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Interview With Michael Bryden: Rolls-Royce Bespoke Designer

Designing the one and only SG50-themed Ghost Series II came with tremendous expectations. We spoke to Rolls-Royce bespoke designer Michael Bryden on his approach to this prestigious project.

Ask anyone in the exclusive Rolls-Royce team what makes their vehicles special and they will all tell you the same thing: bespoke.

But there is one uniformity among the world of difference in the colours, motifs and themes — each and every vehicle is painstakingly personalised, right down to the details. Rolls-Royce’s bespoke designer Michael Bryden oversees all the one-off requests that come into the firm’s Goodwood factory. We spoke to him to find out how he realises those requests from scratch and his work on the SG50-themed Ghost Series II.

Nicholas Tse: Was there a lot of pressure when designing the SG50 car?
Michael Bryden:
Well, this is the first time Rolls-Royce has specially designed a vehicle to commemorate a country’s anniversary and there is a lot of significance attached to it. As for the SG50 theme, I worked very closely with the regional team and dealer here in Singapore, and I wanted to make sure it was not only appropriate for the occasion, but resonates with the population in Singapore. We went through multiple iterations in order to ensure it is befitting of Singapore’s big celebration.

There are numerous bespoke elements on the car, such as the hand-painted Merlion and the thin-red stripes on the exterior. Which of these bespoke elements is the most prominent to you?
It would have to be the Merlion headrest embroidery in the interior. We went through seven different iterations after consulting my embroidery specialist. It was stitched onto the headrest using a combination of tatami and satin to give the Merlion a 3D effect. From what I know, there is an excess of 15,000 stitches on the seats, so you can see the great level of detail that has gone into it. The finished embroidery showcases the cultural significance of the Merlion to Singapore.

How did you come to decide on the colour combination for the vehicle? We can’t help but notice the interior leans more towards the maroon shade, instead of the red of the national flag.
If we went with a brighter shade of red, it would have made the interior look a tad too dynamic. Consort red is actually a popular choice of colour in the region and, in terms of the luxury aspect, it does open up to a very opulent environment when contrasted with the English white here.

What is a typical day like for a Rolls-Royce bespoke designer?

I do my work in Goodwood, which is the Home of Rolls-Royce. Goodwood is a situated within the beautiful West Sussex countryside setting that can be quite inspirational. I usually do a lot of sketch work and, frequently, I work with my colleagues in the wood, leather and paintshop departments to ensure the designs created for the customer can be accurately realised in the final product. Of course, before all of that happens, I will sit down with customers to understand their aspirations. A lot of time is spent getting to understand their exact aspirations for their own bespoke Rolls-Royce. This is a two-way conversation — we won’t force our opinions on them. We embrace their requests as much as they do our suggestions. When the chat is done, I’ll take them on a factory tour here in Goodwood to understand the craftsmanship that goes into a vehicle.

How long does the whole bespoke process take?
It varies significantly, but it can take between six to 12 months. Some of the requests are sparing of content, while others are a lot more detailed and substantial. But I can tell you that the production of the SG50 Ghost Series II took longer than a regular Ghost.

Among all your bespoke projects, which one struck a chord with you?

For me, it has to be the Phantom Limelight Collection. Limelight is a great example of how we are building upon and taking influence from our rich heritage, whilst always looking forward to ensure that we are creating designs that are appropriate for our contemporary customers.

The collection was limited to just 25 examples, and all now have owners. I presented the prototype for Limelight ahead of its global debut at the Shanghai Auto Show in a ‘closed-room’ environment to guests of the Home of Rolls-Royce event earlier this year. This was incredibly rewarding to hear their reaction and see the guests picking up on the details we, as a project team, spent so long focusing on.

Has anyone been fortunate enough to be chauffeured in this SG50 Ghost Series II yet?
Not yet. You are one of the first to sit in it, actually.