What can the luxury world learn from yacht design

Pinninfarina's Ottantacinque for Fincantieri Yachts

For Spinach Branding, understanding the meaning of luxury and forecasting its future is essential. We work with established global brands and innovative entrepreneurial start-ups, and so it is always fascinating dissecting the concept with our clients. With this in mind, it has been hugely inspiring to be part of a lively debate on the meaning of luxury in the context of motion design.

We are at the Superyacht Design Symposium, held annually in the picturesque Austrian ski resort of Kitzbühel where big names in design from the world of nautical, airline, automotive, architecture and fashion gather to give luxury meaning – more specifically to work out how luxury should evolve in the future.

Luxury is at once a definite and an abstract concept. To some, ironically also sailing the seas, it is a safe and secure place they can call home. To others, it is a way of defining their world. It certainly isn’t as simple as conspicuous wealth though. Even here, amongst the super-rich, luxury isn’t defined by ultra hedonism. Instead, luxury’s abstraction lies in how it embodies a whole host of measures to include time, authenticity and meaning, and how design remains at its very core.

Axel de Beaufort feels new luxury is increasingly taking on ‘authenticity, perfection and the skills of the craftsman,’ says the director of design and engineering at Hermès. ‘The definition of luxury is the emotion of the object,’ he begins. ‘Hermès has a history of craftsmanship but it is about utilising this and mixing it with new innovations like laser technology.’

Pinninfarina's Ottantacinque for Fincantieri Yachts

Lapo Elkann agrees that it has to be a careful blend of craft and innovation. The Italian entrepreneur, and the heir to the Fiat fortune, has founded the bespoke company Garage Italia Customs to promote just that. A keen yachtsman – he sails a 40-knot Baglietto, customised by his own firm – he is highly critical of the nautical world. ‘When I look at the motion industry – cars, motorcycles, boats, toys – the reality is that the boating industry is far less innovative than the others. Designers are recycling design from one product to another,’ he fires off. Naturally, he sees the future of luxury in higher degrees of personalisation.

Elkann sites the maverick founder of Wally Yachts Luca Bassani as the last boat maker to do something innovative in the industry. He believes new luxury should be about combining new materials, ‘cross-contamination’, as he says a number of times, as in the sharing of knowledge and ideas, technology and eco-innovations. ‘Together they speak the luxury of today and tomorrow. Sadly most brands are viewing luxury only in the now.’

Wallycento# Pininfarina and Wally Yachts

Elsewhere, airport interior designer and owner of Studioisle, Ilse Crawford, says we need to invest more in the ‘immeasurable things’ – a term borrowed from Charles Eames – to advance the modernist principals of form follows function and instil emotion into the design of luxury yachts. ‘Our job as designers is to find ways of injecting soft value into hard values. It is about relevance, showing that you are part of your time,’ she clarifies.

Her concept is an evolution of the modernist manifesto of form follows function – a term created at a certain age and for certain reasons, and one that has arguably lost its sense of purpose in the new millennia. Stefan Sielaff, Bentley’s new design director speaks candidly of his aversion, saying ‘ I hate the phase.’

Bentley EX 10 Speed 6

He explains: ‘I am German, and our design education was very strict, totally dedicated to Bauhaus. Form follows function comes from an almost totalitarian ideology where everything is to be equal, yet joyless, with no irony, no humanity, without love. Later when I went to the Royal College of Art in London, I learnt a very different perspective. I learnt about humour, irony and love.’

He sites Bentley’s last show car, the EX 10 Speed 6, as a good example of a product that shows irony in the interior. ‘It offers a statement, more than from, say, a technocrat.’ He believes good design should raise human beings to a higher level. ‘That is one of its purposes.’

Elsewhere panellist Andrew Winch of London-based Winch Design agrees that good design in all sectors should make the user smile. He feels in yacht design, especially, there has to be more focus on humanising the space. ‘When you design a yacht you are accommodating space with many staff who cannot be seen – they are invisible. It is about showing the crew, showing their existence,’ says the nautical architect.

What separates boat design from, say, cars or other motion design is that each superyacht is essentially a prototype – it is the result of a collaboration between the client, designer and maker. Ultimately, therefore, it is down to the likes of Peter Lurssen, builders of superyachts, to ensure the relationship runs smoothly. ‘We have to get along with the designers and we have to get along with the owners, although generally, clients are very clever people at that level,’ he says.

Pinninfarina's design of Ottantacinque

Pininfarina, the mythic Italian studio associated with sexy Italian performance cars, also dips its toes in yacht design. Vice-chairman of Pininfarina Extra Francesco Lovo feels it is essentially about creating industrial beauty. For him, the customer has to be at the heart of the project. ‘It is about the user experience, it is a matter of process, the emotional experience and how we interpret this.’

His team didn’t set out to revolutionise the industry with the Ottantacinque, the latest superyacht designed for Fincantieri Yachts, nor with the Wallycento# designed for racing yacht maker Persico Marine, both very different propositions in nautical design. The Ottantacinque retains the essence of superyacht design by being ‘elegant, sober but not shouting,’ he emphasises, ‘which is part of the spirit of our design philosophy. We just wanted the customer to enjoy sailing.’

One thing they all seem to agree on and that is luxury cannot be bought. Nicky Haslam, interior designer and socialite, stresses how taste isn’t associated with wealth, and that a dose of ‘magic’ is what is needed to express true luxury, finalising, ‘good design needs to move you.’

Image © Superyacht Symposium

Spinach Branding is a specialist branding agency based in London. We work with established businesses and start-ups around the world to build and refine their brands. See how we work and get in touch to discuss your brand.

Wallycento# Pininfarina and Wally Yachts
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