In 1910 Johnson gave Sykes the task of creating a figure that symbolised the spirit of Rolls-Royce: “Speed with silence, absence of vibration, the mysterious harnessing of great energy, a beautiful, moving, living organism of superb grace…”. Sykes fulfilled his commission by creating a figure that has since become a design icon.
Charles Sykes had studied at the Royal College of Art under Edouard Lanteri, one of the leading figures in the romantic New Sculpture movement of the 19th century, and was greatly influenced by his teaching and the emerging development of flight.
First called Spirit of Speed, the new mascot was launched by Rolls-Royce in March 1911. However, the name was soon changed. In a letter to John Montagu, Claude Johnson wrote:...the spirit of ecstasy, who has selected road travel as her supreme delight and has alighted on the prow of a Rolls-Royce car to revel in the fresheness of the air the musical sound of her fluttering draperies. She is expressing her keen enjoyment, with her arms outstretched and her sight firmly fixed upon the distance...
The first mascots were dated 6th February 1911. This is believed to be the date when the trademark was registered. The casting technique used was the cire perdue (lost wax) process. A wax model of the mascot was first covered with plaster and heated. The wax melted, leaving a hole to be filled with the molten bronze. Once cool, the plaster was chipped away to reveal the mascot; tooling marks suggest that Sykes spent many hours finishing less than perfect castings. Each mascot was produced under his supervision and signed by him until 1948. In 1920, a special gold-plated version was entered in a Paris competition for the most apposite mascot of the year, and won first prize.
The Spirit of Ecstasy became a standard fitting on all Rolls-Royce cars from 1920 but, as car design changed, the mascot too had to be adapted, and so began a series of modifications to its size and the materials used. A hundred years on, the Flying Lady may be smaller, but her form remains as distinctive and recognisable as it was when she was first unveiled in 1911.
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