What does luxury mean to brands today?
The luxury landscape is going through a radical makeover. Once relatively easy to define, the concept has evolved to mean so much more than simply owning an expensive item. True luxury is about rarity and uniqueness. It is being pushed towards the immaterial and can simply be about time. ‘Silence, space and time are the luxury goods of the future,’ says product designer Alfredo Häberli.
In this context, how should companies with identities based firmly on selling the dream of luxury operate today? Bentley and Rolls-Royce are the beacons of luxury motoring. Last week the two brands independently released items that signify opulence. These are products that are about the promise of pure pleasure, of the enjoyment of life, and of the value of obtaining something that is truly rare.
Bentley’s is a trio of books to mark its centenary. These are not your average brand books though. They include the pinnacle ‘100 Carat’ edition, which is the world’s heaviest print, adorned with one-hundred carats of diamonds, printed in only seven copies (one for each continent), and priced at £200,000 each. Customers can highly personalise their copies too, by commissioning the publisher Opus to photograph their Bentley collection to be added to their book.
The Rolls-Royce proposition is the ‘Champagne Chest’. With prices starting from around £37,000, this is a meticulously-crafted and bespoke product, and the design reflects the sense of theatre necessary for such an object of desire. There is a touch of technicality to its aesthetics to reflect the brand, with design cues and materials hinting at the auto and nautical worlds. Swathed in black leather, the modest box unfolds to reveal an illuminated chest housing a Champagne set for four. There is a great deal of attention to detail here to showcase Rolls-Royce’s expertise in the craft of hand-made. The chest includes hand-blown crystal flutes (arranged to evoke the V12 engine), chilled tins for serving caviar, and the exterior lid doubles up as a delicate serving tray of Tudor Oakwood and laser-cut stainless steel inlay.
The product joins the Rolls ‘Picnic Hamper’ in the Accessory Collection – another deliciously decadent product created to evoke the spirit of alfresco dining in its golden age, when cars were voluptuous, driving a treat and picnics somehow a touch sexier than today. It reportedly took over 500 hours to create the hamper with saddler leather, oiled teak, polished aluminium. The crystal glasses and decanter were traditionally handmade in Hungry with clear and coloured lead crystal grounded by hand and blown by mouth. For Rolls the Accessories Collection is about showcasing what the brand can do outside the auto world. It is about revealing its design and craft skill and technological know-how.
True luxury today can be about building a whole sensuous world around a brand. Rolls-Royce and Bentley may sell expensive cars, yet they are ultimately providing an elite club of sorts. Theirs is the promise of a certain lifestyle, the good life, the grand life where time stops and everything you touch, feel, sense is crafted and made with passion, is rare and unique. The aesthete and design critic Stephen Bayley puts it very well when he says, ‘luxury is the anticipation of pleasure’. And if luxury requires such privilege and pleasure then Rolls and Bentley’s are perfectly judged products.
Nargess Banks (all images are strictly © Bentley and Rolls-Royce)