Rolls-Royce Wraith: A Special Affair in Cologne

What does bespoke mean? A conversation with two enthusiasts.

Two rather rare products from two completely different manufacturers: handmade cars, unique specimens made to the south of London and handmade humidors, unique pieces made to the south of Munich. At first glance, they have little in common.

Michael Gleissner, 43, General Manager of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Cologne (left)
He was meant to become an engineer and join the family company. Instead, his passion for cars prevailed. At 27 he established a branch in Cologne for Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Aston Martin and Lotus as the youngest executive at Auto Becker. Since 1998 he has been responsible for Rolls-Royce in Cologne and organisesevents on Sylt, Mallorca and in St. Moritz amongst others.

Carsten Schroeter, 56, owner of Reposo Manufaktur (right)
Designer and constructor. Full-time brand coach for businesses. His passion for collecting rare cigars inspired him to construct a long-term humidor. Over 20 years he developed unique humidor technology and designed an equally unusual shape. Carsten Schroeter manufactures individual pieces according to customer wishes at a small factory in the Bavarian Alps.

Both discover quickly that they do indeed have something very important in common: a clientele that seeks the unusual and is passionate about it.

Our customers come to the car dealership with fantasies, with many thoughts and impressions that they may have collected on a journey. Mostly I allow them to put their fantasies on the table and try to recognise a pattern. By talking to them I find out what their affinities are. I then try to incorporate these into a car. Often I am a style consultant, although our customers are of course extremely self-confident.

They talk about bespoke: no other car maker has made bespoke its own as convincingly as Rolls-Royce. So what is possible?

The starry night is a good example. We had individually configured a vehicle for a customer. He didn't like the starry night effect at first. So I suggested he design his own constellation. The process took a little longer of course because a die plate had to be made exactly according to the specifications of the customer. That'sbespoke. In the end, the idea inspired him. British aesthetics are reflected in the wood shop and the leather shop. It is what Rolls-Royce is famous for. The craftsmen are artists, often with a long family tradition.

What is often important is the effect our humidors have as a sculpture that has to fit into the decor of a house or yacht. It's about aesthetic details. What colour of glass should be used in a humidor for a wine cellar or on an ocean-going yacht? Should the family crest be engraved into the glass?

Confidence in me as a consultant is the foundation. I might have the most beautiful car in front of me, but if the customers don't feel comfortable with me, they won't buy.

Yes, that is essential. We are a small manufacturer and we don't have showrooms like Rolls-Royce, apart from a few interior design locations, for example in Dubai, or in some exhibitions, where the customer can see a Reposo. Our customers call us, configure their design and then place the order. Thus they rely on us to makeexactly the right humidor for them. They have confidence in us.

At Rolls-Royce we create a very personal relationship over the years. There are customers who call me at the weekend and want to have some information, such as a recommendation for a good restaurant. So I am also a concierge.

Trust means that the delivery times are accepted too. As a manufacturer, we can't keep 'individual' humidors in stock. The customer has to wait for his personal design until it has been made by hand. So they have confidence in the brand. We are aware that our brand is something very valuable. It is a promise.

And the products must fulfil that promise. The value must be tangible. That reminds me of a client who thought for a long time about why he should spend 400,000 euro on a Phantom. He had never spent so much on a vehicle, he said. Then we went together to see the production in Goodwood. Afterwards he said that with so many hands involved in building the car, a Phantom should actually be much more expensive.

When someone configures a Reposo with us, it mostly involves special requirements the humidor should fulfil. What is the case at Rolls-Royce?

For customers, the process is often similar to a dream that they enjoy. Sometimes customers will call and ask to meet, even though we have already had the discussions about the car. It's often only about a seam or another small aspect. It is this that shows me that the customer is savouring the dream and enjoying it. It's about emotions. When customers finally see their car for the first time, they are often completely overwhelmed.

What is your specialty? Is there something that only you offer?

Mostly, the unique touch is in the interior. Ultimately, it is having my personal mobile phone number on speed dial. It means the customers can reach me immediately.

At Reposo, in addition to the unusual design, which is an eye-catcher by itself, it is the fact that the customercan create their own vintage cigars. A Reposo is designed to last for several human generations.

How long can you ripen a good cigar?

Some of our first humidors still contain some old Davidoff Château Mouton Rothschilds from Cuba. They have been there since 1993, without anyone having to take care of them. The long-term reliability is an important reason our customers to buy from us. After all, Reposo means 'rest'.

Our customers are sometimes not so certain about getting rest. Initially, some fear the envy of passers-by when they drive up in a Rolls-Royce. But nothing of the sort happens. On the contrary, people are happy when they see a Rolls-Royce. I often take the prospective customer out in a car and drive them through the city – not in a Phantom, but in a BMW following a Phantom. This allows them to observe the reactions of passers-by unnoticed, which are positive, wherever we go. So far we haven't had a single case of vandalism.

Surprising, but hard to believe.

Then let's drive through the city with a Phantom Drophead and a Wraith. Today is a beautiful spring day and lots of people are out walking. You will be surprised...

'Rolls-Royce is quite simply Rolls-Royce. It always has been. Nothing else comes close. The manufacturing is always done by hand, and it shows.'

'This car is unique. I always drive an Alfa Romeo. Also nice, but not like this Rolls-Royce. It is interesting but, my God, I can't afford it. But it's so beautiful. It looks brilliant. Beautiful.'

'A beautiful car. This is a dream car, quite truly. When you get in, it is quite a different feeling to with a normal car. The elegance makes you feel like an oil sheik.'

'I like Rolls-Royce as a brand. Very classy, very exclusive. It is for a certain group, but it is also very appealing.'

'It looks incredibly chic on the inside, it is high-class and it has a stunning starry sky. I'm completely speechless. I have never seen such a beautiful car. You can see why it costs what it does. You can see the class. True elegance.'

Now we have discovered something else we have in common. The brands inspire people of every age. Neither a Rolls-Royce nor a vintage cigar is the preserve of older connoisseurs.

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