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.
Media artist Refik Anadol is using data from the color of every Rolls-Royce motor car built in the last decade to create an LED canvas to explore the challenges and the possibilities we face in the digital age. Presented during Frieze Los Angeles, ‘Art of Perfection: Data Painting’ is the latest commission in the Rolls-Royce “Muse” program, the initiative designed to help advance the medium of the moving image, explore materials and support arts and ideas. Take a closer look at his textural work here, and watch the artist in conversation here.
Also see Émeric Lhuisset’s work for Paris Photo
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.
Speculating the future of the car is pretty fascinating territory. The automobile has essentially remained the same, evolving technically rather than conceptually since its birth well over a century ago. Now, as the car moves closer and closer to becoming a personal gadget with multiple faces and functions, its next life is open to all sorts of interpretations. It certainly is an exciting time to be involved in the vehicle design world.
We’ve been in dialogues, or more accurately in marathon conversations (to borrow a phase from curator and art historian Hans-Ulrich Obrist), with a number of the more enlightened car designers (most notably the visionary Chris Bangle) for a number of years as they journey through this new phase. It is therefore extremely satisfying to see some of these ideas come alive.
To mark its centenary, earlier this year BMW unveiled the Vision Next 100 concept study. The futuristic shape-changing sporting saloon is an intriguing study into the BMW of the not-so-far future that runs on clean energy, moves autonomously, and is constructed through modern manufacturing methods.
Then last week we were shown BMW Group’s other two marques’ imaginative futures. Mini’s Vision Next 100 concerns itself with personalisation, working with artificial intelligence to create a transport hub that adapts itself to each and every user for an interesting shared urban transport concept
Whilst the Rolls-Royce concept 103EX offers the ultimate luxurious personal transportation portal for the future – it is the embodiment of bespoke automotive luxury, where the autonomous function allows for a supremely sumptuous cabin equipped with its very own virtual butler.
BMW’s head of design Karim Habib explains that exploring new and advanced manufacturing methods is at the heart of his Vision concept as it means bypassing the current outmoded forms of automotive manufacturing – conventional tools that are expensive, not very ecologically responsible and restrict design flexibility and freedom.
Advanced technologies like rapid manufacturing and 4D printing won’t necessarily produce components or objects but instead intelligent, networked materials for exciting possibilities in design and engineering, he says. In terms of material, the extensive use of lightweight and tough carbon (used in the i3, i8 and 7-Series production cars) is an indication of the changes to expect in the world of automotive materials.
With the BMW brand identity centred on being the ‘ultimate driving machine’, the team looked at how to contain or even enhance the emotive side of driving when the car is driverless. Here, the Vision concept can be driven or piloted – much like the i8 Spider revealed earlier this year. When not in autonomous mode, the augmented reality will guide the driver, projecting the ideal steering line and best speed onto the windscreen, and it will warn of dangers ahead, road obstacles and so on. In ‘ease mode’ when the car becomes driverless, the steering wheel slides away and the cabin transforms into a living room/work space.
For Mini, the focus is on the car as a personal, individual and adaptable gadget that also helps forms communities. At the heart of this concept is connected digital intelligence. This Vision 100 is a fully automated vehicle, wrapped in a discreet, silver blank canvas that alters according to the individual user, their mood and the situations they encounter.
Inside, the designers have worked primarily with fabrics made from recycled or renewable materials. The visible and non-visible carbon components, such as the side panels, are made from residues from normal carbon fibre production. Anders Warming, head of design, says in the future the choice of materials will become even more important throughout the design and production process.
Crucially, the marque takes the concept of shared living, explored in their inspired installation at Salone del Mobile, on the road by looking at how the vehicle can connect likeminded communities and help share their experiences. For instance, a user gets hold of some last-minute tickets to an exhibition preview as the car identifies another user who may also appreciate the show and coordinates a joint excursion.
For Rolls-Royce, the design team lead by Giles Taylor set out to envisage the ultimate expression of the future of super-luxury mobility – the haute couture of motoring, he muses. Here the team are delving deep into understanding the meaning of future luxury, of what constitutes modern luxury – a subject much at the heart of our marathon conversations with Taylor. For the marque it is a question of balancing craftsmanship, an individual spirit with high tech wizardry and seamless connectivity, delivered in the tranquil surroundings of the Rolls-Royce cabin.
The Rolls 103EX is based on an advanced lightweight platform equipped with a high-performance electric drive to allow for the body design, its various specifications and equipment to be tailored specifically to suit the needs of the individual customer. Taylor says progress in composite materials and technologies will have a decisive influence on how production can be customised in the future so the marque can achieve its goal of producing the ultimate bespoke car.
The cabin is a peaceful oasis incorporating warm tone Macassar wood, a carpet of hand-twisted silk (very very expensive to produce, confides Taylor) and soft silk on the upholstery. Designed to ‘waft’ along, with the chauffeur obsolete, the driver’s seat, steering wheel and instruments are superfluous for a completely new sense of open space.
Virtual intelligence directs the car and fulfils the passenger’s every need, at times even predicting their wishes. This softly spoken virtual butler appears on the full-width transparent OLED display, and is named Eleanor after Eleanor Thornton the model who inspired sculptor Charles Robert Sykes’ iconic Rolls bonnet ornament.
The sculpture’s form and proportions are impressive too and a bold move for the brand with Taylor noting that in the future we should expect a more daring Rolls-Royce design. There is much theatre here with the roof and coach door dramatically opening to reveal the interior of the vehicle as passengers gracefully step out. We also love the tailored luggage, now stowed in the long bonnet with a simple mechanism opening a hatch in the side of the car to present the luggage to the waiting hands of the porter…
It is fascinating to see how three brands with such unique identities have chosen to respond to the second life of the automobile. And these Vision 100 Next vehicles are very different conceptual studies, each marque navigating an intelligent path through the competing demands on the role of the car in its next phase – in its new life.
Earlier this month we attended the Geneva Motor Show. The annual event is a great place to observe the future of vehicle design, and even though the offerings are far less conceptual than they used to be, there remains a nice buzz leading up to the show.
The degree of innovation – be it in design, material use and manufacturing methods – is at the highest level in the automotive sector. It never ceases to astonish how much they have to deliver.
Cars are at once a combination of industrial design, product design, architecture, textile design, electronic design… they need to pass stringent regulations, be safe, move efficiently, be comfortable and practical to inhabit, connect our words. Some have to be dynamic, others need to be beautiful sculptures that stand the test of time. All neatly packaged in a relatively small object. It really is industrial beauty.
At Geneva we saw some pretty spectacular examples. McLaren’s 570 GT, for instance, has a refreshing purity of design where form expresses the car’s intention. Form follows performance was also at the heart of Bugatti’s highly exclusive new Chiron. And Aston Martin’s stylish DB11 also abides to this simple yet powerful philosophy.
We spoke with the design directors at all three marques. Have a read of what McLaren’s Frank Stephenson has to say on designing the 570 GT and the future of car design for the marque.
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
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