With many aircraft interior designers noting that premium passengers expect the same standard of trim and finish in aircraft seats as they enjoy in the executive cars they take to the airport, Rolls-Royce has revealed an interior that could really up the stakes in first class. Named Serenity, this opulent and elegant one-off interior is a very special Rolls-Royce Phantom indeed.
As the name would suggest, the Serenity interior is intended to be a tranquil space, and when searching for inspiration, the design team looked back at the marque’s most opulent interiors. Archives stretching all the way back to the early 1900s were consulted, particularly the ones chosen by kings and queens, emperors and empresses and world leaders, and combined that traditional luxury with contemporary interpretations of furniture design.
The opulence of silk
Two key members of the Serenity team – Cherica Haye and Michelle Lusby, both textile arts graduates from the Royal College of Art, London and Plymouth University, UK, respectively – joined Rolls-Royce’s bespoke design department to help realize the direction of the core motif for this Phantom.
“Some of the most opulent silk motifs come to us from the Orient, where imperial families’ and rich merchants’ robes were made from the finest silk materials,” explains Lusby.
Lusby and Haye (pictured left) soon discovered what they consider to be the most opulent robe design: the junihitoe, a ‘twelve-layer robe’ of silk worn only by female Japanese courtiers. The colors and the arrangements of the layers were important, with the colors given poetic names such as ‘crimson plum of the spring’.
Inspiration was also found in the annals of the Japanese Edo period (1615-1868), when the merchant and artisan classes commissioned beautiful clothes to demonstrate their wealth and good taste. Clothing developed into a highly expressive means of personal display, an important indicator of rising affluence and aesthetic sensibility.
An aesthetic known as iki, or elegant chic, meant anyone with real taste focused on subtle details, while those with style and money found ways to circumvent rules that forbade the use of certain colors, such as red, by applying them to undergarments and linings.
“The rear compartment of a Phantom is the most tranquil, beautiful place to be, a place where time and the outside world simply slip past,” says Haye. “This tranquillity made us think of the Oriental tradition where Emperors would take to their private gardens to reflect in solitude under the blossom trees. The blossom motif is one that is cherished in Far Eastern culture and has been beautifully applied to royal robe design over the centuries. We felt it was the perfect representation of tranquility and serenity for a beautiful modern interior from Rolls-Royce.”
As well as a blank sheet of paper, the Serenity design also began with a blank bolt of the finest hand-woven silk, sourced from Suzhou in China, a town renowned for its imperial embroidery. The unspun silk thread was hand-dyed by craftspeople in China, and then transported to one of the UK’s oldest mills, based in Essex. Here it was hand-woven into just 10m of the fabric – enough to clothe the interior of Serenity – in a process that took two days (two hours per meter of fabric).
The numerous colors of silk thread were then blended into the highest quality warp, which has 140 threads per centimeter to result in the lustrous smoke green color of the underlying silk fabric. Once prepared, the plain smoke green silk was transferred to London where the blossom motif designed by Haye and Lusby – a modern take on centuries-old silk Chinoiserie – began to flourish across the fabric as British and Chinese craftspeople embroidered their vision of copper-colored branches and white petals. The final touch was the detailed petal by petal hand-painting of crimson blossoms directly onto the silk. The resulting panels and swatches that have formed the centerpiece of Serenity took up to 600 hours of work per panel.
The style of painting employed in the design of the Serenity silk is another centuries-old technique, known as ‘unconscious painting’. Much of Japanese painting technique is learned through very fine and detailed rendering of classical forms within nature, such as branches, leaves, flowers or bamboo. The work can be painstaking with the same form rendered again and again. The purpose of this repetition is to imbue in the artist an innate understanding of these natural forms until their balance and nature is understood without thought.
According to artisans of the technique, in order to paint a calm and beautiful image the artist must be calm of mind. Mood becomes all-important as it influences the balance and mood of the work. A meditative state results where the brush can flow freely in the artist’s hand – the state of ‘unconscious painting’. So in preparing to paint the panels for Serenity, the serene state of mind of the craftspeople was all important. The branches needed to have life, movement, spontaneity – but with grace and calm.
Leather for the staff
The fine silks are only to be found in the rear of Serenity though, where the owner will sit. In the early 20th Century, as wealthy people began to switch from luxurious horse-drawn carriages to luxury cars such as Rolls-Royces, they specified opulent fabrics for the rear compartments – the driver’s cockpit was open air, and thus a robust leather was better suited to exposure to the elements.
Only when automotive leather became more refined was it accepted as a luxury material, and indeed the front seats are clad in fine-grain arctic white leather in a nod to Serenity’s predecessors.
The desire for the finest, most opulent fabrics endures amongst the cognoscenti around the world, including many Rolls-Royce owners,” says Giles Taylor, director of design at Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. “The thought that fabrics such as silk have been discounted from use because of their delicacy only spurred us on to go further than any other car maker is capable of doing.”
Taking cues from modern furniture design, the rear occupants’ elevated and powerful seating position has been accentuated, with the valances of the seats made from rare smoked cherrywood. The cherrywood theme continues on the door cappings, dash fascia and rear center console, and is further embellished by another beautiful Far-Eastern wood, bamboo, with the highly skilled application of bamboo cross-banding.
The blossom motif from the silk is recreated through the marquetry on the rear door cappings through the use of mother of pearl, which is laser-cut and hand-applied, petal by petal, into the wood. The material is also used in the driver’s compartment, where it is applied to the clock face and the instrument dials. This mother of pearl clock face is etched with concentric circles redolent of the raked gravel seen in Japanese gardens, and is inlaid with hand-applied rubies that echo the color of the hand-painted flowers in the silk lining.
Even the luggage compartment is opulent, lined in arctic white leather with an arctic white carpet. As a final touch, two parasols featuring the Serenity motif are held by leather loops incorporated into the boot lid.
Luxury squirreled away
The mother of pearl theme is also carried over to the exterior, with the paint finish being the most expensive one-off paint ever developed by Rolls-Royce. It has been added in a three-stage pearl effect and hand-polished for 12 hours. A delicate two-color coachline (applied using a squirrel-hair brush, naturally) with a three-color blossom motif echoes the interior.
The asymmetric nature of the coachline signifies the respective positions of owner and chauffeur, with the entrance to the rear compartment indicated on the right-hand side of the car with the blossom on the rear wing and coachline ending at the B-pillar.
Admittedly, few of the materials used in Serenity have application in the aviation world, but the ideas of using textiles rather than leathers to create a luxury feel, and the application of delicate motifs to imbue an interior with beauty could have value.