Iris van Herpen infuses a bespoke Rolls-Royce Phantom with her signature style

The Rolls-Royce Phantom Syntopia is a one-off project from the company’s Bespoke department, stitching the work of Dutch designer Iris van Herpen into its elegant interior

Rolls-Royce Phantom Syntopia by Iris van Herpen, side view in studio
Rolls-Royce Phantom Syntopia, designed with Iris van Herpen
(Image credit: Rolls-Royce Motor Cars)

The Rolls-Royce Phantom Syntopia is best experienced from the interior, where seats are swathed in an intricate silk fabric, the sky is filled with close to a thousand twinkling stars illuminating in turn like a gentle wave, and with glimpses of light subtly surfacing through dancing, twisting sculptural forms.

Rolls-Royce’s latest Bespoke project is a one-of-a-kind motor car commissioned by an unnamed client and created in close collaboration with the visionary Dutch haute couturier Iris van Herpen. It is also by far the most technically complex commission to be born out of the marque’s Bespoke division.

Rolls-Royce Phantom Syntopia with Iris van Herpen

Interior and constellation-pattern ceiling of Rolls-Royce Phantom Syntopia with Iris van Herpen

(Image credit: Rolls-Royce Motor Cars)

It was Rolls-Royce who first approached van Herpen and suggested basing the car concept on the atelier’s Syntopia. The 2018 collection was inspired by biomimicry, as in the practice of observing processes found in nature to push innovation and design. Likewise for Phantom Syntopia, the mission was to find a way of translating the ethereal beauty of fluid motion to solid materials, and all to a theme coined ‘weaving water’.

Bonnet with logo and Spirit of Ecstasy figure on Rolls-Royce Phantom Syntopia with Iris van Herpen

(Image credit: Rolls-Royce Motor Cars)

‘I am very happy with the result, as I hoped to bring a sense of delicacy and three-dimensionality to the car,’ says van Herpen as we peek through Rolls’ heavy coach doors. ‘We tend to experience a car from the interior, and here the inside is wrapped in an haute couture garment.’

The Syntopia is based on the elongated Phantom Extended. From the outside, especially in the studio setting where we were shown the car, van Herpen’s intervention seems subtle. Yet it has taken some 3,000 hours of intense research and development to create this shimmering ‘liquid noir’ paint, with its shades of purple, blue, magenta and gold undertones appearing at different angles only in sunlight.

Wave-patterned bonnet of Rolls-Royce Phantom Syntopia with Iris van Herpen, from above

(Image credit: Rolls-Royce Motor Cars)

To achieve this effect, a solid black paint was overlaid with a finish incorporating a mirror-like pigment, selected for its colour-shifting properties. Then to add a subtle shimmer, the Rolls-Royce paint lab developed a new technique for applying pigment to the clearcoat. Meanwhile, a careful redistribution of colour during the finishing process achieved the subtle rendering of the weaving water motif on the bonnet.

Rolls-Royce Phantom Syntopia with Iris van Herpen

Iris van Herpen with the Rolls-Royce Phantom Syntopia

(Image credit: Rolls-Royce Motor Cars)

Inside, every element is crafted by hand. The weaving water starlight headliner is made of a single sheet of flawless leather, with precise symmetrical laser cuts that reveal a silver liquid metal texture made from woven nylon fabric for a three-dimensional appearance.

Patterned bonnet detail of Rolls-Royce Phantom Syntopia with Iris van Herpen

(Image credit: Rolls-Royce Motor Cars)

Meanwhile, 162 delicate petals of glass organza (a fine fabric that has the shimmer and quality of glass), have been painstakingly applied by the couture team. Finally, 187 of the 995 sparkling fibre-optic headliner ‘stars’ were individually set by hand to illuminate sequentially from the rear to front to create a sense of movement.

Front grill of Rolls-Royce Phantom Syntopia with Iris van Herpen

(Image credit: Rolls-Royce Motor Cars)

The weaving water theme extends to the ‘gallery’ (a feature introduced with this generation Phantom that runs the width of the car’s fascia to display artwork), featuring 85 handmade petals. Elsewhere, the picnic tables and the passenger panel mirrors reflect the weaving water artwork on the bonnet through a process that combines multiple coats of paint and lacquer containing different quantities of glass particles.

Iris van Herpen at work

Iris van Herpen

(Image credit: Rolls-Royce Motor Cars)

The seats recall an era when the Rolls-Royce driver’s seat would be trimmed in hard-wearing leather, while the rear compartment was swathed in luxurious fabrics. Here, the front seats are finished in a grey leather quilted with the weaving water motif, while the rear ones are upholstered in a specially created silk-blend fabric with a design that evokes the patterns cast by light reflecting on water at night.

A unique scent, created in collaboration with a perfumer, is housed in the headrest. And for the final touch, van Herpen has made a dress for the client with a sculptural design using liquid metal fabric and glass organza petals, laser-cut and hand stitched in a pattern that emulates undulating waves.

Interior design detail in weaving water motif of Rolls-Royce Phantom Syntopia with Iris van Herpen

(Image credit: Rolls-Royce Motor Cars)

Van Herpen’s work is often collaborative, but this is her first motor car project. She muses, ‘It was such a nice process to work on; I hope it’s not the last one.’ She admits a soft touch for Phantom, saying, ‘the proportions are very beautiful. There is a strength to the exterior and a delicacy to the inside – the feminine and masculine.’

Her studio initially made three concepts for the project. ‘I was very curious if I could push the boundaries in the way that I had in mind, as in really bringing in the haute couture elements to the project,’ she explains. ‘During the process, I realised Rolls-Royce was willing to also push the boundaries, which gave me the courage to push further. It is such an unusual project, especially the three-dimensional aspect of the craftsmanship which, although a challenge, worked out well.’

Weaving water motif design detail inside Rolls-Royce Phantom Syntopia with Iris van Herpen

(Image credit: Rolls-Royce Motor Cars)

With Phantom Syntopia, van Herpen has effectively swapped a human muse for a motor car. She reflects on the process: ‘The art of car-making that Rolls-Royce is doing is close to haute couture. The process, how craftsmanship and innovation are brought together, is so similar. I didn’t realise how much time and dedication goes into building a Rolls-Royce. With my haute couture work, I must get to know my client, translate an emotion and their universe into a design process. At Rolls-Royce, customers are also part of the journey of design. I’ve learnt a lot from the process, and I’ll be taking this knowledge back to my atelier. On many levels, this collaboration was a natural symbiosis.’

Phantom Syntopia will be delivered to the client in May 2023

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, 

Iris van Herpen,