Designing timelessness: The Rolls-Royce Phantom

Stylist and designer at the British marque, Giles Taylor, discusses his approach to bringing the Phantom into its next generation

(Image credit: Harniman Photographer)

I've spent a lot of my career – 27 years now – being a designer, but on the project for the Phantom VIII, I was a stylist. I had a challenge to take the classic Phantom into the next generation without losing the pure essence of what it represents and not to lose this majesty, this dignity. People use the term style loosely, but there are those – such as the late Coco Chanel or Yves Saint Laurent – who understand truly how to use style to magnify a person's elegance and bring out their character. This was the same way that I approached designing the Phantom VIII. As the oldest name plate which still exists on the road, the Phantom has an evolving and strong affinity with timelessness: it is the definition of a modern classic.

'It's not what you wear, it's how you wear it' was the mantra of myself and my design team at Rolls-Royce throughout this project. It is the grandeur, the mobility – all the things which originate from the front view of the Phantom VIII. Once you begin to transition to the side view, you are met with the sense of carriage. I say the word carriage as that is what being driven in a Phantom is like. Beyond the mobility, it's understanding the context of people and understanding glamour. Think about Yoko Ono and John Lennon iconically captured through the rear-view mirror. In a Phantom you are the most important person to arrive and I don't think there's any other entity in luxury which comes anywhere near that. Whether it's being seen in one or at the wheel of one, you encompass this sense of navigating your ship, you're at the helm of something extraordinary. On the one hand the sense of carriage magnifies you, on the other hand, when you are behind the wheel you are the captain. It has to make an impression.

Previously, the Phantom could be described as dressed up in a top hat and tails – it's very prim. The Phantom VIII has relaxed into its clothes a bit more. There's a fantastic quote which says: 'the sign of a true gentleman is that he wears his clothes without knowing he's even put them on'. That's effortless style. Our relationship with the metal as we sculpted it was one of reverence to the mobility that was going to come out of that, we are taking the stiff edges off the Phantom's formality. So to take your eye over the car, you can see that it is very much a play on the silhouette of the traditional Phantom. All of the lines of the car are soft, they go on a journey and they bring the eye forward. There is harmony. This model is a tune which takes you places but never throws you off centre. There are lots of car designs which lead you to disappointment, you run out of energy. This car is a piece of music and it can tell a story in some way.

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We started at the front, making the chrome grille larger, taller and more present. From this integrated grille, the car develops beautifully. It's an understanding of how we can deliver a timeless design, because if someone walks into the room and says, 'I like it, but what is it?' then I haven't done a service to the legacy of Rolls-Royce. And now, we have developed a new feature inside to incorporate three-dimensional objects behind a glass panel on the dashboard. People often ask us what they can put behind the glass and we can test this for them. I mean you can't put Tracey Emin's cigarette behind there because it would lose all its ash everywhere and you wouldn't want that, but you could commission an artist such as Damien Hirst to do something quite incredible that you would normally have on your yacht or in your penthouse. I'd love to ask someone like Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. We are opening the door to say come on in and make it your own. The Phantom VIII is a sign of a more sociable Rolls-Royce. This is your tablet for expressing your ultimate wish in life.

GILES TAYLOR has worked with Rolls-Royce since 2011, taking on his current position as design director in 2012;

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