continual development of your skills. Enjoy the journey.’

© Photography by Mat Arney for Do Books

The art of making ought to have some purpose too. Finding happiness in making also entails thinking about the larger picture. ‘As someone who designs and makes things for a living, for me it is so apparent that every decision I make along a product’s journey has an environmental impact,’ says Otter, ‘and if we want to continue to make things – and survive on this wonderful planet – we need to put the environment first, always.’

Otter’s craft of choice has the added power of being a rather evocative product. His current favourite surfboard is designed to be versatile and withstand most wave conditions. ‘I spend a lot of time in the ocean with it – interacting with the wonderfully dynamic environment of the sea,’ he offers. ‘There is such magic in moving across the ocean, riding on a wave of energy that has travelled hundreds, if not thousands of miles to reach the shore before it rises, peaks and folds in a way that we can utilise. It is my happy place! 

John Ruskin, William Morris, and their Arts and Crafts comrades fought tirelessly to bring back the joy of craft and celebrate the natural beauty in materials. They understood the relation between art, society and labour, and in the darkest hours of industrialisation applauded the art of making. As we head deep into the machine age, begin to see the effects of globalisation, and try to salvage a climate in crisis, echoes of the movement continue to shine some light on life.

Do/Make: The power of your own hands’ is published by Do Books

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.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design

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Aston Martin goes nautical

These are the first images of the AM37 – a small luxurious powerboat envisaged by carmaker Aston Martin, naval architect Mulder Design and Dutch firm Quintessence Yachts.

The name suggests its size. The 37 foot model will be available in two trim levels – the ?leisure boat AM37, a gran turismo on water, with speeds of up to 50 knots (57mph), and the S line sportyacht that can reach some 60 knots (69mph).

The sketches and renderings here provide a glimpse into the design of the first model to join a family of Quintessence Aston Martin yachts.

Much like Aston Martin’s latest Vulcan supercar, the water vessel utilises carbon-fibre in its construction with a clever vacuum infusion technology to build a scalpel-sharp hull that is at the centre of its design.

Expect further advances such as interactive voice control and activation, a fully HD-integrated touch screen with navigation and multimedia system, and remote controlled functions.

We caught up with Aston Martin’s design director Marek Reichman at the UK headquarters in Gaydon.

DT. You specialise in high-performance luxury cars, so why go nautical?

MR. I love sailing, I lived in California for 10 years and used to sail every Friday. Also as a designer there are many things I would love to work with and homes and boats are at the top of the list. The beauty of the boat is that it is a combination of both, as it is dynamic and acts as a home. Here we have a day cabin where you can take a kip.

DT. What was the rationale behind teaming up with Quintessence Yachts?

MR. Our partnerships have to represent our brand – luxury, comfort and performance, craftsmanship, quality, beauty, longevity in design. To have soul, the passion. Quintessence has similar pillars as well as exclusivity by its position. These are very stylish people!

DT. There must have been some major challenges designing a vessel that is essentially moulded from one piece…

MR. It involved figuring out the intricacies of the moulding process. We worked with the engineering team looking at how the tools would be made, to take the process and see how you can change.

DT. Was it a two-way learning process then?

MR. Boats can be technologically advanced – some are Formula One cars on water. Yet each industry has its processes and you can challenge these. The beauty is that both automotive and nautical are willing to listen.

DT. At the soul of your cars lies the V12 engine note. How did this translate to a vessel that cruises on water?

MR. Boats sound incredible! Whether you want to use the power of carbon fuel or electric, the boat’s beauty is the sound of water hitting the hull. You can either have that augmented with the deep rumbling of the engine, or have the [relative] silence of the water and hull. The rush is so exhilarating… the sound of the sail filling with wind.

DT. Are you saying you manipulated this sound through design?

MR. When we designed the hull we added a big diffuser to the back of the boat, which means the water passes through in a very different way for a special sound as well as to help achieve comfort at high speed. It also creates a very different wave pattern at the back of the boat.

DT. You haven’t revealed the full design at this stage, but what could you tell me about the main features?

MR. The curved hull goes into a negative and positive. When you see it you will think you can’t possibly do that. It also has this incredible deck that covers the open space so you can walk onto the boat from land. Then once on-board it slides back and exposes the whole interior. This is a first and no one has done this before.

DT. It must have been tricky sculpting the vessel given how it moves in water…

MR. There is a very different dynamic to it in terms of its surface language that is unexpected. There is cleanliness for its size. Typically when you get to a boat of this size, a lot is going on. The lines have to work at both speed and stationary. It can’t look out of balance when it sets off and this impacted on the surfacing. This boat is simple – you can describe it with three lines, and this adds drama and presence.

DT. How did you approach the cabin design?

MR. There will be unexpected materials and unique applications – more leather and more shaped wood on the interior than any other yacht of its size. The leather went through a similar testing as automotive so you have the colour, feel, texture, smell. I always want automotive wood to look like marine wood – to have open pores, either high varnish or very light and bleached out.

We have learnt so much about the kind of wood you can use in automotive design so we had a great transfer of knowledge. The wood you’ll see in our future cars is immense!

DT. You have just designed and created the DB10 specially for the latest Bond film. Will the AM37 be the next 007 speedboat?

MR. You never know.

The AM37 will be officially launched in September 2015. Read our preview in Wallpaper* here.

Nargess Banks

Read our previous reports on Aston Martin here

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©

Speculating the future of luxury

Pleasure, passion, innovation, exclusivity, expertise, extraordinary, investment, preciousness, opulence, non-essentials – these are some of the words that once defined luxury. Yet to understand the meaning of luxury in the future requires a further set of definitions.

In speculating luxury for future generations words like authenticity, legacy, access, resource, journey, skill, memory also come to the foreground.

This is the premise behind What is Luxury? – an intriguing exhibition that has just opened at the V&A museum in London. It does not attempt to offer a straightforward dialogue on the subject; there aren’t any cliché projections of luxury here either.

Instead, the objects on display are a seemingly disparate mix ranging from mechanical timepieces to an installation of dandelion seeds and laser-cut haute couture. Together they form a dialogue exploring and interrogating the true concept of luxury.

The term is saturated. Much like the words ‘design’ and ‘curate’, ‘luxury’ seems to have been overused, at risk of loosing its, ironically enough, value.

In the dark halls of the exhibition space we are asked to take a different view of words associated with luxury. For instance what does preciousness mean in a future with diminishing natural resources? Will privacy be an ultimate component of luxury for the next generation?

What is Luxury? provokes us to speculate through fictional scenarios that consider such issues like privacy, resources, access.

A DNA vending machine by American artist Gabriele Barcia-Colombo, for instance, invites visitors to consider our increasing access to biotechnology, and how privacy and ownership of our very own DNA may become a luxury in the future.

Elsewhere, Unknown Fields Division has created a set of three ceramic vessels from toxic mud. Each is sized according to the amount of waste created in the production of three tech items: a smartphone, laptop and the cell of a smart car battery.

This forms the basis of a video installation by Toby Smith that traces the object back to the mines of Inner Mongolia where the toxic waste is sourced. The film is reversed so the resource itself becomes the focus rather than the end object.

In another installation, glass specialist Steffen Dam uses real dandelion seed heads harvested before opening to make the enchanting Jellyfish Installation for the concept of extraordinary.

‘Luxury isn’t something new, it’s as old as civilization,’ notes co-curator Leanne Wierzba, ‘but we argue that it is a particularly prescient topic at the moment because it’s so much a part of the vocabulary of our time.’

Last week I watched as a Japanese artisan beat a copper ingot into a thick sheet by hand, adding colour through a reaction between tin plate and compounds taken from nature. It took months to create Kodoki, a delicate copper vase using this ancient tsuiki method.

This delicate object in a way represents what luxury will be to future generations. It will be about demonstrating skills that can’t be taught, crafts that have passed down generations, materials that are so rare, and the time spent in creating. Luxury has to become about creating the extraordinary.

Nargess Banks

What is Luxury? a V&A and Crafts Council Exhibition will run from 25 April to 27 September 2015.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
All rights and labelled images are covered by ©