Introducing WHY: Wally Hermès Yachts, the love child of two of the greatest innovators in luxury. We showcase its debut yacht and talk to Luca Bassani Antivari, Wally's Founder, about his passion for sailing and the importance of form following function.
When a joint venture between the luxury goods house Hermès and the yacht brand Wally was announced in June 2008, few details were provided. But at the Monaco Yacht Show last week, the answer to the question of WHY – that is, Wally Hermès Yachts – was revealed in the form of an entirely new brand with a mission “to develop a new type of motor yacht redefining the art of living on the sea”.
Rather than simply raising the bar of luxury at sea, WHY’s debut yacht is a radical boat that will revolutionize the foundations of naval architecture and bring sustainability to the fore of yacht design. Measuring 58m by 38m, its unusually wide shape is based on an innovative hull that allows for living spaces like nothing seen before at sea.
At the heart of the WHY 58x38 is a Guggenheim-style staircase that links the three decks of 3,400 square meters of common areas and private bedrooms. A roof, in the style of Venetian blinds, carefully manages light so that there are shaded lounges and internal patios flooded in sunlight (a rendering even shows a tree growing on the lower deck). A gym and spa – usually windowless rooms, even on the most lavish yachts – are given a prime position on the main deck, with walls of glass. Most spectacular is the “beach” – a decked terrace on the ground floor that grips the sea and runs the entire 38m of the aft deck.
The design team that conceived WHY is headed by Pierre-Alexis Dumas, the artistic director of Hermès, and Luca Bassani Antivari, the president and CEO of Wally. While Dumas is no stranger to integrating the Hermès brand into helicopters and Bugatti supercars, Bassani is no stranger to revolutionizing the boat industry, as he did with the flush decks, high design and even higher technology of Wally. Bassani neatly sums up their shared brand values: ‘Hermès-on-Land’, ‘Wally-on-Sea’: inevitably our paths had to cross.”
Dumas describes the moment WHY was conceived: “When we met, in Autumn 2007, Luca Bassani Antivari had thought about asking Hermès to accessorize the interior of one of his boats. I was impressed by the daring of his projects. My instinct was to get on board with him and go and seek out new territories in yacht design.”
An experienced yachtsman who comes from a family passionate about sailing, Bassani came upon the idea of Wally while designing yet another yacht for his family in 1993. “I thought I could improve the function and performance of sailing yachts that were complicated, heavy and slow,” he says.
It is Bassani’s design philosophy that is one of the cornerstones of WHY. “The beauty of an object is the result of both its shape and function,” he explains. “At Wally, it’s always the function that drives the design”. The flush decks of Wally – perhaps its signature design feature – are testament to this vision. “To make the decks not only more beautiful and comfortable, but also much more safe, we hid all the maneuvers below deck,” says Bassani who, being a father of three children, designs with families in mind.
It is not only in the realm of luxurious living where WHY is radical. It also breaks new ground (or water) in sustainability-at-sea. Not only does its unique hull mean it requires less power at cruising speed than a boat of equal size, but its surface of almost 900 square meters of photovoltaic panels provides enough energy to cover most of WHY’s auxiliary systems.
“We are very interested in creating a yacht that will have a low environmental impact,” says Pierre-Alexis Dumas. “Its relationship with the sea must be respectful and easy. WHY intends to offer a new way of moving over water by creating
an innovative way of managing and recycling its sources and uses of energy.”
Bassani admits that a motor yacht is never going to be the most environmentally friendly vessel: “If you want to go totally ecological, the only solution is sailing. The reality is that today, 90% of the market is powerboats.”
As we showcase the radical design of the WHY 58x38, we talk to Luca Bassani Antivari about the luxury of sailing and the importance of innovation in yacht design.
Luca Bassani Antivari’s definition of luxury?
Luxury is time, freedom, and service.
If luxury were a place, where would it be?
If luxury were an object, what would it be?
If luxury were a moment, when would it be?
If luxury were a person, who would it be?
Tell us about the mission of WHY, Wally Hermès Yachts.
It’s a new brand and a completely new product; a new concept of living on the water, developed with the same approach of Wally yachts - the revolutionary design is the result of improved functionality. The mega yachts we are introducing into the market are also based on sustainability and new energies.
You could have collaborated with any luxury brand. Why did you choose Hermès?
For me, Hermès is the number one in luxury for its substance and creativity. They look traditional but they are also very innovative and radical in the quality of its products. Wally doesn’t have their history, so we look only to innovate, while Hermès has archives to look at. But we are both very radical and dedicated to the performance and quality of the product. As well as this, when we met we immediately got a good feeling from their team, which is extremely important.
Why do you think that owning a boat is considered such a luxury?
For me, one of the greatest luxuries is freedom. A boat is really a weapon that gives you freedom. Not only can you move on a boat, but you can live on one too. On a private plane you can move very quickly but you cannot live there.
How did you come to found Wally, one of the most innovative yacht builders?
Everything started with the passion of my parents for the sea and the large amount of time we spent on boats. My parents had a cruising yacht and they also financed racing. Every time we bought a boat, I was involved in the design and in 1978 I started to make preliminary drawings of the boat that my father wanted for his retirement. In this way, I built up considerable experience and knowledge, which I wanted to exploit and put in practice when, at 35, I had the opportunity to set up a business that would try to revolutionize the yachting industry. I thought I could improve the function and performance of sailing yachts that were complicated, heavy and slow. The original motto of the company was “fast & easy”, which meant changing the entire concept of a large sailing cruiser by using new materials and technology.
Wally yachts are renowned for their clean lines and minimalist styling. Tell us about your attitude to design in general and how this translates to your boats.
I have always loved functionality, simplicity, and quality materials. The beauty of an object is the result of its shape and function. We always try to achieve the best compromise between these two elements. At Wally, it’s always the function that drives the design; for this reason, the aesthetics of our yachts do not age. Yachts like Nariida and Genie of the Lamp, which are 15 years old, are still at the cutting edge of design.
From the inception of Wally you worked with talented architects and designers such as Lord Foster. How have these people contributed to the evolution of Wally?
Since the beginning we had the chance to work with celebrated architects and designers who taught us a lot. I would say that we have been good at absorbing, interpreting and executing their concepts. Together, we have always created something special and unique. I think it’s the same for the architects who worked with us; the product they developed for Wally is very different from those they designed for other shipyards – much more outstanding because it is very coherent.
Aside from the considered design, how else does a Wally yacht differ from a traditionally built boat?
Research and development, materials and courage! Firstly, the layout of our boats was always different. All sailboats used to have the master cabin aft, at the back of the boat, because there the boat is slightly wider. I was the first to design a boat with the owner’s cabin forward because there you get fresh air without needing air-conditioning, you don’t have the noise of the propeller, and you are able to sleep uninterrupted. If you are in the harbor and you’re in an aft cabin, every time someone walks on or off the boat, they would walk on top of you. That’s why I moved owner’s cabin forward. Today, 90% of sailboats have copied that. The flush deck is another Wally first. If you look at sailboats before Wally, the decks of those yachts had plenty of lines, ropes, and winches. To make the decks not only more beautiful and comfortable, but also much more safe, we hid all the maneuvers below deck. You don’t see any lines or winches on a Wally.
What would you say have been the most important developments in naval architecture made by Wally?
There are two: the sail-plan on the sailing yachts and the vertical bow on the powerboats. With the sail-plan, we didn’t invent anything new, but we applied concepts already known such as making the mast in carbon fiber, which is very easy to use and can maneuver the boat very precisely. When turning the boat you have to make the sail go from one side of the other and we do this automatically by using a complicated electronic and hydraulic system. Before this, you needed winches and a lot of crew to make the sail move like this. On the powerboats, it’s the vertical bow that is our major development. Again, this was used in the 19th century but was abandoned. We did a lot of research and concluded that a vertical bow was better from a control point of view and also from the perspective of comfort while cruising. Five years after we presented our first Wallypower with this type of bow, all manufacturers are now moving towards this kind of bow.
In the yachting world it is considered unusual for a boat manufacturer to build both sailing and motor yachts. What – for you – are the main differences between a sailing and motor yacht?
When I realized that our approach in innovating the sailboat was having good results and the world of powerboats was becoming interested in our successful features, I decided it was worth trying the same on a new range of powerboats. While the sailboats are fun when you are actually sailing, powerboats are fun when you are stationary. Nevertheless for Wally, the sailing yachts and the motor yachts have the same approach, the same soul: a coherent design, improved functionality and comfort, high performance, an inside-outside living concept, integration with the sea, and large open air areas. This is why when you look at our powerboats you can see a relation to the sailing yachts, even though this is a totally different world.
More than being just beautiful boats, Wallys are also renowned for their prowess in sailing competitions. How important is this to you?
This is extremely important because a sailboat has to sail well and fast in any condition, otherwise they should be called "motor-sailors". Wallys race amongst ourselves in an association called Wally Class and we have our own regatta. Wallyclass is very important because our owners buy our boats for the performance as well as the comfort and style. Racing is a good and sporty variation to their cruising program; they’re very competitive owners so it’s a great opportunity to compete with the other Wallys in term of performance. They love to win!
Philippe Starck and John Pawson have both recently designed yachts. Do you feel responsible for this more considered approach to naval architecture?
Yes, maybe even too much because today there too many efforts to do something different, but not substantially better; design exercises with no functionality. As a result, these yachts age very quickly and after a few times of seeing them they don’t give you the same emotion. For example, I like the last boat by Starck, A. I like its lines. But from a function point of view I must say it doesn’t make a lot of sense because the deck area on that boat is much smaller than any other boat of the same size. The decks are a big part of your yacht, they’re like the garden of your villa. Style without functionality can be beautiful but it is not what we do at Wally.
Eclipse, the largest yacht in the world, was recently revealed. How do you feel about such large boats?
I think that those huge investments could be better invested in more innovative projects that will make their owner happier. We need more quality in the conception of these yachts and less quantity.
Which are your favorite yachts from both past and present?
Powerboats: Tramontana; Shergar; Echo (Katana, Enigma); Limitless.
Sailboats: Pilgrim; America; Running Tide; Blue Leopard; Agneta; the Wallys.
You have homes in Monaco, Portofino and St. Moritz that are known as being as meticulously designed as your boats. Which architects have you worked with and why?
For my houses I prefer working with good friends, architects who are able to interpret my ideas. I could not live in a house conceived and designed by somebody else.
You are also passionate about flying and pilot your own helicopter. Would you consider expanding Wally into the world of aviation?
No, no! Impossible!