In art, some obstacles and challenges make the vanguards of creative progress blink. Some, on the face of it, look surmountable and then you happen upon one that leaves you so head scratchingly nonplussed you simply haven’t the faintest idea how to execute it.
Last month Rolls Royce Bespoke Collective invited me to peer into their world to see a bespoke commission that had their craftspeople pushed to the very pin of their collar. It was this: how to make the experience of owning a brand new Rolls Royce Phantom Extended, unquestionably the most luxurious car in the world, even that bit more special.
To be fair, Rolls Royce does have some historical armor in its ministry. Previously, it has partnered with tech pioneers and particularly ultra-luxury brands to handcraft interiors and exteriors with the brands’ ateliers. For spring 2023, the collaboration with Dutch fashion designer and Couturière Iris van Herpen raises the recurring existence of the innate drabness of luxury car interiors and the absence of any possibility in making your six-figure investment remotely bespoke outside of the options that are dictated to the buyer by the car maker.
A select number of guests was invited to a world-exclusive preview of a one-off commission by a North American customer for what Rolls Royce has named the bespoke Rolls Royce Phantom Syntopia, so named after a 2018 collection by van Herpen. Four years of collaboration have passed and wrought a Phantom Extended like no other on the planet. Where a Rolls Royce Phantom’s exterior is separately splendid, the Iris van Herpen’s three-dimensional rendering of flowing water on the front bonnet extended the boundaries of a paint finish named Liquid Noir. It was unveiled inside Goodwood’s factory presentation suite.
Peer closely at the iridescent finish, and you’ll see a hidden depth of colors that immediately trick the eye and surprise, depending on which angle you examine the paintwork. What outwardly looks like a deep purple paint finish becomes a chasm of hidden colors when examined at closer quarters. Deep blues, gold, and even magenta emerge. Shuffle yourself right or left, and the colors magically change as light bounces off the car’s curved sheet metal.
To achieve this, Rolls Royce spent 3,000 hours of testing through, what we were told, was an exhaustive journey of trial and error. Only after months did the wholly new process of adding a pigment to the clearcoat deliver exactly the right finish that the respective Rolls Royce and van Herpen ateliers imagined.
The wow moment for the assembled guests happened at the car unveiling on a rotating plinth when one of the team walked up to the middle of the car, opened the center coach front and rear doors, and revealed the interior.
Immediately visible were two different materials used in the front seats and the rear seats. This, we were told, harks back to when coachbuilding offered the well-heeled the possibility of using fabric on the rear seats instead of leather used by the driver up front.
It was then we looked into the cabin.
Both the craftspeople at van Herpen’s Amsterdam atelier and Rolls Royce created an extraordinary three-dimensional roof headliner that has been named the Weaving Water Starlight Headliner from a single piece of leather that was plucked from 1,000 hides. Though we were asked not to climb up and into the cabin’s rear seats, 162 gossamer-like petals hang from the headliner made from glass organza – essentially a sheer translucent fabric – with a resonate sheen that was undertaken by the Iris van Herpen’s team at the Goodwood factory and took 300 hours to complete.
Than 187 of the total 995 fiber optic stars were individually into the leather for maximum effect. Even from our restricted viewing, where we had to bend into the cabin to see the final effect, it was an alluring creation. You could quite possibly imagine submerging yourself in the depths of a moonlit river pool staring upwards at the ominous shadows and sparkling moonbeams piercing the water. A total of 700 hours was needed to complete it.
What was most unexpected was the type of leather and textile deployed – Magic Grey leather upfront and speckled white and silver fabrics in the rear seats featuring a Weaving Water motif. On a factory tour, we were shown the material by the lady who was responsible for making the seats. The fabric was tactile, and it felt like slightly rubberized silk. It was unlike any textile I have experienced in a car or home furniture.
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The collaboration itself reveals the point of the entire work. It challenges your preconceived expectations of how a car’s interior should look and feel. The potential for certain boundaries to be pushed are clear as it has been a long-held belief among lovers of aesthetics that modern car technology has run rampant to the point of unfathomability, whereas modern car interiors remain languishing somewhere in the dark ages. The Rolls Royce Phantom Syntopia may be a vast step with a high watermark for bespoke potential but it clearly shows what is possible for ultra-affluent buyers fatigued by the hereditary grimness of interiors. As a study in optics and haptics, the Rolls Royce Syntopia is indeed in a world of one.
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