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Analysis: How Rolls-Royce is redefining luxury design

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Rolls-Royce Phantom - interior
Roses in this Bespoke Phantom required a million stitches
Rolls-Royce Bespoke chief designer Alex Innes says that its clients "want a new type of luxury, with more purity"

The coronavirus pandemic has presented major challenges to the whole car industry. And while the luxury end of the market has been somewhat insulated from the biggest difficulties caused by factory and showroom closures, companies operating in that sphere have still had to reinvent how they work – and it’s set to change the design focus of ultra-luxury cars.

Rolls-Royce’s Bespoke division is considered, according to chief designer Alex Innes, to be “the apex of the pinnacle”. The most prominent example of its work is the one-off Sweptail of 2017, but the division also produces highly customised versions of the Phantom, Ghost, Wraith and Dawn.

Innes and the design team work directly with ultra-wealthy customers to produce one-off designs to exacting standards.


Much of that work is done face to face, either at Rolls-Royce’s Goodwood base or with the designers travelling to meet customers, so the lockdown has forced the team to find new ways of working.

“It has been challenging, but the output hasn’t dipped from our studio,” said Innes. “We’re used to travelling a lot for work to meet with clients, so we’re used to contributing remotely.

“With our Bespoke process, we take the time to really get to know customers before we put anything into action and work directly with them in the same way you can design a house with an architect.

“Not being able to meet clients in person has been challenging, but we’ve worked around it and we’ve continued to be in near-constant dialogue with them.

“The benefit the lockdown has afforded us is the currency of time to contemplate and reflect – and we’ve noticed a similar trend with our clients. They’ve had more time to really think and engage with the coachbuild process. I’ve had lots of video chats with them to obsess over little details.”


Innes said that focus on little details is an acceleration of ongoing changes in the bespoke luxury market.

He said: “There has been a slight change in attitude and behaviour, building on a trend we’ve recognised for some time but which has accelerated since the coronavirus. We’ve termed it ‘post-opulence’: clients in the wider luxury sphere are coming to question the substance of things and what is necessary.

“There’s a shifting attitude to cars, which is reflected in a shift to a more minimalist aesthetic. Clients don’t want the opulence and ornateness of yesterday: they want a new type of luxury, with more purity. It’s about real attention to detail, towards higher and more exacting standards.”

Innes says the changing focus isn’t reflected in a move to specific designs or materials but in a push to ensure designs have “substance” rather than simply showcase one’s wealth.

“A Rolls-Royce represents a canvas for clients to project their personality and image,” he explained. “Our job at Bespoke is to shape and capture that. Because each customer is different, it’s hard to name a particular style or trend; it’s more about the attention to details.

“We’re humbled by the gravitas our clients, even those who seem to have it all, feel about ordering a Rolls-Royce. They obsess over the details and dedicate time in pursuit of that. And for many clients, time is the most pressing commodity that they have.”

While the Bespoke process is tailored, Innes said it “gives a perspective” that feeds into the future designs of Rolls-Royce’s main model lines.


Rolls-Royce bespoke Sweptail takes to Goodwood hillclimb 

Rolls-Royce Dawn drive: chasing the northern lights 

Rolls-Royce to be first car firm to resume UK production 

New 2020 Rolls-Royce Ghost hits the Nurburgring

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