Designer 8 January 2019
With a focus on speed, beauty and references to the motoring world, but also an extraordinary passion for sailing, Alberto Mancini and his AM Yacht Design team have an extremely free and creative approach to yacht design. We met them in their new studio in Monte Carlo
by Luca Sordelli – photo by Andrea Muscatello
Alberto Mancini is the rising star of Italian yacht design. He is still young, but already has an impressive CV, featuring big names like Officina Italiana Design, Nuvolari Lenard and Ken Freivokh, and the custom of shipyards including Overmarine, Fairline and Azimut. We met him in his new, extremely stylish studio in the centre of Monte Carlo.
Mancini is an eloquent speaker and a natural in front of the camera. But he also has very clear, and decidedly maverick ideas: his vision of yacht design is very different from what we’ve seen up to now.
What springs to mind when I say AM Design? What sets you apart?
Our uncontaminated approach and the freshness of our ideas. Our strength lies in the way we can produce our designs without too many outside influences, at least when we start creating a boat. Of course, people then make requests, and we have to change tack. But underpinning everything is a dynamic, creative and young setup.
Is it really such a difficult battle? Is it hard to promote your vision of yacht design?
I think things are a bit more complicated for my generation of designers. The shipyards were scarred by what happened in the past, where designers could impose their way of thinking, even across different brands. Now we are constantly forced to prove that the boats we are designing for one shipyard are completely different from those we are creating for another. It’s a fascinating process, but it requires many hours of work. It takes a lot of energy to change design from one brand to the next, while also remaining ourselves. You need a lot of ideas and a lot of creativity.
This is a very important topic. Boats and yachts often tend to be very similar at any set period of time. They follow the latest trends, and it becomes very difficult not to go with the flow. How do you manage to be different, and feed your creativity?
First of all by working in a team with other good designers: the brainstorming we do in the studio underpins our work. My colleague, Lorenzo Berselli, and I work particularly well together, in part because we have a similar background. We both started out in car design and both studied at the Istituto Europeo di Design (IED) in Turin, which is an exceptional, very free-thinking school, where you can really develop your creativity, search for beauty and get the most out of your talent. Lorenzo and I like to imagine how the boat will look in the water and how the sunlight will reflect on different colours of hulls from all angles, a bit like we were presenting a prototype at the Geneva Motor Show. People with a more classic, architectural educational background will definitely have a very different approach.
Comparisons with the world of motoring are often made in modern yacht design. But despite many big names coming from that background, the results have not exactly been spectacular.
When I was a boy, my parents took me out on their sailing boat. My father would always encourage me to steer and adjust the sails… but I was always looking around me and watching the other boats, wondering why they were so ugly. Everything needed to be changed… And so when it came to choosing which university to go to, and my father wanted to send me to Bocconi University, I showed him the dozens and dozens of sketch drawings of boats I had done at school, and he changed his mind. In other words, being a designer is not enough; you have to be passionate and knowledgeable about the world of sailing. You need to know how to sail. The same goes for Lorenzo, who has been sailing all his life. Often car designers come up with the body of a car and then think they can fit it on top of a hull…
Let’s go back to your training. Before you founded AM Yacht Design, you worked with some big names.
Well, at the age of 22 I had the extremely good fortune of working with Mauro Micheli at Officina Italiana Design. He put a pencil in my hand and said: “When I get back, I’d like to see a few sketches for the Aquariva or Aquarama”. And still today, when I look at the air intakes, the grills or the control panel, I can see some details I took part to, obviously under his supervision. At that age, having the opportunity to play an active role in designing a Riva was a dream come true. An experience that left its mark on my entire career.
Then there are names like Ken Freivokh and Nuvolari Lenard.
The former was around the time of the Perini Maltese Falcon. I remember at the start, when we met the engineers from Viareggio, they were on friendlier terms with me because I was Italian, and they told me ‘It’s an impossible task, we’ll never manage it’. Then the ship owner started dishing out e1 million a month, and somehow we did it… I had a special relationship with Dan Lenard – he taught me a lot. Also, he is a true ‘master’, and not just in terms of the technical and creative aspect of design. For example, he said that certain self-important designers made him laugh, given that ‘basically we take plastic shells and fill them with furniture’. That’s something we should never forget.
You have worked with Azimut, Overmarine and Fairline, three very different outfits. How do you fit everything together?
It’s very difficult: it’s a bit like having three wives.
Extremely complicated then…
They have three very different approaches. Fairline, for example, is a little more conservative. They ask for advice on style and how to model their designs, without giving us much access to the direction of the business. We provide their exotic touch, their ‘Made in Italy’ branding, which is a hugely important consideration outside Italy.
Overmarine is basically your calling card. Azimut, meanwhile, is the latest arrival. The largest yacht builder in the world…
For now I can’t say much about Azimut. It certainly feels like you’re suddenly stepping into the world of Formula One though. One of the key concepts of the Azimut S10 is a series of stepped terraces at the stern going down towards the sea. Here I was inspired by the villas in Malibu. Then there is the option of offering the ship owner open spaces that can be used in several different ways, on multiple levels. Basically all aiming to provide a new onboard experience.
If you could build your ideal boat, what would it be like?
Two options come to mind, polar opposites of one another: one motorboat and one sailing boat. I’d love to build a megasailer here. There is still a lot to invent, it’s a less restrictive world, the shipyards give you more room for manoeuvre and there isn’t such extreme competition. And the pleasure of travelling in a sailing boat, standing at the helm and feeling the boat and the wind, is both wonderful and indescribable.
And what about motorboats? What are you most drawn to?
Sportiness and speed. On a sailing boat you get excited when you sail into a 15-knot wind at 10 knots. You feel like a king. For motorboats, the first design that comes to mind is the Magnum. I can still remember an incredible experience I had travelling from Miami to Key West, where we averaged 62 miles an hour on a Magnum, with the large waves they have down there… it was wonderful. The Magnums are boats, built in a way that would be impossible nowadays: heavy, robust and with a lot of horsepower, and often hated with a passion. They’re from another era, but they’re a real gentleman’s boat. Of all my designs, the Barracuda 80 best represents this concept, because it takes the best from both sailing and motor fields.
Is a world like this still possible? What about environmental concerns?
I have a huge amount of admiration for those who are genuinely and sincerely investing money in that direction. Electric is the future, but it’s a long way off for boats. I think a lot more technological development is needed first. Those who simply offer a range of an hour, or a mobile charger, and then put a ‘green’ label on the hull, I admire less.
Let’s go back to speed. You are going against the grain in a world where everything seems to be moving towards Navettas and Explorers…
There are some excellent, really interesting things emerging from that world too. We’re doing something along the same lines too. But you need to be careful not to build ‘shoe boxes’. You need to place an upper limit on how high you go. Boats cost more the longer and wider they get – space is a true luxury. So the natural choice is to build upwards, and perhaps add more and more stabilisers. Requesting interiors 2.20 metres high or more in a 24 meter long yacht means changing the right proportion. You can’t claim to make a boat with the space of a 35 meter vessel on a 24 meter hull: something just doesn’t add up. Take the first series Multipla. It was only designed with the interior in mind, and it is genius from that perspective, with three seats at the front and a huge amount of space, and well-lit with glass everywhere. But from the outside it’s not exactly the best-looking of boats. Meanwhile, the Monokini, the boat Francesco Paszkowski and I designed for Baglietto, has headroom in the saloon of 2.02 metres. It’s beautiful, stylish and won the Associazione per il Disegno Industriale (ADI) Compasso d’Oro award in 2016. But speed will come back into fashion. Indeed, it’s a trend that’s already gaining traction.
In what sense?
I’m thinking about foils, both sailing boats and motorboats. But also chase boats, fast commuters, and the support boats for superyachts. On these boats, the owners want to relax and smoke their cigars, but they also want to let off steam, put the throttle down and fly across the water. The sea can truly satisfy your desire for speed. There are none of the restrictions of a road, you don’t have to go round and round in a circle like a hamster. You’re free.
(Alberto Mancini, the power of uncontaminated design – Ottobre 2018)