Once upon a time, it wasn’t a matter of choice. If you wanted to build
a custom boat, you hired a naval architect to do the design, or you hired
a yard, which then engaged a naval architect for the design work. That,
and maybe an interior decorator, was all you needed. The naval architect
had complete control of and responsibility for the design, including hull
form, proportions, powering, stability, structure, arrangement, and styling.
Over the past decade or two, it’s gotten a lot more confusing. The 1980s
brought forth the concept of the designer, a term suggesting that the
function of a naval architect is something other than to design. Actually,
anyone can call him- or herself a yacht designer, but to be a naval architect
requires broad training in a number of disciplines, including engineering.
That’s why the term designer as it is commonly used refers to someone
who specifies the appearance and arrangement of the yacht and leaves the
naval architect to work out the engineering details relating to speed,
strength, and stability.
The most recent practitioner to emerge in the yacht design business is
the stylist. In the narrowest sense, the stylist is the one who specifies
what a yacht’s exterior will look like, which includes the profile, proportions,
windows, doors, and other features of the exterior shape. While some stylists
perform other functions in the design process, such as interior space
planning, those functions are not customarily part of the stylist’s responsibility.
The role of the stylist is simply to design the exterior appearance of
Considering the preceding discussion, it seems that a naval architect
can perform all of the necessary functions in the design process, including
styling, while the role of the stylist is quite limited, relying on the
naval architect to make the whole thing work. So what do stylists really
have to offer? The answer depends on whom you ask. I spoke with Juan Carlos
Espinosa, who includes among his many design credits the 130-foot Feadship
Gallant Lady and the 147-foot Gran Finale, soon to be launched by Delta
Marine. I also talked with Gregory Matzat, chief naval architect for the
design firm Sparkman & Stephens, whose portfolio includes such yachts
as the 195-foot La Baronessa and the soon-to-be-launched 156-foot Anson
Bell, both built by Palmer Johnson.
Both agree that a good stylist can make a positive contribution to the
outcome of a yacht design project and that an inexperienced stylist can
create serious problems by getting a prospective owner excited about a
sleek-looking project that seems great on paper, but can’t possibly be
built. Each had a story to tell of a client bursting into the naval architect’s
office, waving some stylist’s rendering that a broker had provided and
demanding that this is what his yacht must look like. Trouble was, putting
a scale to the rendering showed that there was barely five feet of headroom
in the upper decks. No wonder the profile was low and sleek!
What are the pros and cons of having a stylist involved in a custom yacht
project, and how can you, the prospective owner, predict if a particular
stylist is going to be an asset or a liability? On the other side of the
coin, if you do engage a stylist, do you need your own naval architect
or should you just leave the engineering details to the shipyard?
Next page > Naval Architect or Stylist?
continued > Page 1, 2