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How Architects and Fashion Designers Changed How We Think About Yachts

  • March 26, 2024

Pleasure yachts were once the province of amateur sailors and oligarchs—men who, aside from a shared appreciation of varnished teak, adhered to diverging aesthetic templates. For serious mariners, form followed function, and fripperies were frowned upon. The upper-cruster aboard his gin palace, meanwhile, preferred nightclub chic, with heavy doses of gold, chandeliers, and black-lacquered surfaces. Both types of vessel suffered from a surplus of wood paneling and a scarcity of sea views. 

That design rulebook has now been thrown out, thanks to shifting priorities, new technologies, and the pandemic-fueled boom in yacht ownership. A rising generation of younger owners prefers watersports toys and wellness suites over cigar lounges and book-matched mahogany. Seductive superyacht concepts on social media promise a life in which families waft unbounded through fluid, open-plan, indoor-outdoor spaces devoid of clutter and supporting walls. 

Suffice to say, such experimentation is not typically dictated by dyed-in-the-wool naval architects but comes from a fresh influx of creative outsiders from the land-bound worlds of hotels, private homes, furniture, and even fashion. The designers serving the yacht-owning class of 2024 may be disparate, but they have one thing in common: Boats are not their area of expertise. 

For decades, a group of former apprentices of Jon Bannenberg, the godfather of yacht design, dominated the field with their trademark lavish style. Bannenberg, part of London’s “swinging ’60s” creative wave, designed celebrated vessels for the great and the not-so-great, including Malcolm Forbes, Adnan Khashoggi, and Robert Maxwell. Throughout the ’80s and ’90s, his protégés—Andrew Winch, Terence Disdale, and Tim Heywood—catered to the tastes of their plutocrat clientele (think fussy moldings, high-gloss hardwoods, tinkling crystal, and veiny marble), with their brand names adding pedigree to ships and their style seen as the hallmark of opulence. 

These designers “made a fortune,” says Giovanna Vitelli, chair of

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