In the age of Coronavirus (aka Covid-19), where many companies are taking strict measures to minimize the spread of the virus by allowing their staff to work from home, how working from home is different from working at the Goodwood-based plant? And what is the impact of this new reality on your productivity?
Our productivity and motivation remain the same. We collaborate extensively across all departments and learn from each other every day. First and foremost, I work very closely with the broader design team. The Interior/ Exterior Design and Colour and Trim Design teams are very close as it’s our mutual responsibility to develop perfect geometries for the materials we use: a geometry has to deliver the perfect stage to showcase the beauty and tactility of the exceptional materials that are used within a Rolls-Royce. What would usually be face to face meetings are now video calls so we’re able to keep things rolling and share the creative energy that you find in a physical design studio.
When working on the limited-edition Rolls-Royce Cocktail Hamper, for example, you paid elite London members’ clubs and bars a visit to know more about the subject and materials at hand—to know what a mixologist needs in order to make the perfect cocktail—my question now is: How do you do your research these days while you are at home?
The highly limited edition Rolls-Royce Cocktail Hamper was the very first product I designed for Rolls-Royce. It was consciously designed to be used outside a motor car and our clients have reacted very positively to allowing the marque to contribute to their homes. Under the current restrictions I spend a lot of time studying coffee table books about the allure and elegance of architecture and high jewellery, which always inspires and motivates me. Of course, social media and online research is very useful for me as well. I love Annie Leibovitz, Bongchull Shin, Damien Hirst, Quentin Monge, Coco Davez, Tom Wesselmann and Russel Young – access to their work is very important and only a click away, which I’m very grateful for.
Speaking of inspiration, usually car bespoke designers get inspired by travelling around the world and spotting the fine details of everything that surrounds them. That changes now! How do you get inspired while working at home?
COVID-19 has forced us to return to simplicity – to work with the things we have around us, and this has worked surprisingly well. I have been particularly inspired by glass: the decanters, vases and glassware in my apartment that I now have more time to study and appreciate. All of the pieces have been handcrafted in the Bavarian forest or France by different manufacturers. Every single decanter is slightly different because they are handmade, so they’re truly unique. They’re also incredibly clean pieces of functional design.
Every day when I pass by these glass pieces, I think about the beautiful craftsmanship that it takes to produce them. I particularly love the thickness of my glass vase: the finish of the glass is known as “ice“ among glassmakers. It‘s incredibly heavy, but beautifully light and simple in its appearance due to its crystal-clear transparency. Inside the glass are carefully crafted and very thin stripes of various intense colours, which mix and match depending on the angle you look at the vase. The colours also reflect magically on the wall when they’re flooded by sunlight. This is a great source of inspiration when brainstorming new colours and colour combinations. I adore its simplicity, modernity and purity as well as its subtle decadence on second sight.
Rolls-Royce has recently launched “Rolls-Royce Young Designer Competition” to inspire house-bound designers up to the age of 16, can you tell us more about this competition and how important it is for the British brand?
The “Rolls-Royce Young Designer Competition” is great fun! We want to challenge young minds to design their own luxury car. It was launched to provide parents and children with a welcome distraction during the worldwide pandemic. The competition enables designers of the future to let their imaginations and creativity run free, even while they remain bound to their homes.
We, as the marque’s Design team, will judge all entries and select an overall winner, who will receive a rendered illustration of their design – a true once-in-a-lifetime, money-can’t-buy prize – as well as a chauffeur-driven journey in a Rolls-Royce Phantom for their first day back to school, together with their best friend. Runners-up will receive a hand-signed certificate from Torsten Müller-Ötvös, the Chief Executive Officer of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
Putting the working-from-home reality aside, can you tell us more about your project: “The Gallery” inside the New Rolls-Royce Phantom? And how is it unique from other projects you previously worked on?
I had the honour contribute to the design of its “Gallery”, which is truly incredible piece of design. We noticed that our clients love to decorate their private jets and superyachts with high end art, so we helped bring this opportunity into a Rolls-Royce by introducing a fully customisable area within the interior for self-expression. The Gallery serves as a blank canvas.
An example is a project we named “Immortal Beauty“. It embellishes the glass-covered space with porcelain flowers, which we designed in cooperation with Nymphenburg Porcelain. Before we were able to recreate a flower in delicate porcelain, I had the unusual task of breeding a unique English rose with a prominent rose breeder, which we would recreate in porcelain and install in the Gallery. The rose had to embody all of Rolls-Royce‘s poise, elegance and allure. The result was a very pure, delicate but voluminous white flower: sensual, but strong in presence, with a unique smell and extra winter durability.
When I saw the final result, it was outstanding. We flew the rose to Bavaria in southern Germany to be recreated and immortalised in porcelain, which would then be presented in the car, protected by glass in the fascia.
A truly unique project, which you simply wouldn’t expect from any other luxury goods company.
During the last couple of years, you have been led by Rolls-Royce Design Directors Giles Taylor and Jozef Kaban, what did you learn from both of them, and what was the impact of their departure on you?
It was a privilege for me to work under both Giles Taylor and Jozef Kaban. I have internalized the philosophy of Rolls-Royce, which elegantly balances modernism, tradition, Britishness and a never ending strive for perfection. The Colour & Trim design team are afforded a great amount of freedom in order to propose unexpected ideas, designs and material applications and finishes. This freedom is observed and encouraged in both the wider design team and across the business as a whole.
Ute Wellershaus, who leads the Colour and Trim department, stands synonymous with positivity and never-ending dedication. My learnings from her are to commit 150%, to stand up for our ideas and to fight for them until the very end. She trusts deeply in our proposals, challenges us regularly and guides with calm but determined management. To me, Ute is a true role model of a successful woman working in the car industry.
How would you describe your style and technique in general? And how your work style evolved over time?
Within the Rolls-Royce Design team there are many different work styles, which you need to create the bandwidth of diverse ideas. Every Rolls-Royce designer finds inspiration in different places, but I think the thing that connects all of our methods is social intrigue. That happens on many levels: whether it’s our personal sentiments, our peer group’s or the clients’. We are fascinated by regional taste patterns and subtle codes of communication.
As a designer I travel a lot, and I make a concerted effort to explore art galleries, art events, fashion shows and design shows such as the Maison & Object in Paris or the Salone del Mobile in Milan. However, I have colleagues that cite everything from theatre and ski lodges to bicycles and electronic music, so it’s very mixed.
One thing that always stimulates me is the rich and unique cultures that exist across the world. It´s really important for me to learn about traditions and etiquette; about a region’s nuanced use of colour and material and what that says about the client. White, for example, may imply connotations of wedding cars in the UK, but in other regions it is royalty regal colour.
Travel can also serve as a more literal source of inspiration. Sometimes it´s the light or a moment that inspires you - and you think about that moment two years later and try to recreate it. I find that a very satisfying creative exercise. True inspiration can be everywhere - you only have to be open-minded, positive and willing to search for it.
My style and technique is fully charged with all those wild inspirations while also being organized and well planned. I love starting every new car with a project character specific mood board, which features nine key inspirations. They may cover architectural styles, fashion, industrial design, materials or personalities. During the process of designing a car, which can take up to 5 years, I always come back to revisit the mood board to double check I am still on the right track. Once we understand the mood and character, we start the research about which materials, finishes or colours we want to develop.
At the end of the development every tiny detail of the car is carefully curated and passionately designed by the Colour & Trim team. Our cars are designed to last for generations. We use the best materials, which must pass incredibly harsh durability tests before we may include them in our cars. It is our overall goal to design materials and finishes, which look remarkably beautiful for decades and age gracefully.
During this design process I always strive to archive designs of true allure, elegance and timelessness combined with uncompromised quality and magic – characteristics which I always have admired.
I love minimalistic and timelessly pure designs – also a movement we have noticed within the Rolls-Royce design team some time prior to COVID-19. Gone are the days of huge diamonds and unnecessary logos. True luxury is a lot more subtle.
In a post COVID-19 world we anticipate this desire for restraint and celebration of materiality to become even more relevant. We think people will be ask for “less, but better”. Internally we define this as “post-opulence” and we believe that this aesthetic will be underpinned by great substance: this will not be a superficial expression of wealth, but a combination of materials that stand up to the most intense scrutiny and discreetly tell their own story.
Did you use elements representing the Middle East in your artworks before? If yes, what are they? If not, can we see elements inspired by the Middle East in Rolls-Royce cars in the future?
We are truly fascinated by the design culture and rich and traditional aesthetics of the Middle East. The Bespoke Design Team have worked on numerous Collection- and One-Off Cars inspired by architecture and design details like ornaments.
Many analysts predict that the Coronavirus will change the world as we know forever. Similarly, do you think the pandemic will change the trends in car design and consumer attitudes in the near future, and if yes, how?
Within the Rolls-Royce Design Team we are fascinated by Post Opulence - a design language and philosophy which we have been working on some time prior the outbreak of the pandemic but which today feels confirmed by the general mood of society. Traditionally our exterior design has been full of grandeur and presence, but the ethos of the interior has been to reflect the owner’s characteristics.
We have noticed a trend towards a post-opulent owner and style. This celebrates simplicity and restraint. Our future motor cars still have a commanding presence, but without unnecessary flourishes. It Is our duty as designers to offer subtle guidance to owners ensuring the motor car maintains restraint.
Simple designs are incredibly difficult to develop as we have to create a beautiful atmosphere inside the car with less lines to play with. It expresses true perfection because you can’t cover up any mistakes with embellishments, it is in that respect pure.
However, when your design is successful - Post-Opulence creates a tranquil environment that enables all occupants to
appreciate the environment they are in. It soothes a busy mind and provides the possibility to retreat.
This is a new design movement, not just in the automotive or luxury sector but across the globe.