Rolls-Royce revealed Phantom VIII in July, and I was fortunate to drive the car earlier this month. This is an incredibly important product for the marque, since Phantoms don’t get to be designed and engineered from the ground up very often – in fact the Phantom has been reborn only eight times in its 92 years, when Sir Henry Royce conceived the first model in 1925. Since, the world’s wealthy, powerful and famous have owned Phantoms. It really is a car like no other. I caught up with director of design Giles Taylor to discover a little more about his inspirations, the team’s creative process and to see how he sees Phantom maintaining its position as the ultimate symbol of luxurious motoring.
Nargess Banks: There is a sense of unmistakable classicism, majesty, stateliness with Phantom cars. How did you approach this eighth-generation Phantom?
Giles Taylor: How we started this project is to pay respect to the history of Phantom, to get under the skin of Phantom, to understand the classical routes, the classical bedrock that defines Phantom. At the same time, we wanted to take a big step forward in terms of modernity, to find a Phantom for the next-generation of customer.
NB: You mentioned that the average age of Rolls-Royce owners has dropped to their 40s in the last decade and that Phantom VIII has been created to be more of a driver’s car…
GT: Yes, as our demographic around the world becomes younger, as much as they like to be driven in a Phantom, they also like to drive one. This underpins the brief we set ourselves five years ago. Whereas the 2003 Phantom VII had some of the formality of our cars in the 20s, this Phantom has far more gesture and flow. We are going back to the 1930s and 40s – spiritually. This is not retro design; we are capturing the gesture of those cars.
NB: Can you explain the exterior design?
GT: The stance is very important to Phantom. We worked very hard to improve on this, on the car’s positioning, the way it sits on its wheels, which was made possible with the new ‘architecture of luxury’, the brilliant platform created for this car by the engineering team. Elsewhere, we are taking one clear line from the grille to the back. The inspiration goes right the way back to the 1960s.
NB: The headlamp graphics has been kept very clear, frosted inside to contain a ring of daytime driving lights and advanced laser light, lacking the elaborate jewellery design which seems to be a trend amongst more premium carmakers. Was this intentional?
GT: Yes, they are precise, fresh and optimistic. They don’t have a lot of silly jewellery – so they speak of luxury. People will see the expression of the car from these beautiful white crisp lines. This is important to us.
NB: You mention that at the heart of the cabin design is this idea of ‘the embrace’, a social environment where technology is hidden until summoned for a clean, uncluttered and clear space. Can you explain how you visually brought this to life?
GT: It is about embellishing a story. So, the embrace begins with the fascia at the front – it is more balanced to offer a social environment. In the rear, the way the coach doors are positioned forward becomes a gesture of embrace, and the passenger bench seats can be tilted to encourage social interaction. Technology is remotely controlled allowing passengers to sit back as the world comes to them. A crystal decanter and cooled glasses made bespoke by us are housed in the rear console. Finally, the starlight headline completes the story.
NB: Phantom VIII is also the most silent ride you have ever created…
GT: Absolutely. Psychologically, the embrace is also the touch of silence – the idea that you are riding with no noise pollution. As soon as the coach doors close shut, the Phantom driver can find inner solace – peace. More than any of our cars, the Phantom is about this sense of privacy and sanctuary.
NB: What role do materials, textures, craftsmanship, stitching play in helping achieve this feeling?
GT: The Phantom deserves to have definite forms, shapes and upholstered surfaces, but it must never have excessive stitching. You just need one or two main stitch lines, like the one that works from front to rear in the door panels. Crucially, every single part has been hand trimmed; it has the signature of the craftsman. There is an emotional connection. This is so unique to us at Rolls-Royce. It is about contemporary crafting.
Then all our controls are made of cold, tactile metal elements set against a deep gloss technical black background. We found that on the previous Phantom the dials were less ordered so here we worked hard to create logic and precision to be intuitive. For instance, the climate is changed through individual dialling wheels which have a fantastic tactile feel to them. The occupants can do this digitally too but this adds an extra element.
NB: How much of the interior design was inspired by the futuristic 103EX concept car where its autonomous nature meant there was no need for a steering wheel altering the whole cabin layout?
GT: The singular sofa idea in the rear came from the concept car so two private people can exist in one space. It is about this concept of ‘austere opulence’. The gallery, the idea that from the rear seats looking forward you gaze into something new, we investigated with the EX where we placed a clock on the fascia. Here in Phantom VIII the theatre seating allows passengers in the rear to view the gallery and at the same times see the Spirit of Ecstasy mascot guide the car.
NB: Talking of the gallery, this is an intriguing and novel concept whereby customers will be encouraged to commission their own work of art and create an on-the-road exhibition unique to them. It takes personalisation to another level. How do you see your customers responding to this?
GT: It could be a Pandora’s box! But it will be exciting to see what some of our more artistic and creative customers will do here. ‘This space is for you’, is the message we’re sending. An art lover and the more confident clients wouldn’t be able to resist. Equally many customers may ask to work with us and seek an artistic hand. That is the beauty of it.
NB: Is it exciting for you?
GT: For us, as designers working in automotive, the gallery has opened-up a whole new world. Our crafts people at Goodwood love a challenge and have welcomed the gallery too. It really is a hugely innovative feature in an auto setting. It is something that couldn’t work in a ‘tick-box’ world.
NB: Sitting inside the car, what would you say is your favourite element?
GT: The steering wheel. Its symmetry was inspired by Phantom I. It is refined and modern and very tactile and it sets the car. It is your connection with this beast.
Read my road test review in Forbes
Read my previous interview with Giles Taylor on the future of luxury
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