Imagine commissioning a car like ordering a custom suit – an automobile tailored specifically to the client. You may think of Rolls-Royce and Bentley with veneers and hides and artful stitching, but as Cadillac raises its new electric flagship, the menu from which wealthy drivers dine includes a dose of mid-century allure.
At Rolls-Royce, Anything’s Possible
Over the past five years, Rolls-Royce noted increased enthusiasm for bespoke autos among wealthy Americans, and while they’re finally embracing bespoke, its simply how Rolls-Royce creates automobiles.
“We do some of the work in dealerships – each has colors, veneers, and custom leather work,” said Gerry Spahn, Head of Corporate Communications, Rolls-Royce North America. “From there, we engage our team in Goodwood, England. Bespoke adds an average 25% in additional value, but can be multiples of the base price. A $400,000 car can top seven figures when delivered.”
A recent Phantom was four years in the making, though it usually takes eight months to three years depending on the client’s desires.
“Rarely is there something we can’t do,” Spahn said. “Within regulations, you can do what you want with embroidery, leather, etc. The Phantom also offers a freeform glass “gallery” in the dash where clients have added art, 3D sculpture, leather, diamonds, and even feathers to personalize their environment.”
While intricate requests are gladly accepted, most clients focus on color.
“They can choose pearlized finishes and even size and colors of the specks,” Spahn said. “Some have real gold, silver, or diamonds. These finishes can be sixteen layers and take months.”
Sometimes what starts at bespoke becomes standard.
“A feature that’s iconic to Rolls-Royce is our Starlight Headliner,” Spahn said. “Back in 2005, it started as a client request for diffused lighting in their Phantom. Now, it is standard on every Ghost and Phantom.”
The high-tech hand-stitched headliner is comprised of thousands of fiber optic light points that, in some iterations, features shooting stars that dart across the roof.
A recent Phantom sedan was created to honor The Riviera with grapes inlaid in rear picnic tables, grape bunches brushed into coachlines, and oceanfront artwork painted for the dashboard gallery. A special Black Badge Ghost sedan, dubbed Ekleipsis, features an animated Starlight Headliner and timepiece inset with a 0.5-carat diamond.
Then, there’s “The Pearl Cullinan” SUV commissioned in Dubai by a son for his father’s birthday. Its dash bears the Arabic symbol for “father” inlaid in stainless steel. Extensive inlays of mother-of-pearl embellish rear picnic tables, dashboard, and infotainment dial. Paint finish was inspired by a prized pearl from the owner’s collection.
“We really enjoy doing something that’s never been done before,” Spahn said. “Lately, it’s been custom metals and very artistic painting. If we haven’t used it before, the bespoke team works closely with engineers to meet safety and durability standards.”
And what if a request is a bit garish?
“We are not the taste police,” Spahn said. “It’s our job to make what you want elegant. If you want yellow and lime paint, our designers will make it beautiful.”
Cadillac Resets The Standard With CELESTIQ
Rolls-Royces were once known as the best cars in the world, but Cadillac claimed “The Standard of the World”. In the middle of the last century, Cadillac’s claim was more credible than Rolls-Royce’s. The new CELESTIQ electric flagship sedan elevates Cadillac with a bespoke client experience at one of the world’s great architectural sites.
It starts at Cadillac House, the renovated reception center at GM’s Eero Saarinen-designed Technical Center near Detroit, where a concierge establishes the client’s foundational interests. Then, the client is introduced to the design team. They can either visit Cadillac House in-person or confer remotely.
Even before personalization, the CELESTIQ is pretty special – a $340,000 automobile that’s hand-built at the Tech Center, runs 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds, and flaunts a full-width flatscreen dash, 38-speaker audio, and glass roof that allows each traveler to control opaqueness above. Choreographed lighting adds allure.
“Anybody can ask for something special,” said Laetitia Lopez, Design Manager for CELESTIQ. “The fun part is getting requests that are unexpected. The experience is very emotional as well. Having access to designers and Cadillac House is part of the experience, but in the end, you have something very personal.”
One customer wanted designers to mimic a sculpture surfacing. Another reportedly requested wood trim from their grandfather’s orchard. Others wish to echo their diverse interests.
“Many of our clients are collectors, have a passion for interior design,” said Alexandra Dymowska, Cadillac Sr. Brand Strategy Designer. “They’re bringing part of their aesthetic into the vehicle. We won’t compromise safety, but limits are generally bound by how much and how long it will take.”
Perhaps the ultimate CELESTIQ is the one-off $975,000 version found in this year’s Neiman Marcus catalog. It includes a 2-day trip to watch artisans build the car, luxury accommodations, and if desired, a curated tour or the Tech Center.
“The campus is incredible – an historic landmark with iconic designs from the design dome to the floating staircase in the design building,” Dymowska said. “It’s the only site that won an architectural award in 1955. Cadillac House is one of the few structures on campus that’s one story and feels residential. We were very careful in honoring Saarinen and his design elements.”
It’s all part of placing Cadillac back on its pedestal.
“Everybody who worked on CELESTIQ is very passionate,” Dymowska said. “You can feel it in the product and experience. The brand is reclaiming its iconic status of ‘Standard of the World’”.
Bespoke Is The Future
The concept of bespoke automobiles once seemed an anachronism from the classic era, but in our day of over-produced everything, people crave individuality.
“Based on luxury research, the trend will be an increased interest in bespoke,” Dymowska said. “Having something uniquely crafted for you is very enticing.”
But staying ahead of trends will require innovation.
“We can still do maple, but can also do carbon fiber and hammered copper,” Spahn said.
Whether designers work for Cadillac, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, or another exclusive automaker, they are privileged to work their craft for only one reason:
“We can do this because our clients are willing to invest in it,” Spahn said.