Rolls-Royce Ghost is a peek into the new face of luxury

2020 Rolls-Royce Ghost © Leigh Banks

The new Rolls Royce Ghost is reflective of a visual language for a (hopefully) more subtle and discreet post-pandemic luxury landscape. Seen – and to be driven later this month – this is an accomplished product that wears its wealth lightly. And I’m sincerely hoping the design team will entice their wealthy and influential customers to invest in more sustainable fabrics inside and to use this as a vehicle for exploring materials beyond the traditional leather and wood. 

The pandemic has given us the opportunity to rethink our world, help imagine an altogether better one, a more sustainable one … and this extends very much to how we view the design of more exclusive items. They can lead the way.

See the Rolls-Royce Ghost on the road and take a look at the design story


From post-opulence to pos-hedonism, meet the new age of luxury

As Bannenberg & Rowell reveal the latest Estrade motor yacht – a vessel dedicated to the pleasure in sailing the seas – Dickie Bannenberg, one half of the celebrated London yacht studio, says post-hedonism will define post-pandemic yacht design. Read on

Bugatti design director on form follows performance

The Chiron is the most powerful, the fastest and most exclusive car built by Bugatti. This hypercar has succeeded the Veyron as the luxury marque’s sole model. Only 500 are made, and retails at over £2m. It may be a hugely indulgent and exclusive car, yet the Chiron remains an inspired example of industrial design – pure and uncluttered, and staying true to Bugatti’s design ethos ‘form follows performance’. Ettore Bugatti, the Italian-born French car designer and company founder, famously said of his inspiration: ‘Pure blood, absolute clarity, predominance of purpose, immaculate shape.’ On the Chiron too, almost every element is linked to engineering. I caught up with the current Bugatti design director, Achim Anscheidt, to find out more.

What does luxury mean to Bugatti?

We don’t like to dilute the core value we stand for – producing the world’s most powerful cars. This is what has made our customers tick in the last ten years, and it’s what will make them tick in the future.

You see our cars are like valuable wristwatches – so much craft and expertise has gone into the making of these objects and admiration for them will last forever. This is what the Chiron is going to do. I see it as being the tourbillon of the automotive industry.

The Chiron is very dramatic in the metal. Was the duality of the design – the drama of the C motif contrasting with the simple, almost serene sculptural surfacing intentional?

Yes, it was calculated as it follows our overall principal of form follows performance. When we found out the power and aerodynamic increase, and knew the new targets to be achieved by this car are so high, we realised there were so many areas around the car that needed to be changed substantially and the only way to achieve this is to stick closely with the engineering team.

Can you explain how design can vastly help performance?

Performance for our cars mainly means getting rid of the heat from front brakes and rear engine – the energy sources. The biggest problem we had on the Veyron was how to get rid of the hot air that gets trapped inside the powerplant and the hot turbo chargers on the bottom. So, with the Chiron most elements are linked to temperature handling.

Is the C shape a styling element or even a nod to Louis Chiron’s signature, one of the original Grand Prix greats?

It may seem that way, and yes you can be very romantic and see a resemblance to the Bugatti signature line to the Type 49 Royal, or even to Louis Chiron’s signature, but no. This is a performance element – here to to get more air into the complete engine compartment and get it out of it again afterwards.

Please explain…

When air travels along the wheel house, then along the body side, it arrives with quite some turbulence, maybe with 60 per cent quality of pressure. However, because  of our round windshield, the air that’s going to the upper area stays very close to the glass as it travels along the A-pillar arriving with almost 85 to 90 per cent efficiency! So if you imagine, it makes this complete swoop from the B-pillar all the way down into one very effective air intake… and this explains the C shaped element.

Why does form follows performance direct your design? 

It allows us to explain and orchestrate everything in an authentic way. If these elements are strong everything else is allowed to go relatively calm and remain in the background. Look there is no line on the body side, just one line on the rear fender but everything else is organic… there isn’t anything extra going on.

Would you say this adds to the car’s timeless appeal? 

It’s important for our cars to be valuable not only today, but in five, ten, even fifty years time, and the best way to achieve this is to be very authentic in what we do and why we do it. The cleaner the design, the better it will survive the test of time.

How would you summarise your design philosophy?

The magic happens when you minimise all the factors to a couple of key statements around the car. If you look at Bauhaus buildings from the twenties and thirties from where I live in Berlin, they still look wonderful. They are not modern anymore in terms of today’s architecture. But because they stood for something, had a strong belief, they remain precious and valuable and will stand the test of time.

Do designing hugely exclusive cars such as the Chiron restrict or liberate the designer?

I found it liberating to realise a concept that took us so long to reach… to bring it to life. The car has meant so much to our team. Around 60 per cent of our time was taken with looking after the Veyron, the special editions and individualising our customers’ cars, and the rest to searching for the next phase – the Veyron’s successor.

It took a long time, looking at designs, talking with management and only in 2010 we finalised the Chiron concept. My career was so dependent on this car. It has been so close to me for so long.

Nargess Banks

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Nautical design: Defining luxury in motion

Massimo edonismo. Maximum hedonism is how the former Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo famously described the marque. Yet, the concept of luxury has been evolving for some time away from this perhaps crude description to include a much more complex set of values such as time, authenticity, privacy, serenity, sustainability – even, it seems, amongst the über wealthy superyacht community.

Ideas of luxury and contemporary design informed a passionate debate in the context of nautical design at the Superyacht Design Symposium. The annual event is held every February in the unlikely location of Kitzbühel in the Austrian Alps, some distance from sea and sailing – perhaps to permit flights of imagination.

Here yacht owners, builders and aficionados meet and mingle with influential designers from across the nautical, automotive, airline, architecture, interiors and fashion worlds. The professionals, we suspect, are here to inject a dose of design credibility into the yachting world. Nevertheless, the three-day event can be the instigator of some stimulating dialogue.

Lapo Elkann kicked off the debate with a characteristically provocative announcement. ‘When I look at the motion industry,’ says the entrepreneur and heir to the Fiat fortune, ‘as in cars, motorcycles, boats, the reality is that the boat industry can be far less innovative than the others.’ He continues to express real concerns for the nautical world, which he also inhabits, accusing the designers of recycling ideas from product to product. It offers a punchy start to the debate.

However, given the event and its audience, the idea of hand-me-down design seems perhaps a little exaggerated. After all, each and every one of these few hundred million pound vessels are, by their very nature, prototypes. They are envisaged, designed and executed for one single client – many of whom are here. Surely then a personal touch is at the very core of their existence.

Since his Fiat days, Elkann has been busy building his Garage Italia Customs firm that helps fine-tune such luxury toys. The socialite is very much his own brand ambassador too – he sails a 40-knot Baglietto that is tailored by his own firm. So it is not hard to see why Elkann sees the future of luxury in the highest degrees of personalisation. This, he believes, is the ultimate path to true luxury.

Elkann concludes with an impassioned speech on how nautical luxury needs to be a careful blend of craft and innovation, and embrace sustainability. He sites Luca Bassani, the charismatic founder of Monaco-based maritime design company Wally Yachts, as the very last contemporary innovative boat maker.

‘Modern luxury’, he finalises, ‘should be about cross contamination’, as in the sharing of knowledge and ideas technology and eco-innovations across all disciplines. ‘Together they speak the luxury of today and tomorrow. Sadly, most brands are viewing luxury only in the now.’

Axel de Beaufort picks up the thread agreeing that new luxury has to take on ‘authenticity, perfection and the skills of the craftsman’. The director of design and engineering at Hermès continues, ‘the definition of luxury is the emotion of the object. Hermès has a history of craftsmanship but it is about utilising this and mixing it with new innovations, like laser technology.’ Celebrated yacht designer Tim Heywood steps in to say he also feels the real key to luxury is through the artisanal skills of craftsman who build these vessels.

We need to invest more in the ‘immeasurable things’, warns Ilse Crawford, airport interior designer and owner of Studioilse. She admits borrowing the term from Charles Eames, coined by the mid-century Californian designer to advance the modernist principals of form follows function. Crawford, too, feels we must instil more emotion into the design of luxury yachts. ‘Our job as designers is to find ways of injecting soft value into hard values. It is about relevance, showing that we are part of our time,’ she clarifies.

Form follows function is an ideology Stefan Sielaff feels passionately about too. He interjects Crawford, simply saying, ‘I hate the phase’. The Bentley design director speaks candidly of his aversion: ‘I am German, and our design education was very strict, totally dedicated to Bauhaus. Form follows function comes from an almost totalitarian ideology where everything is to be equal, yet joyless, with no irony, no humanity, without love. Later, when I went to the Royal College of Art in London, I learnt a very different perspective. I learnt about humour, irony and love.’

He feels Bentley’s last concept car, the EX 10 Speed 6 sportscar, is a great example of a product that encapsulates true luxury yet is full of ‘love, irony and humour,’ he says. ‘It offers a statement, more than from, say, a technocrat.’ Sielaff believes good design should raise us to a higher level.

Nicky Haslam stresses on a number of occasions during the discussion how luxury and taste, which he fuses together, cannot be bought, that the rich in fact have very little taste, and a simple dose of ‘magic’ is all that’s needed to express true luxury. ‘Good design has to move you,’ says the interior designer to the rich and famous.

Elsewhere, panellist Andrew Winch agrees that good design in all sectors should make the user smile. The London-based nautical architect raises an interesting point, which sadly doesn’t quite get picked up on afterwards. He talks passionately of the need to humanise space in his field. ‘When you design a yacht you are accommodating a space with many staff who cannot be seen, who are not seen. They are invisible. It is about showing the crew, showing their existence.’

Pininfarina also dabbles on occasion in sea vessels. Francesco Lovo vice president of the specialist Pininfarina Extra arm feels luxury in motion is essentially about creating industrial beauty yet with the client at its core. A yacht, he offers, ‘is about the user experience, it is a matter of process, the emotional experience and how we interpret this.’

The opulent Ottantacinque, the marque’s latest superyacht sketched for the Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri Yachts, wasn’t meant as a revolutionary statement. Nor was the meticulously crafted and innovative Wallycento#, designed alongside Wally Yachts for race-boat maker Persico Marine.

As expected from an innovative company such as Pininfarina, both are hugely engaging propositions for the nautical design. The Ottantacinque retains the essence of superyacht design by being elegant, ‘sober but not shouting,’ adds Lovo. He feels that this is part of the spirit of his firm’s overall design philosophy, and in the nautical world, ‘we simply want our customers to enjoy sailing.’

At this level in the nautical world, the designer and maker are kept separate. In the 1990s German shipyards Lürssen Yachts employed an in-house designer, but reality proved that clients prefer diversity, and so boat makers have to offer a wide selection of freelance designs.

Unlike cars and planes, yachts and in particular superyachts are one-off products; each and every one is reliant completely on the close collaborations of the client, designer and maker. So ultimately it’s down to the likes of company chief Peter Lürssen to orchestrate a smooth operation. He offers, ‘we have to get along with the designers and we have to get along with the owners. It is simple.’

Nargess Banks

The Superyacht Design Symposium runs from 21-23 February 2016 and is organised by Boat International

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What is luxury? BMW chief designer discusses

The concept of luxury has evolved to include a much more complex set of values. Time, authenticity, legacy, access, resource, journey, skills and memory – these are just some of the concepts joining the more classic terms associated with luxury. And going forward, when the car becomes essentially a high-tech gadget in the age of autonomous driving, what will define true luxury?

In the third of our interviews with some of the leading creatives, Karim Habib, BMW chief designer offers his thoughts on the subject.

Karim Habib and his design teamDesign Talks: How do you see BMW car design responding to the concept of ‘modern luxury’?

Karim Habib: We started to actively talk about modern luxury with the 7 Series. You see in the past we never fully embraced the term because we felt it meant things like wood, leather, weight… it almost didn’t feel like it could work with us being a driver’s car. Now we understand how modern luxury can fit with our brand values.

It can come through innovation – providing technology that is new, that improves your life. We are prepared to invest in innovation, like we did with gesture control, a unique and new technology as first seen on in the 7 Series, which may be introduced across our range.

BMW 7 Series, introducing Gesture Control for the first time on this model

DT: You’ve always been innovative with the use of materials especially with the BMW i electric cars and in particular inside the i3 where traditional luxury has been brilliantly challenged to highlight the sustainable aspect of the car.

KH. Yes there is definitely the question of materials. If luxury is to remain relevant, and stay with current values, then do we continue to work with say leather? Do we want to keep this as a symbol of luxury? This is a super difficult area for everyone as we, even I, get excited when I look inside an old classic car with its battered leather… Yet, this is something that we need to address.

DT: With ‘active driving’ being one of BMW’s main brand values, how will the company respond to the near future autonomous car when driving becomes less of a focus?

Marella Rivolta-Zagato, Art Director Zagato, Erik Goplen, Exterior Designer BMW Group DesignworksUSA, and Karim Habib, Head of Design BMW Automobiles, at Zagato in MilanKH. The idea of BMW as a driver’s car should remain the focus, but it is interesting what form and shape this will take in the future. Our brand slogan The Ultimate Driving Machine is Freude am Fahren in German, which roughly translates to the joy of driving. It has much more warmth, and is really about the emotion of the driver.

DT: How do you translate this in terms of design?

KH: For us it is a question of what you do with the time you have when the car is in autonomous driving mode. We see this as a huge opportunity to design this time through choreographing the information you receive. There is a great deal of information being given to the driver so we will try to focus the right information at the correct time. And direct how you see it when you’re not driving.

BMW 7 Series exteriorOur responsibility is to use this non-driving time for offering well-being experience, which still needs to be designed through the type of interface, seat comfort, ambient lighting and so on. So in the age of autonomous driving, we will focus our energy on not making you a lesser driver, but a better driver whilst still keeping the driver as our focus.

Nargess Banks

Read our previous interview on the subject of modern luxury and car design with Rolls-Royce design director Giles Taylor, Bentley design director Stefan Sielaff, Jaguar’s creative lead Ian Callum, and Mecedes-Benz’s Gorden Wagener here.

Read our previous reports on BMW design here.

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