Rolls-Royce’s Cullinan rolls in
Is the Cullinan just another big, luxurious SUV – or is it a betrayal of the spirit of Rolls-Royce?
KALLIKRATES AND IKTINOS, look away now!
The architects of the Parthenon, whose pediment inspired Rolls-Royce’s most distinctive feature, used a system of ‘refinements’ to make the building’s composition and proportions appear perfect. These included subtle curvatures to account for natural optical illusions: a true straight line will appear depressed, unless it is bent out a little.
We must allow for the possibility that design director Giles Taylor has employed refinements so that this engorged pile of pharaonic de luxe grossness appears an exercise in delicacy and tact if only its real size were known. But I don’t think so. The excellent Ian Cameron, designer of the last Phantom, got cross with me when I said: ‘It’s all very well, but you’d have to have a severe psychological problem to want to own one.’ Same applies here, but you’d also need very poor eyesight too.
There is not much subtle in this new Rolls-Royce, including the name Cullinan. This rough diamond was discovered in the South African goldfields in 1905. That it has now been appropriated for diamond geezers is eloquent of astonishing insensitivity by Rolls’ marketeers. In 1905 South Africa was still a British dominion and the name evokes colonial exploitation, beaming piccaninnies and notions of theft, largesse and servitude.
The original Cullinan diamond was shipped to London, cut in Amsterdam and became part of the Crown Jewels.
Still, they say if you want to know what
God thinks about money, just look at the people he gives it to.
Then there is the problem of product semantics. The grandeur and dignity which are the source of Rolls-Royce’s credibility, the basis of all its ‘brand values’ – so effortfully exploited here – are surely compromised when axle-deep in organic slurry, or up to your beltline in desert sand and dessicated camel poo. The absurdity does reinforce the old truth that the single known fact about consumer behaviour is that it’s irrational.
And all this is compounded by the philosophical horrors of brand extension. Of course, it is easy to understand the commercial logic. There are enough credulous people who would buy a Bangkok tuk-tuk if a Spirit of Ecstasy were attached to the handlebars. But brand extension is ultimately ruinous: Pierre Cardin briefly made a fortune applying his name to frying pans, but that simultaneously robbed his couture business of prestige. What will Cullinan do to Phantom?
Taste is the last threshold of shame. No one has ever said: ‘Do you know, I wish I had worse taste.’ It is in this context that the new Rolls-Royce SUV excels so effortlessly. The problem of discovering new and toxic forms of vulgarity has been taken away from ‘high net-worth individuals’. How delicious to drive something which says, using the artistic equivalent of a permanently deployed middle finger: ‘Get out of my way. I’m rich.’
They should have called it the Rolls-Royce Taboo. Or perhaps the Silver Kitsch.
But most depressing is that Rolls-Royce has ignored the option of inventing future excellence and chosen instead to join the hysteria which has already caused Porsche, Lamborghini, Bentley, Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Jaguar and, soon, Maybach, Aston Martin and Ferrari to have psychotic delusions and make cars profoundly at odds with their original spirit. In the Premiership, only McLaren remains to be contaminated.
They say Cullinan’s a new definition of luxury. Last word now to Coco Chanel: ‘Luxury is not the opposite of poverty, it’s the opposite of vulgarity.’ M’elle Chanel would have found nothing luxurious here.
STEPHEN BAYLEY The former CAR columnist is a curator and author. He shifts his gaze between politics, food, travel and architecture, but you can ind highlights of his automotive writing at carmagazine. co.uk Next month in CAR: Gavin Green meets the...