By the time Rolls-Royce unveiled its one-of-a-kind Serenity Phantom at the 2015 Geneva Motor Show
, it was already one of the most buzzed about debuts of the international showcase.
Rendered opalescent with glossy mother of pearl paint and detailed with polished bamboo and smoked cherry wood, it was immediately hailed as "the world's most beautiful Rolls-Royce"
and "fit for royalty."
But it's what's inside that truly captivated: The entire interior -- from the seats to the headliner -- was upholstered with pastel blue raw silk, sourced from Suzhou, one of China's silk embroidery capitals, and woven in one of the UK's oldest mills. Delicate flowers, a riff on Japanese royal robes and chinoiserie, were embroidered and hand-painted throughout.
This intricate beauty befit an opulent palace living room, or a priceless couture gown.
Rolls-Royce Bespoke color and material designer Cherica Haye at the company's production plant in Chichester, England. Credit: Chris Steele-Perkins/Magnum Photos for CNN
"With the fabric, the beauty of it, you just have to stop what you were thinking about and enjoy the moment," says Cherica Haye, the 31-year-old color and textiles maven who helped conceive the interiors. It was she who designed the distinctive floral motif and hand-painted the flowers within.
"It brings you down from 100 to a normal level. With materials you can do that."
Haye is part of Rolls-Royce Bespoke, a studio of craftsman and artisans charged with designing the marque's most ambitious, and expensive, custom models.
Initially trained in fashion at Central Saint Martins -- the prestigious London college that counts Alexander McQueen
and John Galliano as alums -- she's elevating auto interiors to new heights.
From couture to cars
While studying textiles at Central Saint Martins, the Londoner had already mapped out her career: she would become a master of fabric innovation, and then take her skills to the storied ateliers of Paris.
"I wanted to be head of material development and design at Dior," she says, laughing, at the Rolls-Royce headquarters in the south of England.
"I don't even know if that exists, but that's what I wanted to do."
It was only when she started her Master in Fiber, Textile and Weaving Arts at the Royal College of Art, by then weary of the competitive nature of the fashion industry, that she decided to shift her focus to automotive design, driven by her dream of someday owning a Jaguar.
This is how you hand-make a Rolls-Royce
Instead of interning, she developed conceptual textiles for the likes of Jaguar, Kia and Audi, submitting samples she'd developed as part of her course work.
Her talents eventually caught the eye of Rolls-Royce design director Giles Taylor. Impressed by her graduate portfolio, which incorporated unique woven horsehair blends and incorporated traditional Japanese dyeing techniques, he invited her to join his team less than a year later, when they were set to begin work on their most beautiful project yet.
Band of outsiders
But Haye is quick to point out that she's not the only one coming to vehicular design from an unexpected background. Michelle Lusby, for example, who worked with her on the Serenity interiors, comes from an illustration background.
Other team members have been handpicked from the worlds of tattooing, sign-making, yachting, saddlery, and costume design. Cross-pollination and interdisciplinary collaboration, it seems, are the foundation on which all projects rest.
"There's a constant coming together of different disciplines, but what strings us together is that we're all design," she explains.
"You just have to have an eye, and that's what connects... Not everybody's taste is going to be the same, but you have to have that."
A dream job
If anything, she finds that her background might have left her better prepared for her current position than people think. Like the luxury fashion industry, bespoke auto design calls for endless creativity and problem-solving. And, as in a couture house, her current clientele is catered to in every way, their every whim and request met regardless of the effort or expense.
And most importantly, both fields allow her to work with and develop unique textiles, which remains her true passion.
"At heart, I'm a textiles designer that specializes in color, in material makeup, in material innovation. Not just the overall feel of it, but to the minute, micro level. I do color, I do material overlaying, material-making, designing," she says.
"It seems pretty dreamy, eh?"