Source: Bentley via Bloomberg
Cars

With Bespoke Details, You Can Make Your Aston Martin or Rolls-Royce as Ugly as You Want

And the high-end automakers won't stop you

“We are not the taste police.”

That’s Eric Shepherd’s take on what Rolls-Royce will and will not do to its cars on behalf of customers. Basically, as the head of Rolls-Royce North America told me over brunch in New York,  nothing is forbidden.

“Outside of compromising the safety of the car—or disfiguring the Spirit of Ecstasy—we won’t say no,” he said.

The
The "Starry Night" headliner in Rolls-Royce cars uses tiny individual light bulbs to recreate the night sky in whichever constellation a client may want.
Source: Rolls-Royce via Bloomberg

Which in Rolls-Royce world can mean saying yes to mother-of-pearl inlays, crocodile skin seating, rabbit pelt lining, and mahogany trim. Or building watchcases into the doors of the car for quick changes between the office and the opera. Or customizing a diamond-studded interior, $30,000 picnic set, and fiber-optic constellation across the interior roof of a Rolls-Royce Celestial, a Phantom one-off it made in 2013 reportedly for an oil baron. 

In fact, 95 percent of all Rolls-Royce customers order their cars bespoke in some way. The number rises to 99 percent in Middle Eastern markets.

As long as the car passes safety standards, super high-end automakers say, they'll do literally anything high-paying customers request of the bespoke program, like creating an illuminated Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament (L) or making a Bentley

As long as the car passes safety standards, the bespoke sky is the limit, such as creating an illuminated Spirit of Ecstasy hood ornament (L) or making a Bentley "B" of gold (R).

Source: Rolls-Royce and Bentley via Bloomberg

Across the Board

This trend encompasses much more than just Rolls. Consider Lapo Elkann’s famous camouflage-and-denim Ferraris, Justin Bieber’s chromed-out Fisker Karma, or David Beckham’s brigade of matte Bentleys.

Justin Bieber garnered plenty of attention when he ordered a Tesla Model S completely covered in a highly bespoke, highly expensive silver-colored paint. Some of the attention was less-than-wanted, as this photograph shows.

Justin Bieber garnered plenty of, ahem, attention when he ordered a Fisker Karma completely covered in a highly bespoke, highly expensive silver-colored paint.

Photographer: Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

“It’s the freedom to think beyond specification sheets and options lists,” said Matthew Bennett, who manages Aston Martin VIP and bespoke sales.

So much for subtlety. These days, such companies as Rolls-Royce, Aston Martin, Bentley, and Jaguar are catering to their fastest-growing bespoke markets: Eastern oligarchs and Silicon Valley wunderkinds who love bright colors, two-tone paint jobs, and exotic trimming. And automakers are spending millions to open and expand their bespoke houses to meet the appetite for extreme personalization.

When the Lamborghini Aventador first came out, Kanye West ordered his totally specialized in a matte black tone.

When the Lamborghini Aventador first came out, Kanye West ordered his totally specialized in a matte black tone.

Photographer: Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

A Growing Business

Last year Jaguar Land Rover was the latest in the ranks to launch a bespoke division—this one called Special Operations—which includes teams for making new cars totally unique. They also have a “heritage” division that works on classic vehicles such as the iconic E-Type Jaguar. (A few of these Special Ops cars will even appear in Spectre, the next James Bond flick.)

(L) Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh arrive in one of their famous royal cars; (R) Car mascot, of a St George and the Dragon, on the Bentley owned by Queen Elizabeth II, UK.

The U.K.'s Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip arrive in one of their famous royal Bentleys (L), which sport custom car mascots of St. George and the Dragon (R).

Photographer: (from left) Indigo/Getty Images; Tim Graham/Getty Images

Since 2011, Bentley has seen a 70-percent increase in bespoke orders in its Mulliner program, while Aston Martin has gone from 40 to 400 cars since 2012. More than 40 percent of Lamborghini Aventadors were customized last year, while 3 percent of those were specialized to the highest level, becoming basically one-offs, a spokesperson said.

“There is an increased interest in differentiation, in doing things in a unique way,” Bentley’s Geoff Dowding said. “Being given that opportunity is something that makes you feel good. It makes you feel on top of the world.”

In Crewe, England, craftsmen carefully inlay and then polish exotic woods to create designs in the dashboard to clients' exact specifications.

In Crewe, England, Bentley craftsmen carefully inlay and then polish exotic woods to create designs in the dashboard to clients' exact specifications.

Source: Bentley via Bloomberg

 

Ultimate Personal Experience

There's a difference between what we're talking about when we say "personalized" and "bespoke," in the automotive sense of the terms. What I’ve been describing are bespoke cars. But many high-end automakers offer wide, if standard, options of leathers, paint colors, and materials from which to choose when you buy. Lamborghini’s normal outfitting program, for instance, is called Ad Personam, and Bentley’s standard Mulliner shop offers more than a million potential combinations of leather, threads, wood, and paint. That's personalization.

This personal pop-up cocktail set is but one way Rolls-Royce customers make their Phantom their own.

This personal pop-up cocktail set is but one way Bentley customers make their cars their own.

Source: Bentley via Bloomberg

Truly bespoke programs go beyond that, allowing customers to dictate what they want out of thin air. There’s plenty of precedent. At the turn of the last century, patrons of Messieurs Rolls and Royce would visit their favorite Savile Row tailors before walking up the street to deliver the same fabric to the guys at Rolls, to use it on the seats. And Mercedes-Benz used special tartan to line the seats in some of its most prized vintage 300SL Gullwings.

These days ladies bring in handbags so workers can match the leathers. Men bring in family crests for special embroidery; they ask for hidden storage boxes and humidors and coolers sized to fit their favorite brand of champagne. Emotions—and emotional engagement with the process—run high.

At automakers like Aston Martin and Bentley (shown here), high-net-worth clients have brought their handbags into the shop and asked for artisans there to match the bag's leather to the interior hide of the car.

Something tells us that this Bentley was customized by a lover of an orange Hermès bag.

Source: Bentley via Bloomberg

Wait For It ….

With that level of specification, it takes a while to finish the perfect product. Fortunately this caliber of client is willing to wait.

The mint-green Rolls-Royce that mattress mogul Michael Fux ordered took more than a year to develop, and even simple embroidering or wood embossing can delay a car delivery several months.  

MIchael Fux, the well-known mattress mogul, is famous for his collection of outré cars. The mint-green Rolls-Royce Wraith he ordered took more than a year to develop.

MIchael Fux, the well-known mattress mogul, is famous for his collection of outré cars. The mint-green Rolls-Royce Wraith he ordered took more than a year to develop.

Source: Rolls-Royce via Bloomberg

It looked like a big scoop of Coney Island ice cream. Not that it mattered a whit to the folks at Rolls.

“We don’t feel the need to somehow defend a sense of prestige—we want to make our customers happy,” Shepherd said.

After all, they’re not the taste police.

Correction: We misidentified Justin Bieber's chrome sport scar as a Tesla. It's actually a Fisker Karma. 

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