On board superyacht Maìn with fashion designer Giorgio Armani
by Peter Howarth
Superyacht owner and fashion designer Giorgio Armani wants his clothes to have simplicity, elegance, comfort and function. No wonder, then, that his 65 metre Codecasa yacht Maìn follows suit. Peter Howarth reports
Thirteen years ago I interviewed Giorgio Armani during the Cannes International Film Festival. We were there to see the premiere of his friend Martin Scorsese’s film, Gangs of New York, and spent an hour or so talking in the designer’s hotel suite at the Martinez overlooking the Croisette and the Mediterranean beyond. With the job done, we stood on the balcony chatting informally, and I remarked that it was a beautiful view.
“My house in Saint-Tropez has a view like this,” he said. Then he looked out to sea. “That’s a horrible boat.” A big beast of white metal floated in the harbour. Did he have a boat? I asked. “In two years’ time. It’s 150 feet (45.7 metres) long,” he extended his hands, “and brand new. It’s for Pantelleria.”
The small volcanic island of Pantelleria, just off the coast of Sicily (“the winds are African and the climate dry and it is so remote and dominated by the view of the dazzling deep blue sea that you could almost be on a boat,” Armani says) was at that time his favoured holiday home; the boat he was having built was the 49.9 metre motor yacht Mariù, named after his mother.
Armani grew up in the city of Piacenza, near Milan. As a teenager he entertained ideas of becoming a doctor and enrolled in medical school. But he soon realised it was not for him and dropped out to take a job as a window dresser at Milan’s most prestigious department store, la Rinascente. This led to a role as a buyer there, followed by a move into design, where he worked for Nino Cerruti. Then he set up on his own. Forty years later, he hasn’t looked back.
Today, in an industry dominated by big groups and corporations, Armani is remarkable in that he still owns 100 per cent of his company. Its most recent quoted results showed a record financial performance: consolidated revenues of more than €2 billion and operating profit of more than €400 million. Asked for the secret of his success, he replies modestly: “I just try to design clothes that are stylish and avoid the traps of transient trends. I believe the best way to make people look good is to pursue a design vision of simplicity, elegance, comfort and function.”
As with many successful men, a yacht was something he would come to desire. By the time we met in Cannes, the decision to have his own was one the designer was taking after years visiting other people’s. “Sometimes they’d belong to people I knew, sometimes they were just chartered. Invariably they were not my style – too white, too much lighting, too much marble, crystal and mahogany.” As a scrupulously private person, he doesn’t like anything that attracts too much attention. “That’s why I’m not that keen on hotels. That and the décor – actually, big boats are often like hotel suites out at sea. So my own boat seemed to be the perfect solution. I enjoy a degree of isolation – that’s what my home on Pantelleria is all about. However, it’s not just on islands that I like to isolate myself. I isolate myself in worlds that I create from what I love. I remove what I don’t like. You have to organise an atmosphere around yourself.”
As his personal assistant explained to me in 2002, the problem when chartering is that you are never entirely in control of what sort of boat environment you’ll get. In one instance, he revealed, they had turned up to find their rental decked out in upholstery by another fashion designer! To his credit, Armani was much amused. But you can see the problem for an aesthete who has made his name by following a very particular design vision.
So, then came Mariù, launched in 2003 and built by Codecasa, which the designer loved. But, as often happens, after a few years of life on board he had a greater understanding of what he wanted. “I personally oversaw the furnishings on Mariù, and she was my first significant boat after the charters,” he explains. However, he longed to go deeper into this world. “Then came Maìn,” he explains, “which I designed entirely, from the hull to the interiors, putting in everything I consider important at sea and, at the same time, introducing a concept of the home. And so I designed not only things like the sunbathing and dining areas, but also the parts where people really live, the most private parts.”
Maìn, a 65 metre also built by Codecasa, is Armani’s current home on the water. Delivered in 2008, she is constructed from high tensile steel (hull) and aluminium (superstructure). She has been externally covered with epoxy and painted an unusual dark green (a Dupont top coat). “Painting Maìn green was a choice made to camouflage her,” says Armani. “The sea is rarely what we’d call blue. It’s green or dark blue, or turquoise, where there are shallow bottoms and large boats can’t dock. The green camouflages the boat at sea, so it doesn’t appear too flashy.”
Talk to Armani about design and it soon becomes apparent that elegance and understatement are central to his philosophy. Not appearing flashy, like the boat he pointed out to me years ago off Cannes, has been an objective for both his vessels. The first, Mariù, was charcoal grey and even had all the shiny stainless steel fittings sanded down to render them matt and less glaring.
Maìn takes things a step further. “I wanted Maìn to have a strong and compact appearance, and not be weighted down with dazzling white paint that can be seen from a distance, so people say, ‘Oh, that’s so-and-so’s boat.’” He also minimised the brightness of reflected light internally, too. “I came up with the idea of creating bulkheads from the navigation deck to the flying bridge, with a type of venetian blind – louvres – made of birchwood. They prevent the strong sunlight at sea bouncing off the water from coming in violently, giving the interior a muffled appearance.”
It took 30 months to build Maìn and a great deal of that time was spent interpreting two key design features that Armani specified. The first was that the louvre blinds and the windows they serve should run in a continuous line along the boat. “The overall effect is that Maìn looks as if she has no walls,” says Armani delightedly. “You can see the whole panoramic view from the inside.” The other big challenge he set was his desire to create an innovative sliding bridge-deck saloon floor, which gives more space to the area connecting the upper saloon to below, creating the effect of one expansive living room. “It wasn’t easy work for Codecasa, considering that most of a boat’s technology is concealed in the floor!” Armani says, with a mischievous grin. He visited the yard regularly to supervise the work.
This living area is the heart of the vessel. “It extends over almost all the surface of the main deck and has two separate areas, including the sitting room/fireplace area,” says the designer. “There are two Armani Casa custom-made sofas separated by stools and coffee tables. There is a central table made of birchwood, with soft cushions instead of chairs. The verandah is at the stern, and has a dining area; this is something I had already successfully tried on Mariù.”
Overall, simplicity is the watchword. “I took inspiration from particular military vessels that looked very practical, and from the optimisation of space that is a characteristic of old ships. I wanted function to find a new expression in form. Notably, I set out to rid the decks of all of the superstructures you normally find on them that might break up the purity of line, such as tenders and other technical parts.” The tenders are hidden in a garage at the stern, which sits underneath a teak staircase that reaches right down to the water.
However, though Maìn is restrained, she is still a luxury enterprise. The profile is provided with side bulwarks made of reinforced stratified crystal glass at their tops, so as to deliver better visibility of the sea. Inside, natural birchwood dominates on floors, venetian blinds, indoor stairs and bulkheads all over the boat. A fireplace is in the main deck saloon (electric, of course, respecting security laws at sea) and the galley is decorated with satined retro-lacquered glass. All ceilings are lacquered in metal grey and the remaining areas are lacquered dark green to echo the exterior. The bathrooms are enriched with marble. The venetian louvre blind device features in the cabins as a wardrobe decoration, but here they are covered with fabric matching the colour scheme of each cabin. Most of the furniture is by Armani’s Armani Casa interiors division, though much of it has been custom-made by the Armani Casa specialist Interior Design Studio under the designer’s eagle-eyed supervision. The boat has a cinema, spa pool, substantial sundeck, indoor gym and six large cabins for guests.
“I worked very closely with my interior design team, as I do on all my homes,” says Armani, who as well as his holiday retreat on Pantelleria, also has boltholes in Saint-Tropez, St Moritz, Antigua, one of the Croatian Brioni islands, and one on the Italian coast. “I had a specific idea, a desire that may seem rather strange,” he confesses. “I wanted my second boat to feel like a house and so I designed it on the basis of certain principles and intuitions, which have given rise to a model that is completely different from my first boat. I went for comfort, arranging spaces to give plenty of visual freedom; you never feel as if you are closed-in in a box with low ceilings.”
Being on board, he says, is all about forgetting work and “recharging”, so he can go back to Milan full of energy and creativity. The experience of owning a superyacht gives him “the greatest pleasure”, he says, and he talks of his love of the serenity of being on board, and how he enjoys experiencing the “rhythms of the sea, which are at one with our most profound inner nature”. He doesn’t usually host big parties on Maìn, but prefers to invite small groups of close friends to travel with him on his “private refuge”.
He does spend time with the crew on deck and manages his stops with the captain, but there are prescribed and ordered routines. “I like the rhythm of cruising, with the crew moving around regularly in a certain way,” he explains. “It’s a rhythm of work that follows the passage of the day and this gives me a sense of continuity. I like certainty. I don’t like surprises. All I ask of my guests is that they make themselves at home, but show respect for the operation of the vessel.”
His favourite parts of the yacht are “the living area, with the verandah at the stern, and my cabin, which has panelling made of precious materials and an antique Japanese cabinet”. His chosen cruising ground is the Med, where he particularly likes to explore solitary beaches. “We Italians live on Mediterranean shores. It’s a sea that allows you to go to uncontaminated places such as the Aeolian Islands or Pantelleria. I would really like to visit many places – sail along the coast of Africa, or around the islands of the Azores, for example – but my holidays are never long enough.” He spends less time on Maìn than he would like, he confesses, because he has so much work to do.
“I have always loved the water,” Armani says, “ever since I was four or five years old and was taken to beach resorts. I still remember the feeling of the smooth, cool sand under my feet and how it filled me with joy as evening came. I have loved the sea ever since, and I still love and respect it greatly.” Interestingly, in the advertising campaigns for his fragrances, there is often imagery of powerful waves and fresh surf.
“I was born into a family that would have been passionate about sailing if we had been able to afford it, and I would have loved to sail. As kids we only had a pedal boat, and later on an inflatable one. So when I was able, I thought it would be nice to experience the sea more comfortably and try charters. Even though it involved incredible boats, there was always something that didn’t really convince me about it. As soon as I could, I bought Mariù, which I decorated; later on came Maìn.”
Mariù was his mother’s nickname. What about Maìn? “It was actually my mother’s affectionate nickname when she was little, while Mariù – also in the dialect of Piacenza – was her nickname as a young woman,” he explains. “I like to remind myself of where I come from – a simple family, from the petite bourgeoisie, where our greatest luxury was owning a Lambretta and cars did not become within our reach until much later. Recalling my mother’s girlish nicknames means not detaching myself from the world that I loved.”
But the reference to mamma Armani is not just about roots. “I have always believed in elegance. I get that from my mother,” he says. “My mother was very elegant. She had great force and a refined sensibility. She taught me that if you wish to create beauty, only do what is necessary and no more. It is a lesson I have never forgotten. And it is the approach I use when creating both fashion and interiors.
“In my cabin on Maìn, on the desk, there is a picture of her with me when I was about six on the beach at Rimini. She looks beautiful in her black skirt and one-piece bathing suit. That’s how I remember her.”