Saturday, May 14, 2011

Case Study: M/Y RoMa

-->The 62m (203ft) motor yacht RoMa was launched in May 2009, the second “new build” of the recently founded shipyard Viareggio SuperYachts. Listed for sale by Camper & Nicholson for the asking price of 59,500,000 euros, her worth is inestimable to the average person. An example of conspicuous consumption if there ever was one, the superyacht is a luxury experience. At once a lifestyle and an object - a social experience and a physical one.
In Yachts International’s review of the design, the reporter highlights something that fits in to two of Catry's classifications of rarity: technical and natural rarity, fitting into George Hughes' idea that reporters try “to impress the reader of the super luxury character of the yacht by itemizing many of its facilities.”[1] She outlines the process that the ‘Newcruise’ interior design team went through to panel the walls:
The designers started with blocks of Afyon miele marble, which were sliced, labeled and photographed. The NEWCRUISE team then placed each slice strategically to match colors or patterns in guest bathrooms, a time-consuming process that required limitless patience from all, including Technical Project Manager Stefan Zucker of the owners’ team. But the effort resulted in an amazing product with it’s own signature.
The journalist chooses to emphasise the quality of rarity in the interiors; it was again Bernard Catry who suggested that luxury branding sought to link luxury to exclusivity by using the illusionary device that is the idea of “rarity”, saying, “luxury appeal is inevitably diluted by increased market share.” An intense ‘concentration’ is placed in areas that guests will most likely ignore; this intense attention to detail is characteristic of luxury industries - see David Usborne’s profiling of successful hotel tycoon André Balazs-
“He is obsessive about every detail. A bathroom wall must be the right size to take the tiles he has chosen, so none of them has to be cut. That would spoil everything.”

One could extract from this that luxury evolves from a place in which we satisfy more than our basic needs, or even more complex needs- we satisfy superfluous whims. As Mark Tungate replied to me in my interview with him,
“A boat is a waste of both time and money - and thus the ultimate luxury.”
Another of Catry’s categorizations of rarity was present upon the launch of RoMa; Techno- based Rarity. With her steel hull and aluminum superstructure, RoMa built to meet the strictest environmental standards; this was formally acknowledged with an “ES” certification by ABS (Environmental Safety), the first ever issued by ABS for a private yacht. Andrea Mardi of Yacht design says

"Elegance these days comes as part and parcel of a high-tech, green package."
However, what can be seen as some by high tech may not always be so; Boat designer Michael Schutte noted in my interview with him that what the media might push as an innovation can sometimes be simply poor design.

We are all familiar with the “concepts” we see in the magazines every month. Thank feck you can’t go to sea on a jpg, because lots and lots of this stuff is total b********…. There is a good reason why an ocean-going vessel looks the way it does, and that is not because the rest of us are idiots. It’s because we have actually been to sea and know the difference. Bottom line is that fitness for purpose for me defines authenticity in any design. Style by itself is useless. You can get that from any hairdresser. Look at a bic lighter; it is economical to manufacture (and has been in the billions), perfect for its job, and completely without ornament. This is the quintessential authentic design for me.
For Schutte, the idea of conspicuous consumption, fundamental to the “consumption” of superyachts both as an idea and a purchased product, leads to a degradation in the authenticity of design, simply because owner’s do not buy for themselves, but rather as a display of social, cultural and economic capital. If an owner has no interest in the design integrity, then shortcuts will be made in the design process. The client has a huge influence on the outcome of the boat. Luxury in a boat is also a capacity for discretion that is almost impossible to match for the world’s super-rich; where once this could be a double-edged sword, with disconnection from the world, sat-coms mean that owners and crew can now stay as connected as they like anywhere in the world with the wifi, satellite phones, satellite television and navigational software/digital charts. A superyacht offers a very intense customer experience relationship. From obvious preferences, such as food requirements, liquor preferences meal times and itinerary, to the most minor details, the boat adapts itself to the clients; even charter guests who only stay aboard for a week or two. This is achieved through liaisons with charter brokers, secretaries and networks of contacts (in much the same way that concierges at the Ritz Carlton hotel chains will exchange information). In this way, a superyacht mirrors the management of a luxury hotel; Luca Allegri, the manager of the Hotel de Paris in Monte Carlo, states during his interview with Mark Tungate:
“All this [referring to physical perfection and pricing] is basic management. At the ultra-luxury level, it’s the human dimension that makes the real difference.”

[1] G. Hughes, “The self, signification and the superyacht.” Leisure Studies 12, no. 4, (October 1993): 253


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