During my former tea-making days at Vogue and then its sibling magazine, World of Interiors, I learnt about the symbiotic relationship between fashion and interiors. Denim would adorn a model in the fashion magazine one spring, then cover a cushion in the interior magazine the next autumn. In the age of social media, these parallel worlds collide so often that they work in unison promoting tartans one season, florals the next. Nowadays fashion houses such as Ralph Lauren and Hermès even have their own interior décor departments.
In the lead up to the 2016 Monaco Yacht Show, I am interviewing two luminaries of the yacht design industry: Sabrina Monteleone and Joseph Leone. Both were born to Italian tailors (Sabrina’s father was the tailor to Aristotle Onassis). Both have fashion industry backgrounds. Both have succeeded in revolutionising the yacht design industry.
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Edging into fashion
When I meet born-and-bred Monegasque Sabrina at her design-empire flagship on Monaco’s avenue Princesse Grace, I’m struck by her sweet-natured, girlish appearance that belies her formidable business acumen. She immediately spots my white shift dress.
“That’s Alberta Ferretti,” she says. “I stocked that dress in my former Sabrina dress shop.”
Her observation is spot on as I’ve unknowingly thrown on a decade-old Sabrina dress. Such faultless memory for detail has no doubt helped Sabrina to the top of her profession. As well as her Monaco-based interior design practice, Sabrina runs showrooms, specialising in luxury indoor and outdoor decoration in Monaco and St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, and is partnered with the Wine Palace Monte-Carlo, a wine boutique next to the Monaco Yacht Club.
Sabrina admits that she edged into decoration little by little. Having grown up surrounded by fabrics (with her tailor father and her dressmaker mother designing evening dresses for Monaco balls), she spent many years as a fashion buyer and owner of fashion boutiques. Yet the juxtaposition of fashion and design showed even in those early days as Sabrina showcased decorative pieces alongside the fashion in her shops. She expanded into exterior yacht furnishings by working with up-and-coming brands at the time such as Gandia Blasco and Paola Lenti, as well as collaborating with Hermès on the opening of a shop dedicated to “Art de la Table” (tableware). Her position within the hallowed circles of the yachting world was further consolidated through her long-term partner, the much-admired yacht architect Espen Oeino.
Her fashion-buyer background has shaped her approach to yacht design. Her strength has been in her ability to build an impressive network of suppliers. Sabrina surrounds herself with experts in every field of interior design. Members of her 27-strong team (now including her own daughter) are trained in everything from fabrics and furniture to tableware. Three to four people work as a team on each design project (that usually takes 18 months from conception to realisation) bringing their specialist knowledge to the design plan.
“There are so many references and it’s such a precise art,” explains Sabrina.
She asks me to imagine my perfect leather sofa. It seems a simple enough task until I factor in four possible sizes, dozens of different colours and numerous finishes in terms of smoothness and thickness. Sabrina offers design advice that is tailor-made to each client. Her years of experience enable her to predict client preferences: from classic Rubelli to contemporary Dedar.
The need for pretty things
Over the years, Sabrina has noted regional differentiations such as Asian clients favouring violet above classic navy blue or Middle Eastern clients leaning towards contemporary styles. She finds her easiest clients liaise directly with her:
“Working with too many intermediaries slows down the decision-making process,” observes Sabrina.
Her extensive list of suppliers is constantly being re-evaluated to keep up with the times. While some classic designs persist such as her trademark turquoise accessories, Sabrina’s shops change with the seasons.
“Summertime is rich with beachside images such as shells, coral and pale colours,” she says, “while this autumn will focus on precious stones: ruby red, emerald green and sapphire blue.”
This autumn also sees the Monaco Yacht Show debut her latest project, the 70-metre Galactica Super Nova, where she worked on the interior and exterior loose furnishings. At 70 metres, it’s the largest Heesen superyacht ever built. It utilizes the highly efficient and innovative Fast Displacement Hull Form designed by Van Oossanen Naval Architects. Features include the helipad that transforms into an outdoor cinema and an infinity pool complete with waterfall and jet stream.
“We were involved in intricate details such as bathroom accessories and clothes hangers with a personalised logo,” says Sabrina.
As I wind up my interview, Sabrina leans over to tell me that she drives around the prettier French Riviera coastal roads rather than taking the shorter motorway route.
“I’m allergic to moche
(ugly),” she giggles. “Beauty is an inspiration for my life, not just my career. I need pretty things around me.”
An industry revolutionary
This aesthetic is shared by yacht-design compatriot, Joseph Leone. He cuts a flamboyant figure with his slicked-back black hair, pink shirt and cream jacket. Joseph started as a jewellery designer working with the big names in French haute couture such as Rochas, Celine and Annick Goutal.
His move into yacht design came by chance through a jewellery client and friend from Boston. Joseph was already working on a 10-year development of this client’s Florida home, Le Palais Royal (due for completion in January 2017 with the world’s first IMAX screening room in a private residence), when he helped his client to buy a 160-foot yacht named "My Seanna". However, his client eventually found the yacht too enclosed. Rather than purchasing a new yacht, Joseph suggested that they collaborate in extending the yacht. It was a revolutionary idea for an industry where most owners sell their yachts to build new yachts from scratch losing vast amounts of money in the process. Everyone laughed at Joseph’s idea.
“They said I was crazy,” remembers Joseph. “They said it was impossible.”
Never a man to yield in the face of pressure, Joseph soldiered on with a budget of $20 million (€18 million). He consulted with the original yacht designer Delta to work out the logistics of extending the yacht. After 18 months, he had rebuilt the boat by cutting off the back of the boat and adding a large sundeck that doubled as a helipad and created a beach club aboard the yacht. Joseph also revamped the interiors: breaking down walls, re-tiling floors and adding state-of-the-art technology as well as an outdoor movie theatre. The 25-foot (7.6-metre) sundeck was the largest yacht extension ever and was a finalist at the World Superyacht Awards in November 2015.
Joseph reflects that his background in fashion has worked to his advantage: “Yacht architects are sometimes bound by their training. I am able to think outside the box. I see yachts as palaces floating on the water. Once you’re inside, you want to feel that you’re in the Ritz-Carlton.”
Both Sabrina and Joseph will be at the Monaco Yacht Show 2016 where Sabrina is showcasing her latest superyacht project on board Galactica Super Nova.
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