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Chris Bangle
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Car designer Chris Bangle on yacht design

Chris Bangle is one of the most iconic and famous automotive designers of all time. He’s also an undeniably polarising figure in design, in equal measures praised and vilified for his work while serving as chief of design for BMW, a 16-year tenure that ended in 2009, after which he established Chris Bangle Associates.

Now for the first time, Chris Bangle is offering his talents to the world of superyacht design and will be working with Italian yacht builder Sanlorenzo. Speaking exclusively with Boat International, the designer shares his views on yacht design, why he feels the time is right for him to design a yacht and just what he thinks of Steve Jobs’ yacht Venus.

The matter-of-fact car designer has never been one to hold back his opinion on what the auto industry needed to do to improve and grow. Nor has he held his tongue on what he thinks of yachts. Even during the recent press conference to announce his collaboration with Sanlorenzo, Bangle said he thought most yachts were a, “mess that look like six cars have been smashed together”.

Noting that there is still much he is learning about yacht design, Chris Bangle told Boat International, “I already I have the impression that lumping all boats and ships bought privately under one moniker is like grouping all cars  from production autos to race cars to show cars – as ‘car design’”. 

Design uses – and breaks – formulas for visual communication, and good designers can work inside and outside the canons like a talented jazz musician

“Certainly there is a difference between the approach yacht designers take to creating a line of under-24 meter yachts and that of a one-off megayacht intended to ‘wow’ the masses. And, arguably, many of those smaller boats are – from a design point of view – ‘unexplainable’ at best,” Chris Bangle says. “Design uses – and breaks – formulas for visual communication, and good designers can work inside and outside the canons like a talented jazz musician. But great music is not cacophony––and when I say that the superstructures of some of these boats looks like a six-car pileup, that is what I am referring to”.

Bangle’s laser sharp exposition seems to land more on the feet of smaller, production yachts rather than the truly custom creations, such as the Feadship superyacht Venus, which was built for the late Steve Jobs. “Neither could you call a dramatic and elegant mega-yacht such as Phillip Stark’s creation for Steve Jobs ‘un-understandable’”, he says.

He compares custom yachts and far-out concepts to show cars in the world of car design. In the automotive world, show cars serve as an opportunity for a design director to demonstrate, “how cool the world would be of the laws of physics and economics did not hold.” One such conceptual design from Chris Bangle is the BMW Gina, pictured (below).

While Bangle notes the differences in production yachts from custom creations, he sees a problem in how the industry – and yacht owners – analyse these differences.

“Although there is an obvious distinction [between types of yachts], I fear that often in reading about yacht design there is no clear dialogue about what these differences are for and how to evaluate them”.

According to Bangle, what needs shaking up in yacht design is not just design itself, but our analysis of the medium.

“Just like the show cars, dramatic naval statements should be analyzed and critically assessed against this measure – what real chances did they take? What do we all learn from them, what new ‘playing fields’ for design in general did they open up?”

What does Chris Bangle hope to bring to superyacht design?

Chris Bangle hopes that his and his teams fresh eyes on the superyacht industry can make a difference in superyacht design. “Besides the purely aesthetic statement we are challenged with, I am fascinated by the possibilities for a fresh and more ‘lifestyle-functional’ experience of yachting that design can provide, and perhaps my team and I are the fresh eyes that the industry needs to explore them. In any case I hope we provoke some re-thinking about yacht design,” he says. “These [yachts] are complex and impressive physical structures made for pleasure, pride, and security; certainly design cannot prioritize one of these aspects at the cost of the others.”

Bangle’s critiques of the yacht industry have caused some to ask why he wants to design yachts. It’s a question that the designer finds rather laughable. “That is like asking a woman why she would want to be with a man she loves to criticize!” Chris Bangle says. “Certainly, I am the last person to hold back my opinion on car design, and I have worked for 30 years inside that industry.”

So why yachts now? “Yachts have their fascination, and in particular with Massimo Perotti and Sanlorenzo, I have found a friend and a team that appeals to me beyond the challenges of the projects.” He applauds the “refined” and “timeless” design of Sanlorenzo, comparing their yachts to Rolls-Royces of the water. High praise indeed from a car designer.

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