Having regrettably missed the gathering of yachting types in Kitzbuhel, I thought I would ask my friend Stephen Bayley for his observations on the general yachting scene from his perspective.
I guessed it was unlikely that he would come back with plain vanilla thoughts. Stephen doesn’t do plain vanilla. And so it proved.
” I arrived at The Super Yacht Design Symposium in Kitzbuhel rather as the explorer who crashes his ‘plane in those old jungle movies. From out of the wreckage of my good sense, I stepped hesitant and blinking into a strange world of tribal relationships, curious rites, taboos and fetishes.
Still, I had been emboldened because when asked to chair the event, I turned to the great Picasso for inspiration. He said once that “I am always doing things I cannot do in order to learn how to do them”. That was my proximate position with regard to superyacht conferences. My only connection with this world was in 1989 when Jon Bannenberg stylishly tied up a boat at Butler’s Wharf to celebrate the opening of The Design Museum. As for sailing itself, I was last on a Channel ferry in 2008.
Kitzbuhel is in the Austrian Tirol, a nightmare environment of Nazi kitsch fantasia architecture, greasy food and the Streif, the planet’s scariest ski run. Still, the blissed-out oddity of discussing boats in the mountains appealed to me, rather as if The Caravan Club of Great Britain announced it was going to hold its AGM at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Enter the superyacht world and you meet a lot of strangely tanned people on the abyss of the ennui brought about by extreme wealth. They are the 1% of the 1% and operate in an environment where the merely rich feel as alienated as a shoeless beggar in a Rio favela might feel from me. Except probably more so. I noted that advertisements in the house magazine of the global superyacht community often read “For charter : £ 500,000 per week”.
The bravura in the superyacht world amazes. True, it does not always produce vessels of reticent aesthetic good manners. I always like it that Coco Chanel thought : “Luxury is not the opposite of poverty, but the opposite of vulgarity”. There’s work to be done communicating that idea, I believe.
Lapo Elkann, the Fiat heir, a guest of mine and a superyacht owner himself, says “millions and millions of dollars do not equal taste”. The norm is an interior which is a deprived child’s vision of glamour, humbling Trump Tower in terms of unblushing vulgarity. Chandeliers, it seems, are making a comeback. But in this ocean of aesthetic fatuity, there are currents of innovation that make, for example, the luxury car business look artistically impoverished.
And the interesting thing is this : once, the whims of the very rich directed the design of luxury cars. And there was a corresponding vitality in execution and quality of result. Delauney ! Bugatti ! Duesenberg ! No more so : the very rich no longer drive. Most luxury cars are aimed at middle-management.
On the other hand, the extremes of superyacht design are fascinating. A new design language, more fantastically architectural than traditionally nautical, is emerging. Indeed, Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, David Chipperfield and Norman Foster have all designed superyachts. In some cases, the hull is treated not as a tool for hydrodynamic penetration, but as a platform to support a float-alone modernist house.
And, the alien observer notices how very competitive it all is. Dazed by a continuous diet of grande marque champagne, cocaine and very brown girls in Minimalist swimwear, the very rich beguile themselves and battle the ennui by competing with each other.
Fascinatingly, the result is rather like Detroit in the fifties when the ‘annual model change’ was established with ever more extreme absurdities introduced every twelve months in order to tickle the customer’s cupidity. Meanwhile at sea, every year, there are more extremes of dramatic ovi-form, biomorphic, high-finish, drop dead look-at-me maritime bling.
While a lot of it repels the sensitive aesthete, a lot of it interests him very much indeed. It occurred to me that if you were a designer looking for a playground where excess was not merely tolerated, but actively encouraged, where new materials and processes appeared every year and where your client has a boredom threshold that lowers itself automatically every winter, you would not look for work in the luxury car business. Nor even in luxury hotels. You’d go into superyachts.
In their heroic tastelessness, refusal to be polite, extravagant commitment to phallic metaphors, unscrupulous veneration of size-related status and sheer joy of excess, they make what happens on dry land look dull.
Or have you not looked at the new BMW 7-series ? “.
So there you have it. Medium to severe collateral damage, but some survivors expected.
Incidentally, on the subject of cars, the B&R blog recommends an immediate trip to your local bookshop ( or on-line if you have to ) to buy Mr Bayley’s new book – Death Drive : There Are No Accidents. Described by The Independent as “a fugue on the psychodramas of fatal car crashes involving famous people”, it is, as you’d expect from someone whose turn of phrase is “waspishly delightful “, a great read. And not a chandelier in sight.