The Tailor of Goodwood

Rolls-Royce has lost its design director, just weeks after launching its new Cullinan crossover. Coincidence?

Visible from space? Image credit: (c) Forbes

It wasn’t earth shattering news, even if it was somewhat surprising. The most striking thing about it perhaps was its timing. But even allowing for that, the news that Giles Taylor abruptly resigned his design leadership position at Goodwood within weeks of a major new product announcement might not even have been particularly noteworthy, but for a number of rather more compelling aspects.

The first of course is difficult to miss. Indeed, some have suggested Cullinan can be seen from space, where we’re reliably informed, nobody can hear you scream. The vulgar monstrosity RR has unleashed upon the world in the form of this ‘high-sided vehicle’ has precipitated a high percentage of commentators, both of the professional and armchair variety giving Rolls-Royce a well-deserved critical lashing.

It’s possible to surmise therefore that some of the mud (and wet sand one assumes) may have stuck. Not so much to Torsten Müller-Ötvös and his board, who after all commissioned and approved the thing in the first place, but a steaming tureen (beautifully decorated with lapis lazuli and painstakingly gilded with fine tracery it may be, but a steaming tureen nonetheless) of opprobrium appears to have landed upon the hapless Taylor’s shoulders.

As much as we might wish it to be otherwise, car design and indeed car designers are not, in the overall scheme of things terribly important, or indeed particularly influential in today’s automotive landscape. Certainly few are accorded the influence enjoyed for instance by Sindelfingen’s Chief Creative Officer, the esteemed G. Wagener. In fact, many of his peers (if indeed peer is the correct term) struggle to gain a toehold at the boardroom table.

One might ascribe a similar level of importance to that of film directors. With a box office success behind them, they are courted and flattered, but exile and insignificance remain only one commercial flop away. Ditto car-design directors, who to quote the late Geoff Lawson, find much of their efforts consigned to the cutting room floor.

To lay the Cullinan’s unlovely form at Giles Taylor’s feet therefore is to misconstrue the level of influence he is likely to have enjoyed. He was handed a brief and one assumes he executed it to the best of his ability. Instead, the Cullinan is the product of Rolls-Royce’s regressive senior management who initiated the programme and approved the creative execution. And these gentlemen are not bothered one whit by the snipings of the likes of us – particularly given that the lumbering behemoth is already sold out for over a year.

What we may never definitively ascertain is whether Taylor jumped or was pushed. Nevertheless, we can confidently dismiss the notion that he was (a) sacked over Cullinan’s reception, or (b) resigned in a fit of Robert Oppenheimer-style remorse.

Taylors Port: Giles Taylor and 103EX. photo credit (c) Auto Express

Automotive News last week cited disagreements between Taylor and senior management as to Rolls-Royce’s future design direction, once the storied carmaker switches to a more EV-centric architecture for their next generation of cars. One can never be certain about these matters, but if so, it lends further ammunition to those who view current RR and BMW management as, to put it mildly, utterly becalmed.

Certainly, there can be no further doubt – a creative crisis continues to play out at the Petuelring and its subsidiary motor businesses. Taylor’s exit now completes the pack of comparatively recent high-level departures, which include Benoit Jacob (BMW i), Anders Warming (MINI) and Karim Habib (brand-BMW).

Jacob has since found gainful employment at Chinese EV startup, Future Mobility, while Warming accepted Beiqi Foton’s offer to lead a reanimated Borgward’s future stylistic path – such as it is. Habib took the comparatively mainstream route to head Infiniti’s design team. All in their roundabout manner cited creative freedom as their rationale, Warming telling Auto-Didakt in an interview earlier this year that he needed a fresh challenge.

However, the last man standing throughout this reshuffling of the creative pack is BMW Group Design Veep, Adrian van Hooydonk, an individual who replaced Chris Bangle in physical terms at least, and one whose tenure increasingly raises questions as to the environment over which he has presided.

Having begun his professional career at Citroën, where his proposal for the 1997 Xsara was chosen for production, Giles Taylor was viewed as a rising star at Vélizy. However in 1999, he accepted an offer from Jaguar, remaining at Whitley for over a decade. But in a period where he was responsible for the interior design of the 2003 X350-series XJ, and design management for both X150 XK and current X351 XJ programmes, the summit of his ambitions was as yet unrealised.

He joined Ian Cameron’s design team at Goodwood in 2011, and following Cameron’s retirement, Taylor inherited both the senior role and a cache of completed designs, meaning that the only truly Taylor-helmed production cars are believed to be the current Phantom, the Cullinan and one assumes, the next-generation Ghost and Wraith.

Last week’s Automotive news report states that Taylor’s split was ‘amicable’ but would take place with ‘immediate effect.’ A period of gardening leave seems likely, with unofficial sources suggesting a move to another Asian disruptor brand is in the offing. Certainly, the options open to him within the European industry are not particularly broad – or given the current state of play, one imagines, particularly appealing.

Image credit: (c) Auto-Didakt

Several searching questions remain however. Why have matters of design gone so catastrophically awry at the Vierzylinder, and what can be done to address the creative atrophy which has befallen the BMW Group? Furthermore, how can the recently appointed heads of BMW’s subsidiary brands make any noticeable headway without meaningful change at top level? Beyond that however, one must ask whether the European industry’s growing stylistic torpidude is forcing designers to look further afield?

For Giles Taylor however, one feels tempted to pose a more fundamental question. Having surveyed the pinnacle of Mount Olympus, how precipitous now his fall?

©Driven to Write. All rights reserved.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Founding Editor. Content Provider.

13 thoughts on “The Tailor of Goodwood”

  1. First, I feel a sense of deja vu as I think we’ve commented on Mr Taylor’s efforts before. Hence, I believe I have previously thought out loud that I am not sure how being the name behind the Xsara calibrates with him being a rising star in PSA, nor that the XJ350 was a massive feather in his cap either, Both were highly derivative designs and I’d describe both the Cullinan and current Phantom in a similar way. Certainly, there is nothing even gently progressive or charming about then, and yet I would have described the previous generation of RR’s (including the Ghost and Wraith) in those terms. In fact, both lack a sense of good humour, grace or even grandeur – they impress with sheer scale alone and nothing else. It’s a real shame and wasted opportunity. RR has lost its desirability, and, just as it has done with MINI, BMW has proved unable to keep the design spirit it has originally re-ignited in those marques alive and fresh beyond the early generations of their rebirth under its ownership.

    1. For the purposes of clarity, it was former Citroen style director, Art Blakeslee who regarded Taylor thus, having hired him before he’d completed his car design course at the RCA, one presumes under the noses of Ford, who had sponsored him in his studies. Allegedly, Taylor’s proposal for the 5-door Xsara was chosen over a rival theme from Bertone; Blakeslee telling Autocar’s Steve Cropley in July 1997, “Giles is one of our best young designers, and I thought he should get credit for his efforts. I’ve found that if someone’s efforts are properly recognised, he’s likely to stay with you.”

      Taylor it appears, repaid that compliment shortly after by accepting an offer at Whitley.

      As SV points out above, neither the Xsara (in any form) nor the X350 XJ (exterior or interior-wise) were anything but creatively tepid. Even the X150-series XK (2005-2014), attractive and well proportioned as it was, can hardly be described as a Jaguar GT for the ages. X351 on the other hand will probably stand as one of the more significant Jaguar designs of the past 50 years (for good or ill), but it remains unclear who in fact is responsible for its styling theme. At his level of seniority at the time, it is unlikely to have been Taylor himself. Furthermore, the design work he has subsequently overseen at Goodwood can only be described as regressive.

      Issues of attribution and individual positions on matters of aesthetics notwithstanding, one can suggest that Taylor has not been directly attributed to any car to which the term ‘design classic’ can be appended. Car designers of course work to a brief yet there is scant tangible evidence of Taylor’s talents as a visionary. Apart from the known attributed credit for the Xsara design – (which was, to all intents and purposes a shrunken Xantia), what else can we reliably say he has created? What this could suggest is that Taylor was a more effective administrator than creative, but again, that’s not an assertion that can be substantiated.

      To these eyes, Taylor’s departure from one of the most prestigious positions in the car design universe suggests one of two things: He’s either following the money, by accepting a more lucrative offer in China or some other developing region, or the situation at BMW’s FIZ engineering centre has degenerated to such a degree that he no longer wished to continue. Time may tell…

  2. I actually have no problems with the Cullinan whatsoever, it is a very English car. And evokes very strong feelings of both the London taxi and the Range Rover, something the prosoective buyers probably have a very longstanding experience with, for better and for worse. It’s like they say about Thatcher, the reason she went home with the conservative oxbridge minions is that she reminded them about the nanny that used to spank them at boarding school. The Cullinan is a London taxi for the upper crust…

  3. I find little to commend about Taylor’s output while in charge of Goodwood’s stylistic fortunes.

    Going by the timelines, he may have had some input on the Dawn, which is a fine design indeed, but was mostly dictated by Wraith/Dawn’s base, anyway. After that came only the laughable 103EX, the disappointing Phantom VIII and, obviously, Cullinan.

    We’ve discussed 103EX elsewhere, whereas Cullinan I personally choose to ignore best as I can. Which leaves the new Phantom as the most logical talking point, particularly as it can be directly compared with what had been achieved under Taylor’s predecessor, Ian Cameron.

    Taylor himself expressed that he wanted this Phantom to be more casual and ‘elegant’, which explains its comparatively less formal stance, but comes to the detriment of such a huge car’s sense of dignity. For some reason, Phantom VIII also happens to appear heavy, yet brittle at once, which is a strange aspect indeed. All of this betrays, in a nutshell, the fact that no real progress was made after the previous model – even that car’s weaker aspects, such as the oversized wing mirrors, haven’t been amended.

    All things considered, I must agree with S.V.’s assessment that the outstanding achievement that was Rolls-Royce’s renaissance under previous leadership has mostly been wasted by current management, which would include Giles Taylor. That quite a few designers of note (Andreas Thurner, who’d penned Ghost, & Alan Sheppard, former chief interior designer) have departed from Rolls-Royce during Taylor’s tenure also suggest that stewardship of the marque isn’t what it should be.

    1. Kris, your critque of the 103EX was spot on. And surely Mr Taylor was given considerable leeway on this design?

      If so, he is no great loss to Rolls Royce.

      But I worry about the leadership at the BMW group. Who will rescue BMW from the increasingly awful direction its design is going in?

    2. Jacomo, Jozef Kaban is, based on what people who’ve worked with him have said, the right man for brand BMW. But the question is, of course, how much leeway he’s given. And then there is the fact that, like Rupert Stadler at Audi, we have yet another executive in the tall shape of Adrian van Hooydonk who, for some reason, seems to defy logic through the fact that he’s still in charge, despite having offered an overabundance of reasons to reconsider his appointment. Some people are just extraordinarily gifted when it comes to corporate politics.

    3. Using author, John le Carré as analogy here, with BMW’s FIZ engineering centre standing for the ‘Circus’, and given the known identity of the ‘Tailor’, one can only conclude that with everybody else eliminated, the last man standing must be the ‘mole’.

      Sorry, what was his name again? Van something or other…

    4. I do hope Jozef Kaban has what it takes. Because, by all accounts, the new X7 will be hideous enough to make you reappraise the Cullinan and consider it, in context, not such a bad effort after all.

      As we know, to succeed in such a senior role these days, you need to be not just a talented designer with a clear vision, but also a capable manager, charismatic spokesperson, and canny politician.

  4. There is an amusing letter in the current issue of Car magazine, in which a senior spokesperson from Rolls Royce objects to Stephen Bayley’s critque of (the) Cullinan.

    Apparently Bayley has missed the point, and had he actually bothered to speak to the company or its clientele (of course, Rolls Royce would not allow him to, they are very discreet) he would have amended his opinion before submitting it for publication.

    Needless to say, Bayley did not miss the chance to wheel out his favoured Coco Chanel quote again:

    ‘Some people think luxury is the opposite of poverty. It is not. It is the opposite of vulgarity.’

    1. Chanel´s quote is fun but questionable. Something can be luxurious and vulgar. I am thinking of any number of Gulf State palaces and the kind of things dictators like.

    2. Appended to the bottom of Bayley’s rather elegant put down of Goodwood and all who sail in her, was a note to the Car’s readers to inform them that Gavin Green would be reporting in depth upon the Cullinan’s creation in the following month’s issue of TWBCM.

      Undoubtedly, Mr. Green can be trusted to stay on-message and withstand the whiff of corporate self-justification. He does so of course so we don’t have to.

      At least Mr. Bayley has the nerve to speak his mind.

    3. Richard, I see it more as Madame Chanel’s personal definition of luxury, which is fair enough.

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