The superyacht design industry is a tough nut to crack.

It’s also heavily over saturated in terms of supply and demand.

Yet we rarely see anything ‘super’ in terms of design thinking, vision, or much in the way of innovation, from the legendary band of superyacht design royalty, as they are often portrayed. Why not?

Sir David Tang’s recent and refreshingly direct superyacht opinion in the Financial Times struck a chord. He comments:

“So why aren’t more boat owners keen to create attractive vessels rather than just boats whose main distinction appears to be that they are the longest/widest/tallest/flashiest or whatever? The answer is of course that the owners think that professional designers know best. So they all defer to these professionals. When the owners show you the boat they always mention the architect or the interior designer because they believe that having the “best” in their trade gives the best results.”

7th November, 2016 Financial Times

So, where or how do the ‘newish’ yacht design kids-on-the dock fit in?

Looking back since graduation, some 15 years ago, there are a lot of ups and downs, with a combination of anecdotes and people I have met along the way, that have paved my career to ultimately establishing my own design studio.

After studying Industrial Design, followed by an MA in Automotive Design, I was itching to get out of the academic environment and Coventry, still rather unsure what industry would be mine. Designer Ocke Mannerfelt had trailered his distinct V24 ‘Batboat’ to the university for a design lecture, and as it sat juxtaposed in, and amongst, the post-war architecture, I remember thinking, THIS was different.

While flicking through the ‘Luxury Toys’ volume over lunch one day I saw the full page glossy images of the new and extraordinary 118 WallyPower for the very first time. That was it. I was going to design yachts.

Credentialed and a couple of freelance jobs later with CV’s out into the yachting world, I was surprised by the sincerity of replies I received, including one from Espen Øino which arrived to me via Michael Breman at Lürssen. This gave me some much-needed confidence. It was time to be proactive, knock on some doors, and book a flight to the South of France for a meeting at Wally Yachts, with then chief designer Stefano Pastrovich.

“Your yacht design is not so good, but our coffee is.”

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Brutally honest, yet gentile, in the Italian way.

As we sipped espresso in between scale models, I listened reluctantly to the advice on offer. It was uncomfortable listening, but I knew I had to lift my game. In hindsight, it was the kick up the proverbial backside that a young, inexperienced, somewhat arrogant, naive wannabe needed to hear.

A first yacht design role and the subsequent years that followed were spent living like a nomad out of a suitcase in various digs between the UK, France and Italy all while gaining a wealth of great and varied design experience. After projects in Varese, Italy including working with the late, great Claudio Castiglioni ‘The Godfather of modern Italian motorcycling, it was time to reflect.

A chance meeting…

In the middle of the global financial crisis one thing was still very clear in my mind and in 2011, after a decade of experience, it was time to go solo and realise a long-held dream. A leap of faith you could say and with some profiles and preliminary GA’s later I was ready to show the world what I could do. My first Monaco Yacht Show as an independent designer felt rather daunting from the ones as a studio designer, and so with portfolio underarm, I found myself apprehensively standing on the platform at Gare de Nice-Ville.

Recognising the distinct MYS lanyards I began talking with two gentlemen next to me as we exchanged early morning pleasantries sharing the journey into Monaco.

“What do you do?” one asked.

“Yacht Designer” I keenly replied.

They looked at one another sharing a wry smile between them.

“I’m a Naval Architect,” he said.

We talked about design congruence and the legend of Bartholomy’s great oared ship of all things.

After a few more minutes of conversation he introduced his colleague;

“By the way, this is Donald Starkey!”

At that very moment, our train passed one of the palatial sea view Côte d’Azur villas with beautifully manicured grounds and a citrus grove.

I did feel a bit of a lemon at that point.

Laughing it off, it was to be the start of a few interesting days in the Principality as I showed them some of my work, his parting words staying with me.

“Keep it up!” Donald said shaking hands as we went our separate ways at Port Hercule.

Another chance meeting with the frankly brilliant Capt. Adrian McCourt, who in the early days often had more faith in my ability than I did at times, provided invaluable support and experience. Over the following years, a couple of blindingly good, sociopathic new build yacht enquiries and a blatant ‘can we see your portfolio’ request from a very well known yacht designer have all thickened the skin. Occupational hazards one might say.

Some six years later our multidisciplinary design studio begins collaboration with a Dutch yacht builder for two 75m/250’ projects adhering to legendary Industrial Designer Dieter Rams’ ‘Ten Principles for Good Design’. Applying this design philosophy for the first time to superyacht exterior design, along with never before seen naval architecture in the superyacht world, is not only exciting, but truly visionary thinking.

So you’ve made it this far… would you consider setting up your own design studio having read this?

It takes time and things most definitely do not happen overnight. Do not give up and persevere are without a doubt the two best pieces of advice received. It is a tough market to operate in and feels like David vs. Goliath at times but what a market of opportunity if navigated with caution, realism and vision.

As told by Alexander McDiarmid. To learn more about his designs, check out the website.

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