Sitting on a sunny café terrace, if you overheard people next to you discussing Wally, Linda Lou and Queen M, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were talking about old friends graced with slightly unusual nicknames.
When this happened to me on assignment a couple of weeks ago, however, the conversation wasn’t about people at all. Sitting in a harbourside café in Monaco before meeting Espen Øeino, a leading designer of superyachts, my companions (members of Centurion magazine’s editorial team) were excitedly discussing the yachts they could spot from our table. It took me a minute to cotton on. The world of luxury private yachts is not my world, and I am not personally on first name terms with a single vessel. However, there are so few individuals around the world who can afford to have their own superyacht made that anyone interested enough can get to recognise each one.
Centurion is the corporate magazine that American Express publishes exclusively for its black card holders. If you thought that platinum represented the highest level of plastic fantastic, you’re wrong – black trumps it. The nature of its readership warrants the magazine having its own yachting editor. And she knew many of the luxury yachts in Monaco’s Port Hercule by name.
After a tour of Espen’s studio and photo reportage of a creative-brainstorming-over-sushi with his international designers, the interview got underway. It had taken the journalist some time to find a date when ‘team Espen Øeino International’ was in Monaco, not spread across the world, overseeing the build of Øeino’s creations. As conversation buzzed around me in English, French and Italian, I picked up more information than I ever thought I’d need about superyacht design. You may not be suprised to hear that for Espen’s clients, size is often one of the most important points on their brief for a new yacht. He indeed recently designed the largest private yacht ever built in Italy, at a whopping 134m (her name, if ever on first name terms, is Serene).
But Espen’s approach to design is to work from the inside out. Size, top speed and the superyacht’s appearance should be considered after deciding what the boat is for, and making a series of design decisions around that. Factors to intergrate into the design might include where to situate the cinema or swimming pool, how to overcome the technical challenges of installing a golf driving range (certain obstacles do spring to mind) and where to tidily stow away the helicopter.
The team lunch on the office terrace had decided my choice of location for Espen’s portrait. The royal palace of Monaco was visible on the rock in the background, yachts filled the harbour below, and a mirrored wall showed a glimpse of the famous Cote d’Azur blue sea and sky. Once I had my key light set up, the unknown was whether the location of the sun would be with or against me by the time the interview was done and Espen was ready to be photographed. Happily, my gamble paid off – the sun had moved far enough around to do its job.