Perfection, evolved

Automotive designer Henry Cloke on the new Rolls-Royce Ghost

Rolls-Royce Ghost Amber Roads

In 2020, after more than ten years of success for the first generation, the second Rolls-Royce Ghost was presented. With its clear design language, the luxury vehicle, which also appeals to younger generations, bridges the gap between presence and subtlety, explains Henry Cloke, Lead Exterior Designer at Rolls-Royce. It took more than five years to design and develop the new Rolls-Royce Ghost. From the first pen and paper sketch to the completion of the vehicle, Henry Cloke remembers every single step of the design process. In conversation with Chapter, the automotive designer, who began working as Lead Designer at Rolls-Royce immediately after completing his Master’s degree at the Royal College of Art in London, explains why reduction can also mean freedom and what an important role the new Ghost plays in the brand’s long Bespoke tradition.

Chapter   What’s the idea behind the seamlessness that characterizes the exterior of the present Rolls-Royce Ghost, first launched in 2020-aesthetically but also philosophically?

Henry Cloke  For us, it was this intrinsic, natural feeling of quality you get, when you have this seamless appearance. When you think of cars of the past, they had no gaps in it, because they were all handmade—they were like sculptures made from one piece. Today it is a bit different, but we would like to keep that handmade feeling wherever possible. And with Ghost it is not just about the looks, because it actually needs four people to connect the roof to the body. I also think that these cars of the past or other products, we find this seamless quality in, give us this sense of »that has taken time to do it, it is not mass-produced«. The second important aspect is the Bespoke tradition, which is really important for Rolls-Royce. These big, clean surfaces of the Ghost  become like a canvas for us, which allows us to find materials our customers wouldn’t expect or experiment with embroidery or marquetery. So, one part is that quality feeling, and the other is that it gives us that canvas for what we do in Bespoke with our customers.

Rolls-Royce Ghost Amber Roads


Rolls-Royce Ghost »Amber Roads« special model, photographed at an exclusive press event in front of the Villa La Coste, Provence.


Chapter The first-generation Ghost was on sale for more than a decade. In view of these relatively long product cycles, it was necessary to think quite far into the future when developing the new Ghost. Is it difficult to free yourself from thinking too much in terms of trends?

Henry Cloke  In reality, we are talking about much longer periods of time because the cars often remain with their owners for 30 or 40 years. When we start, one important aspect is the heritage, which is unbelievable to choose from. That gives us some steering, I would say, but still, it sometimes takes us five years or even a little bit longer from the moment we sit down with a pen and a piece of paper to the point where the customer actually buys the car. So, it’s true-you have to think quite far into the future. What also helps is to focus on big gestures and big, clean surfaces that we find in architecture or yacht design, for instance. In Bespoke, when customers come to us with special patterns, unique graphic wishes, or color ideas, we can be much more reactive. I think if you had to select all those things five years in advance, it may be a trend that has gone. So, we can make these big gestures at the beginning with our inspiration from yachts and architecture, and then these graphics and patterns that are a little bit more fashion or a little bit more personal can be included when we build someone’s commission.

Chapter You talked about sitting down with a pen and paper. Is that how you start the design process?

Henry Cloke I find it a really nice way to get ideas out quickly. Although it’s great you can do all these things on the computer, it’s like one more bridge to cross. Whereas if you’re really there with a pen and paper, you can try out all the ideas in your head, even if it’s just for yourself at first, and then you do it in Photoshop or in a 3D model.

Rolls-Royce Ghost details


Chapter The famous »waft line« illustrates the close relationship between yacht and automobile design at Rolls-Royce. You mentioned architecture as a second important source of inspiration. Was there a building that particularly inspired you in the development of the Ghost?

Henry Cloke For me, design is much more about being able to say something with just a few lines. I studied in London, and most of the iconic London buildings can be drawn with just two or three lines-the Gherkin, the Shard, or the London Eye, for instance. These are super simple shapes, but they have an amazing presence, and I instantly recognize them. It’s not 100% the aesthetic, but rather the fact that you can make something so recognizable in a simple way, which had a big influence on the Ghost.

Chapter Purity and simplicity lie at the heart of the new Ghost’s  DNA. Still, the car has a very strong presence. What’s important when trying to achieve both a pure and a very present as well as distinct design language?

Henry Cloke If you think about the presence of Rolls-Royce, the Phantom  would probably be the first car that comes to mind. It’s always a big statement. With Ghost, we also wanted that presence that characterizes the brand, but in a more subtle way. So, if someone wants a Black Badge Ghost  with dark chrome and dark wheels, he or she could also have a kind of »in-the-shadows-feeling«. The simplicity of Ghost  lets us do that. And about the presence, how do we do it? If you look at the front of the car, the grille and the lights make one horizontal line all the way across from corner to corner. That makes you realize that the car is nearly two meters wide because it has been underlined all the way across. Or the fact that the bonnet doesn’t roll down to the front but stays nearly straight to the Spirit of Ecstasy. These things give you that feeling of a car with a real presence, but in this case in a more subtle way. And as I said, it means that the customer, depending on how he or she wants to use the car, can adjust it and really personalize it.

Rolls-Royce Ghost Amber Roads


Chapter The Ghost is a car that also attracts a younger audience. Has this increased the desire for personalization even more?

Henry Cloke The personalization has always been there. In the very beginning, Rolls-Royce would only make you the chassis and the engine, and you could even choose the body completely. But I think that in the last few years, customers got to know Rolls-Royce better and became more confident and demanding in what they expect. They have also become braver with color choices and materials. When you do something well, the expectations go up. And it is something they really enjoy doing. In addition, we now have completely different options when it comes to personalization. In the past, woods on interiors tended to be brown, and designers would just add some graphic or a personal monogram, but now, the woods can be all colors. I also believe that the personal connection to the brand plays a major role-our customers come to Goodwood, we explain certain processes to them, and they get to know us personally. Sometimes they even know exactly who was involved in the creation of their vehicle. This creates an exceptional buying experience.

Chapter What was the biggest challenge during the design process?

Henry Cloke Previously, the Spirit of Ecstasy has always come through the grille or part of the bumper. If you look at the Ghost, she comes through the bonnet, which sounds like an easy alteration. But if you think about how big a bonnet is on a Rolls-Royce and that this huge panel also goes up and down, it had to be accomplished in a way that the hole fits perfectly around the Spirit of Ecstasy. Every time we look at it, we think that it is exceptionally beautiful, but the way we did it required all the work of the mechanics and the engineers. Magically, they made it happen. For me, that is part of the magic of Ghost—that it looks clean and beautiful, but you don’t always know how it was done.

Rolls-Royce Spirit of Ecstasy


The iconic Spirit of Ecstasy on the Rolls-Royce Ghost “Forbidden Pink”


Chapter Minimalism conjures up images of cold environments rather than warm ones. How is it possible to create a welcoming feeling despite the clear commitment to simplicity? Especially in the interior of the car?

Henry Cloke Purity is a better word for it, because minimalism, like you said, has this slightly cold connotation. One feature that creates that welcoming feeling is the warm starlight that comes from the roof of the Ghost. Of course, materials play a crucial role as well. In modern cars, the leather is always pulled so tight that it looks like a perfectly ironed surface, but we would rather let it be soft and wavy so that it feels like a sofa you want to sink into and feel warm and cozy.

Chapter In an interview, you called the interior of the Ghost »a thinking space«. Could you explain that a little more in detail?

Henry Cloke If you are successful and in the position to drive a Rolls-Royce, you probably have a very busy life. Our cars are the counterbalance to this. There are cars people drive to feel a bit scared or excited, but a Rolls-Royce should rather give you this effortless and relaxing moment. The fact that all the technological features in our cars are only visible when they are needed is also part of this idea. In addition, temperature displays and other information are also presented as subtly and unobtrusively as possible.

Rolls-Royce Ghost Amber Roads


Chapter How do you manage not to see the brand’s great heritage as a burden but to build a bridge between tradition and innovation?

Henry Cloke I think that at Rolls-Royce, we constantly have to remind ourselves of the fact that more than one hundred years ago, the company was started by two disruptors doing something completely new. Charles Rolls was a racing driver and the second Briton to hold a license to fly. Henry Royce was one of the very first people to think about electric motors. Of course, we love the Spirit of Ecstasy and the Pantheon grille, but the ethos of the company is really about innovating and about making things as perfect as possible. As long as you remember that, you can be confident that it will be a Rolls-Royce.

Chapter When did you know that you wanted to become an automotive designer?

Henry Cloke Probably when I realized that it was something you could do for a living. At primary school, I was already drawing cars all the time, and then it was just about finding out that the thing you like to do is actually a real job.

Chapter What does luxury mean to you?

Henry Cloke Working in Bespoke, you can find many slightly different takes on luxury, but for me, it has something to do with rarity. Like this special moment during your holidays when the weather is just perfect and you have the most amazing view. If you don’t have it all the time, it feels luxurious. In addition, it can also be about experiencing something unexpected. At Rolls-Royce, we are in the fortunate position of being able to design our cars without the pressure of having to produce more and more of them, but we always try to have that special moment with our customers-surprise them or bring them something they don’t expect.

Rolls-Royce Ghost Amber Roads Interior


Chapter Has there been a general shift in what luxury means for people?

Henry Cloke I think that nowadays, more and more people want to really understand the things they buy. They want to understand that the quality goes all the way through it and be familiar with the story behind the product. If you have something and want to show it to somebody, you also want to be knowledgeable about it and probably also explain why you bought it. They also want to understand the passion behind it. In my opinion, today’s world is much less about buying things simply because you can afford them. People are no longer interested in this kind of superficiality. [SW]