PUSHING THE BOUNDARIES OF TEXTILES
In anticipation of the Autumn reveal of the Spirit of Ecstasy Challenge final artworks, Muse sits down with Christine Franck, Head of Colour, Materials & Trim Design at Rolls-Royce, to delve into the enormous creative potential of textiles. The opportunities to imagine something radically innovative in textiles have never been more far-reaching or fanciful. Versatile, delicate, and steeped in history, textile offers up a wide-open terrain of creative possibility.
Christine Franck, Head of Colour, Materials & Trim Design, courtesy Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
Since its founding in 1904, textiles have played a key role in Rolls-Royce’s heritage. As well as featuring the highest quality leather and metal surfaces, early models also showcased the most delicate fabrics in their interiors, undergoing the same meticulous design process to create the utmost picture of luxury. Today, fabrics are once again at the forefront of the Rolls-Royce design story. Christine Franck, head of materials at Rolls-Royce, tells us more about textile innovation at the brand.
‘Textiles have always been at the core of our history,’ explains Franck. ‘Owners of early Rolls-Royce models finished the rear cabins with finest and most precious fabrics, while the chauffeur’s seat was upholstered with a more rigid material — leather. Over the years, the tradition of leather has become very strong, but textiles is where we come from and where we’re going in the future.’
Over the recent years Rolls-Royce brought beautiful fabrics back into the car, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in bespoke design. Each individual fabric is conceived and developed as you would a work of art, and treated, in Franck’s words, ‘like a masterpiece which is up to the makers.’
Rolls-Royce Phantom. Image courtesy Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
The exploration of textiles started in 2015 with Phantom Serenity — an exquisite Rolls-Royce motor car featuring the finest silk. The process of creating this beautiful fabric took over six months, bringing traditions and innovations together. The thread for the Serenity’s silk interior was sourced from Suzhou in China and made using a centuries-old thread-dying technique; then it was hand-woven in one of the UK’s oldest mills over two days — it took two hours per meter of fabric. Finally, the precious silk was hand-painted and embroidered by Bespoke craftspeople using the ‘unconscious painting’ technique, turning the interior of this Phantom into an idyllic garden with delicate cherry blossoms in full bloom.
Rolls-Royce Phantom Serenity. Images courtesy Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
‘This is what makes Rolls-Royce distinct from other brands’, says Franck. ‘All the craft is in our own hands, and this allows us to address each client’s specific wishes. We have the most discerning clients in the world who know exactly what they want and have high expectations. They come to Rolls-Royce because they know that they will be able to engage in a dialogue and create a unique luxury object which is specifically tailored to them.’
The endless potential of textiles allows Rolls-Royce to engage more deeply with the notion of craftsmanship. ‘The advantage of using textiles is that it allows for so many beautiful details and creates a sense of curation. You start from scratch and work on the specifics — materials, colours, breathability — and define how it will feel, look, and behave. The adjustable nature of textiles makes it a perfect medium for Bespoke craftsmanship.’
Textiles at Rolls-Royce, courtesy Muse, the Rolls-Royce Art Programme.
Phantom Platino, unveiled earlier this year to commemorate the launch of Phantom Series II, perfectly illustrates this approach. Named after the silver-white finish of platinum, this masterpiece showcases two fabrics — one from an Italian mill, chosen for its durable yet luxurious appearance, and the other made of bamboo fibres, selected for its lustrous finish. Both materials share an original repeating pattern based on an abstract interpretation of the Spirit of Ecstasy executed in two different styles, staging the character of each fabric and creating a visual reference to interior design. Echoing the marque’s formative days, the textiles are reserved for the rear cabin only — the front seats are finished in fine Rolls-Royce leather.
‘This is a project which perfectly shows the different possibilities of where our visions can lead,’ says Franck of the Platino. Bringing such a timeless design to life not only involved extensive research into materials but also great effort into sourcing fabrics of unparalleled quality. As Franck explains, ‘We only work with suppliers who we know can meet our high expectations and requirements. The companies we work with need to have a lot of knowledge and experience to be able to achieve what we're looking for. In Sir Henry’s words, we ‘take the best and make it better’’.
Rolls-Royce Phantom Extended Series II Platino. Image courtesy Rolls-Royce Motor Cars.
While keeping textile traditions alive, Rolls-Royce is constantly on the lookout for innovation in this space. ‘We always have an eye open for new materials and techniques to further push the boundaries of individualisation,’ says Franck.
With the Spirit of Ecstasy Challenge, inspired by the iconic Rolls-Royce muse, the brand continues its commitment to material excellence and celebrating craftsmanship. In supporting the dynamic practices of three creatives — Scarlett Yang, Bi Rongrong, and Ghizlane Sahli — the initiative continues the pioneering legacy of Rolls-Royce: ‘I can't stress enough how important innovation and new ideas have been to our brand from the very first day. Our founders were more than innovators, they were outstanding visionaries who challenged everything. In this spirit we are pushing the limits and challenge existing processes every day. That is what keeps us at the pinnacle of the luxury world.’
(L-R): Bi Rongrong, Scarlett Yang, and Ghizlane Sahli, courtesy Muse, the Rolls-Royce Art Programme.
CONTINUE YOUR JOURNEY
Moved By The Spirit
Ever since the first encounter between Charles Rolls and Henry Royce, in 1904, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars has been synonymous with limitless imagination.
Reimagining an Icon
Launching this year, the Spirit of Ecstasy Challenge celebrates both tradition and innovation. This biennial design project will invite three emerging design visionaries to create unique works inspired by the ethos of Rolls-Royce, as symbolised by the Spirit of Ecstasy, the sculptural figurine that adorns the bonnet of every Rolls-Royce motor car.