It’s not often that yacht-design spheres get to hear of a monumental milestone that is the 90th anniversary. Unfortunately, the fickle and unforgiving nature of our industry can create an unsettling environment for independent studios, especially those that prefer to stay slightly below the radar. But for Laurent Giles Naval Architects, the portfolio is flourishing with new opportunities, as well as a new direction for the naval architects.
‘Understated’ is the word that comes to mind as we sit in the bare brick Laurent Giles studio, surrounded by numerous tank test models of previous projects. “I don’t really realise how busy we are, or how busy we’ve been, because we don’t go around telling everybody what we’re doing or how we’re doing it,” says David Lewis, who believes that a modest approach to marketing is a key ingredient to the company ethos.
“Although it may not look like it, we’re currently working on a 24m fast boat, a 98m, a 120m and a 150m, says Lewis, who points out that his small team of seven are quite capable of coping with this high volume of projects. “We’ve always tried to maintain a reasonably sized team and do what we’re good at doing, rather than having 50 people in an office doing all sorts of different things.”
A small team is imperative to Lewis – it’s a way of maintaining the personal touch with clients and the yacht designers Laurent Giles are constantly working with. “It’s always myself or John, the naval architect, who will go to a client meeting. Then if someone phones us about the drawing, you’ll be able to talk to the person that’s actually done the drawing – this is hugely important.”
Laurent Giles has gone through numerous different stages since the company was established in 1927. “When the company was founded, yacht designers would also be the naval architects, so the role has completely transformed,” explains Lewis. Now, however, there are countless roles in the industry that work together to pull a project through the design phase, which can often lead to a stagnation of a project, when the shipyard team is presented a concept where the naval architecture is yet to be developed or accounted for. As Lewis points out, in this scenario, “custom projects can be altered so much that shipyards give what they want to a client, rather than what the client wants” he says.
“To try and prevent that, we start with designers at a very early stage to sort out all of those things first, and bridge the gap so you don’t get this stagnation of a project, where a shipyard tells you that a project can’t be done.” As a result, in the ‘90s, the decision was made for Laurent Giles to become completely focused on independent naval architecture.
However, as Lewis explains, despite the company’s success, naval architecture alone is quite a difficult sell from a marketing point of view – “there are only so many times you can publicise photos of tank testing.”
As a result, over the last two to three years, Laurent Giles has started producing some design concepts. “This is something we’re doing for individuals that have come to us and asked. This has been very helpful from an advertising point of view, but what we’re not trying to do is create the next interesting yacht and put it out there.” While the studio is working on a number of new and exciting designs, the purpose for doing so is to promote the technology and naval architecture story behind the project, so much so that “what it looks like isn’t important,” says Lewis.
But since Laurent Giles works so closely with numerous superyacht designers, Lewis stresses that the company’s position as a design studio as well as naval architects is intended not to compete with other designers, who are also clients of the studio. “In the design world, there are different groups of designers – there is the A class, followed by the stream under that, which is where we have positioned ourselves. We’re using concepts which are founded on a naval architecture story – we’re not competing with other designers.”
With such a variety of projects underway at the independent studio, it’s clear that a more discrete approach to naval architecture and design has gained a huge amount of respect from the market and its clients. Thankfully, discretion still appears to be the unsung hero of superyacht design, and just one of the attributes that will see Laurent Giles through for another 90 years.