Art Deco was arguably the most glamorous and exciting design movement of the 20th century.
Loosely spanning the period 1920 to 1940, the name Art Deco was not applied until the 1960s, when the movement was aligned with the Paris Exhibition of 1925 or Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes.
It’s a testament to its enduring appeal that many people with little interest in either art or design can identify an Art Deco inspired object or building today, even though they may not be clear what makes it so.
The movement was certainly sensational. Refreshing, different and beautiful in its own right, its roots were embedded in early twentieth century avant-garde painting styles, then moved into a global design aesthetic embraced by disciplines such as architecture, automotive design, marketing, ceramics and furniture making.
Art Deco embraced the cultural enthusiasm of the moment, employing futuristic crystallised motifs referencing Greek classicism and recently discovered Egyptian relics mixed with the dynamic of the age of the machine and streamlined automotive liberation.
Art Deco could be likened to light out of darkness, complementing an epoch characterised by the rapid development of technology and innovative use of new materials. Geometric shapes, recurring motifs and stylised images featured heavily across Art Deco design. Simplicity in form, sweeping lines and streamlining gave the movement an appeal that shocked convention, but delighted high society to the soundtrack of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes.
But while the 1920s and 30s are held to embrace the Art Deco era, there was no definitive starting point, nor end. Art Deco influences were to be found well before this period and today Art Deco colours contemporary design.
Art Deco and Rolls-Royce
The famous Rolls-Royce mascot ‘Spirit of Ecstasy’ is one example that might be described as a prequel to the movement. Born in 1911, the graceful little Goddess has now adorned the prow of Rolls-Royce motor cars for more than a century.
The influence of this genuine icon can be seen in famous Art Deco designs several decades later. Marcel Bouraine’s (1928) Papillion, a winged-figurine in translucent green glass created in the powered glass pâte-de-cristal technique, hints at the original Rolls-Royce design.
The Spirit’s influence can also be seen in the glassware of Rene Lalique, creator of 29 car mascots of the period, such as the Spirit of the Wind in 1928. Also, his beautiful statuette Suzanne au Bain (1930), a nude revelling in fluttering draperies, a pose not dissimilar to that adopted by the muse said to have inspired the Spirit of Ecstasy’s designer Charles Sykes twenty years earlier.
The Spirit of Ecstasy’s flowing lines pre-empted the Art Deco movement. And the beautiful Phantom I, II and III models of the 1920s/1930s, wearing fine bespoke coachwork, certainly embody some of the high points in Rolls-Royce design of the last century.
Art Deco inspired those with the courage and conviction not to merely follow. It introduced a sense of flow and dynamism. In the movement’s most opulent creations, Art Deco complemented the reputation Rolls-Royce had already established at the pinnacle of the burgeoning automotive sector, embracing the finest designs and revelling in the most glamorous of objects.
High Art Deco (as it was sometimes described) also embraced the sheer luxury of natural materials, the use of the exotic and experimental and celebrated the march of technology. The clean lines of aluminium – a material used to such success in bringing to life the original Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost – cool stainless steel and the luxurious feel of lacquer; all were to feature prominently in Art Deco design.
Bespoke Rolls-Royce luxury for the 21st century
Though Rolls-Royce cars hold a timeless quality, the visual history of the marque illustrates that something can always be traced of the era in which the cars were designed. In creating a Rolls-Royce for the 21st Century, designers rose to the challenge of expressing the marque’s heritage and language of one of the most celebrated aesthetics in automotive history without straying into pastiche.
This balance was achieved by elegantly incorporating Rolls-Royce design and engineering tenets, that have stood for nearly a century, into a contemporary motor car that quickly established a pinnacle position in the modern automotive era.
Features referencing the marque’s heritage such as the Pantheon grille adorned with Spirit of Ecstasy, wheels proportionally half the height of the car and interior furnished with classic detailing including eyeball vents operated by organ-stop controls, found their home in a thoroughly modern masterpiece.
The spirit of movements such as Art Deco can be seen in every modern Rolls-Royce. The evolutionary updates to the pinnacle Phantom Series II family are an elegant example. It is a car built in the context of the world we live in today that retains the true essence of what has gone before.
Detailed interior touches in Phantom include quarter mirrors behind the c-pillar that reflect ambient light. Finished in green-frosted glass, these are reminiscent of the pâte-de-cristal pieces so prevalent in Art Deco glassware classics.
Today, echoes of Art Deco can be found in Ghost too. Its overarching design theme – the power of simplicity – reveals clean sweeping lines and proportions evoking the understated grandeur of the period.
The employment of only the finest materials and handcraftsmanship pays homage to the design and manufacturing excellence that typified the best of the Art Deco era. Cashmere and luxurious leather interiors give an air of sumptuous indulgence.
The form and section of hand-crafted, lacquered and highly polished wood veneers for example evoke the structure of fine furniture. Rolls-Royce veneers are chosen for their richness, iridescence and complexity of grain, often enhanced by inlays adorned with silver or mother of pearl and cross banding, so reminiscent of fine cabinet making in the Art Deco era.
In celebration of the Art Deco period and the relevance of the Paris Exhibition to the movement, Rolls-Royce Motor Cars has created a series of highly bespoke Art Deco inspired Phantom and Ghost models which will debut at the Paris Motor Show 2012. The Phantom Saloon, Phantom Drophead Coupé and Ghost models feature a suite of design detailing inspired by the period.
The Phantom Saloon for example includes a black and arctic white interior featuring a stainless steel inlay in the telephone drawer, door cappings and in rear picnic table backs. These feature a geometric pattern first used by Rolls-Royce in early 20th century motor show stand designs.