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An interview with Rolls-Royce's director of design

Giles Taylor explains the design approach behind the all new SUV

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The new Rolls-Royce Cullinan ‘high-bodied’ vehicle is here. TG chats to RR’s director of design, Giles Taylor, about the new SUV.

TopGear.com: Describe the Cullinan for us.

Giles Taylor: It’s a Rolls-Royce, but higher up. It has the level of opulence our patrons love and expect, together with the commanding driving position. Then we started to tackle the versatility and practicality this vehicle has to offer. The challenge was to get the graciousness and elegance. We could get the imperiousness, the sense of a Rolls-Royce commanding its territory like never before, the power and authority. But it also needed to be graceful.

TG.com: So where on earth do you start?

GT: The front ‘block’ had to be capable of taking on Kilimanjaro, we were never apologising for the 4x4 part of its character. Our owners can climb a dune in consummate comfort, yes, but also supreme capability. So the pencil started to glide from a very serious front into something more akin to the grand tourers of old, back when you’d set off into Sussex or wherever with your trunks on the back and someone would unstrap them on arrival.

TG.com: Hence the partition idea in the rear, and the variety of materials inside.

GT: Well, you don’t want the cabin’s occupants being frozen when the car pulls up outside The Dorchester in mid-December. The limousine was actually born when the whole area was encased in metal. The Rolls-Royce D-back was almost cut like a coupe, swept back, with the bustle planted on as a style element. Even by the 1950s, the Cloud still had it. Fred Astaire sat on silk or cloth, it was never leather. He had a glass partition, and never sat with his luggage.

TG.com: I also love the idea of T.E Lawrence basically nicking a Rolls off some poor woman in a Cairo hotel. No other car company can call on references like these…

GT: It’s a good story. The romance and authenticity is a nice inspiration, but we’d never get carried away to the point where we’d need to sell the story to help people understand the design. But Lawrence of Arabia certainly relied on his Rolls-Royces during his campaign. And he returned the car to its owner afterwards, by the way. That chassis is still out there. No-one knows whereabouts exactly, but it’s out there.

TG.com: Can you describe your overall approach?

GT: I like classicism. That’s not me being conservative or old-fashioned. Younger people have a shorter attention span and need to be bombarded with ‘hooks’ on a car – “mine’s noisy”, “my music is louder”. As with any brand, as we draw closer to that market-place there’s a danger that you can get sucked into the need to excite at first glance. It takes more time and judgement to appreciate proportion and line. There’s an overlap with furniture and architecture; people in those areas are pleased by the quality of a line. Then there could be a little detail that’s just so well treated, it sits against a canvas of simplicity. I like simplicity, and I like the process of fine honing lines. When you do reduce, in a classical way, you’re exposing every ingredient in its basic form to create the whole. If you have very clean surfaces, the graphics you use need to be very good. Otherwise they can cause ugly distortions of proportion.

TG.com: Is there a new wave of younger designers coming through, disruptors?

GT: Accepted design rules and conventional thinking: the young guys coming into the industry today don’t give a monkeys about this stuff. It’s totally disruptive. They don’t care about how you create a volume over the rear wheels, they want to create a bang for the buck, for whichever brand they’re working for. “This is where I can make the design really pop.” China is significant here, of course. It’s been happening in the art world for years, with the sorts of artists someone like Charles Saatchi lends his patronage too. But in the car world, the sort of thing someone like, say, Battista Farina, would have recognised as a great design, well that is changing. It would be easy to become irrelevant very quickly if you kept your head in the clouds.

TG.com: That could explain some of the wilfully strange stuff companies like Toyota are trying.

GT: My generation is an older one, by education. The modern generation are getting all out of shape on Aventadors, Paganis, Veyrons… there’s some really intoxicating stuff out there, that wasn’t there when I was a kid. Modern design is so all-consuming I don’t think the new guys have any time to get teary-eyed over an E-Type. They’ll have a moment if they see one, sure, but the big connection is to the future, like never before. They’re sketching things with no self-consciousness at all. That said, there’s clearly a new focus on purity, we’ve gone through the more grotesque exercises. Car makers are more focused on simplicity but it’s bloody hard to do. So you can end up chucking a whole load of lines at a car to prevent ridicule.

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