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Architectural boating design: Interview with designer Vittorio Garroni of the Beneteau Group

There are not many Professors in the boating world, but Vittorio Garroni is one of them; his designs have influenced boats of all shapes and sizes

Apr 15, 2017 | By Suzy Rayment

Designers Vittorio Garroni and his son Camillo

After visiting Southampton University, Garroni decided that Genoa, with its rich maritime history, should also be a centre of excellence for the boating industry. He went on to become one of the founding fathers for the first Italian School for Pleasure Craft Design, set up in conjunction with the Faculties of Engineering and Architecture at Genoa University. In 2000, the School of La Spezia offered its first degree-course in Naval Architecture for Pleasure Craft, and this was expanded to become a Masters programme in 2005.

Vittorio believes that you need good knowledge of the past in order to be able to forecast future trends. “In the field of architectural design you need to look carefully back to the past, and analyse the evolution of trends over a sufficiently long period. Only then will you confidently be able to draw your line to the future. This is what I try to make clear to my naval architecture students when I feel their anxiety to perform a good design without previously having spent a sufficient time studying the history of design.”

Besides teaching, it was Vittorio’s love affair with boating and France that led him to work with the Jeanneau shipyard. The collaboration between Vittorio Garroni and Jeanneau started with the Prestige 41 in the 1980s, and continues to this day. Since 1988, he has been the principal designer for Jeanneau, part of the Bénéteau Group, for sail and motor boats from 5m to 20m.

Besides the Prestige line of motor yachts, Vittorio was also responsible for some of the best sellers in the history of Jeanneau, such the Cap Camarat 755 (of which some 1,000 boats were sold), the Merry Fisher, the Runabout, and all the current models in the NC and Leader lines. Garroni believes it is this partnership of Italian design with French ship building that has resulted in a line of yachts that are stylish as well as seaworthy.

Garroni has produced no less than 70 different models for Prestige since he started designing for them 30 years ago, and he says that, “customer satisfaction is the primary goal. We are always seeking to find ways of delivering more to boat owners, and this puts us ahead of our competitors.” Some of the most popular boats over the years have included the Prestige 500, 620, 750 and more recently, the Prestige 680. Garroni’s more recent designs have featured large expanses of glazing, which draws natural light into the main deck and afford guests 360-degree views.

The Jeanneau 57

Garroni Design was founded in 1971, and today Vittorio and his son Camillo continue to run the family business. “We handle numerous design projects for businesses in various industries including the marine, automobile, real estate, and even the industrial sector,” says Vittorio. “Essentially we are an Italian design team, which is composed of designers, architects, engineers, and consultants. It is a multinational team with associates from Europe to the Middle and Far East, but our cultural basis always remains typically Italian. The key to this is a shared appreciation of the Renaissance heritage; our five themes are Style, Refinement, Culture, Environment and Technology.”

“Working for a production craft yard demands a very high standard of skill and versatility,” explains Vittorio. “It is not just about the creative input. The team also needs to take into consideration the production process, with each new model that is designed.” The work doesn’t stop at the waterline. It also involves 3D modelling, engineering, and optimising the assembly of every single component of the boat. The studio’s designs, however, all begin life in the traditional way: as pencil strokes on a blank sheet of paper.

But Vittorio’s skills are not restricted to pleasure craft. 25 years ago he was invited by Mitsubishi Shipyards and NYK Line to participate in the Crystal Harmony project. “She was to be the first large Japanese built and owned cruise liner, conceived for international operations. She established new parameters for luxury and comfort, and is still now considered a reference model in the industry. I designed more than half of the passenger accommodations, and all the staterooms were conceived in my office.” Right now the company is working on two cruise ships, one at 100m and the other 300m, for a new Chinese company looking to test the domestic cruise market, and both will feature eco-technologies. The studio also designs bespoke superyachts and one of their recent projects, Margot, a 45m sailing motor yacht won the Interior Design category of the 2016 International Yacht & Aviation Awards.

Garroni says that design trends are influenced by the market that is being targeted, the social position of the customers, and their cultural roots. Generally speaking, European, American and Japanese cultures move from simplicity (minimalism) towards a more “structured peaceful refinement.” The Arabs and Chinese, who never met with minimalism, remain with locally inspired decorative trends. His approach is to respect and appreciate cultural diversity.

“I have spent 40 years sharing my life between university teaching in Europe, and working in the world, mainly in the Far East. It keeps me young! Now my son and his studio partners are experiencing the same, and it is a wonderful life!”

Last year, Garroni was named “Designer of the Year” at the 2016 World Yacht Trophy Awards at the Cannes Yachting Festival. The Award specifically recognised Garroni’s Prestige Yachts line, of which there were 13 models on display ranging from 42 ft to 75 ft.

Sailing, however, remains Garroni’s first love! Vittorio Garroni has a particular soft spot for the Sun Odyssey 54 DS, which led a revolution in the early 2000s. It was an enormous success, and over 365 units have been produced. “I had one, and she was called Bambouk. She was my great love. It was with regret that I had to separate from her, and I passed her on to a friend, who has since crossed the Atlantic with her, twice, and who continues to pamper her like a baby.”

Retiring is not on Garroni’s agenda, but he now leaves the day-to- day office duties to his son. “I will continue on with my exciting work while I go sailing with my wife in the wonderful Mediterranean Sea. The ‘new office environment’ will give me a new lease of energy, but these days I do need to factor in a bit more relaxation time. The best place for that is on the water, accompanied by my wife and our dogs… and some pasta, pizza and vino rosso!”

This article was first published in Yacht Style 37.

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