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Thursday, January 26, 2017

MOVERS and SHAKERS: Alexander McDiarmid, British L'Enfant Terrible of Yacht Design Our Coverage Sponsored by Hallak Cleaners the Couture Cleaner

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Creativity and curiosity run deep through British designer Alexander McDiarmid. From an early age, Alex was affected by elements of nature and nurture. These were certainly catalysts for a future career. It’s never been just a job: it is a passion he confesses. Dubbed the L'Enfant Terrible of Yacht Design, Alex and his studio's reputation for exceptional creative thinking, through avant-garde, futuristic and visionary superyacht concepts and projects is firmly established.

Alex has earned Bachelor and Masters graduate in Industrial Design from the world renowned Schools of Design and Engineering at Coventry University, UK, and he has past design roles with the likes of Gilles Vaton, Philippe Briand and Tony Castro. Alex’s philosophy in yacht design and the yacht industry was established under three very different mentors. With each studio, Alex recognized a particular forté the designer cut his teeth working on a number of projects from RIBs to Motor Yachts, Sailing Yachts to Catamarans, Tenders and Superyachts. Innovation, creativity and good design thinking have always been the key factors to every yacht he has worked on and this continues today. After freelancing in Varese, Italy including working with the late, great Claudio Castiglioni ‘The Godfather of modern Italian motorcycling’, it was time to reflect.

In 2011, after ten years of international design experience, it was time to go solo and realize a long-held dream. Today based in the historic ancient Roman spa city of Aix-en-Provence in the South of France, Alex and his multi-disciplinary studio draws on this untold wealth of design flair and creativity while bringing new and exciting ideas to the table. Alexander is best known for his visionary, inspired yet rule-breaking work. Attracting the attention of a number of high profile superyacht brokers from the start including Fraser Yachts, the world’s leading, full-service yachting company, his ‘Duel’ 100m project was featured in their 65th Anniversary client magazine. Industry journalists from the start compared his design thinking to two of the world’s most iconic superyachts, The Maltese Falcon and ‘A’.

He approaches each yacht project with a non-nautical philosophy and often takes inspiration from history and nature, challenging modern yacht design and constantly asking questions. Could you make an all carbon fibre reinforced plastic yacht like the Boeing Dreamliner? Why can’t yachts be decorated like a duelling pistol? 

Nature is also a strong inspiration, from the twisting colourful forms of shells (imagined as the 90m ‘Conch’) to the skeleton and ligaments of the 100m ‘DNA.’ The designer continually examines the latest hybrid drives, weight reduction and composite materials to work alongside these dramatic hull and superstructure forms. Regularly featured in the international press and the prestigious US based Boat International Media’s MEGAYACHTS: Concept – Design – Construction annual, considered the industry’s design bible.

Inspired by iguanas for the Chinese New Year of the Water Dragon, Alex completed his first project, Iwana a 285’ / 87m. It attracted the attention of the jury at Centurion Magazines annual Yachting Special including it in their best of 2012. The magazine is specifically for American Express UHNWI Centurion Card holders. It was this project that caught the eye of the Manhattan-based and highly sought after interior designer to the elite, Stef-Albert Bothma. Forming a creative collaboration producing the opulent interiors of the project, Alex and Stef-Albert celebrate their professional love for great design along with the mutual admiration of opposite yet very complimentary skills. Together, the two passionate designers created this magnificent masterpiece. 

This era sees work beginning with a Dutch superyacht builder for a 250’ / 75m project. Adhering to legendary Industrial Designer Dieter Rams’ ‘Ten Principles for Good Design’ Alexander applies this design philosophy for the first time in the superyacht design world. Some of the yachts features include a beach club, helicopter deck, 10m tender and never before seen superyacht naval architecture. 

In parallel with his yacht design work, he works in aviation design as many yacht owners have private aviation assets. He recently completed the livery, paint scheme and interior refit design of a Boeing 747-400 for The Astralis Club - The Highly Exclusive & Ultra Luxurious International Air Service and is currently working on an Airbus Corporate Jet/ACJ interior for a private client along with various helicopter, private aviation livery and paint scheme designs.The future is looking creative and colourful but one must continue to ask ‘what if?’ he concludes.  We are thrilled to present Alexander McDiarmid as our latest Mover and Shaker and timed it during the New York Boat Show.  Peachy Deegan interviewed Alex for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: What is your first memory of being on a boat?
Alexander McDiarmid: 
The ‘Walton Jester’, a cruiser on The River Thames near to where I grew up. My parents took my brother and I for long weekends around the UK also. Visiting historical ships such as SS Great Britain, HMS Victory and the Cutty Sark were very influential on a curious young mind.

What is your first memory of being on a plane?
Back in the days when you could go into the cockpit and meet the Captain and his crew on the flight deck. London to the Algarve, Portugal in 1981.

What is the first design you created at all?
In 1998 while on design internship in Lyon, France.
A wooden chair and convertible table set for preschool children that turned into a painting easel. Made from beech sourced from the clients own forest, rounded edges and I had to make sure no little fingers could get trapped!

What is the difference between great design and poor design?
You remember great design. You never forget poor design.

How can great design be measured and quantified?
Legendary industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss’s 1950’s simple five-point formula for measuring great design still works very well today. He illustrated 
a graphic of the human hand: Appearance, Quality, Cost, Maintenance and Safety & Utility. While every designer intuitively knows their own equation for great design it’s very often something you feel driving the work. 
Quantifying great design? Now that’s not a short answer but can be summed up by the following; purchase influence / emotion, enabling strategy / entering new markets, building brand image and corporate reputation, improve time to market and the development process, design Return On Investment/ cost savings, enabling product and service innovation, increasing customer satisfaction / developing communities of customers, design patents and trademarks / creating Intellectual Property, improving usability and improving sustainability.

Do you think you are a L’Enfant Terrible and why or why not?
It’s a label but very humbling at the same time.
I guess it’s a reflection of my work in the conservative yachting industry.
So yes, I’m ‘a rebel with a design cause’ you could say.

Do you love America’s Cup and what do you like about it?
I would not say love but admire. The naval architecture and design behind the boats with external industry engineering collaboration is just phenomenal. 
The actual racing does not get me excited. I’m not a ‘yachtie’.

What makes yacht design and plane design different from all other design?
These large manmade objects are for use in very challenging environments either at sea or in the sky. Great natural forces are at work that must be withstood in order to function well and safely. 

How does designing yachts differ from designing planes?
Aviation design and development does not advance at the same speed as yacht design. With aviation design you are completing a manufacturers product with an exterior and/or interior aesthetic. With yacht design you might be creating fully custom or building from a shipyards proven semi custom platform.
Regardless, both yachts and planes must follow strict build codes / class & industry regulations. Culturally speaking, no two owners are the same and client’s tastes and needs vary considerably around the world.
It’s the job of the designer to provide intelligent solutions.

How does designing yachts bear similarities to designing planes?
It is crucial to listen and understand the design brief from the client. These are two of the most expensive assets that can be purchased. They may be used for business, entertainment and/or living so private clients often want to personalize their asset, sometimes matching a home or vehicle through exterior livery and interior design or really a one off design. Both need to be practical and usable so you can say the real design starts behind the pretty exterior lines. 

Are there private gated fly-in communities where cars must yield to planes on the streets with their own private airport in the UK, France and Europe in general like there are in the USA and if so which ones do you recommend?
Sadly not, I think they are a great idea. Many people are familiar with John Travolta’s private gated fly-in residence. There is not really the physical space here for these to work but proposals have been studied for Europe.

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
One of my previous design mentors along with long standing industry friends who have and continue to be with me from the start. Very grateful for their continued influence.

What are you proudest of and why?
My wonderful wife and our family. 
Watching our two young, bilingual children growing up, their creativity astounds me.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
Of course there are still many things that I’d like to design but I would like to give more younger designers their first chance in the industry. I remember that feeling landing my first design job and starting my career.

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
An ‘Outstanding Design Award’ for my entry in the ‘Michelin Challenge Design | Advancing Mobility Through Design’ My work was displayed at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Very honoured as I was the only UK finalist.

What one word best describes you and why?
Audacious - you have to be if you want to achieve anything great in life.

What do you take your sense of identity from?
People watching.
As a designer you must observe people in their environment. I have had the opportunity to visit and live in a few different countries and taken little bits of host cultures with me. I think you are continually shaped.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?And the UK?And France?
Central Park in the autumn
My family home, where I grew up
The French Alps in winter

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan? And the UK?And France?
Manhattan, far too many to name just one!
Foyles book shop in London and any of the design/architectural/creative books shops on the Charing Cross Rd, Soho, London
The creative boutiques along the The Canal Saint-Martin in Paris

If you could hire anybody who would it be and why?
My wife as she has a natural ability for interior design knowing just how to balance a space and decorate. As that’s no on the cards, didn’t someone once say “always hire the smartest person so they can show you how it’s done”?!

What is your favorite drink?
A dram or two of Scottish single malt whisky, neat (it’s in the genes!)

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at a cocktail party?
A few years ago talking away about yacht design to somebody I had failed to recognize. His colleague overheard our conversation, came over and told me who he was, a superyacht industry design veteran. 
We managed to laugh it off!

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan? And the UK?And France?
The quintessential Joe’s Pizza & Katz's Delicatessen
Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons, Great Milton, Oxford 
Les Trois Forts, overlooking the old port in Marseille

What is your favorite Manhattan book or favorite character in Manhattan literature? And the UK?And France?
Both Holden Caulfield and Holly Golightly as they bring back memories of high school English Literature studies.
Sherlock Holmes 
Arsène Lupin

Who would you like to be for a day and why?
I’m happy being me thanks.

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why? And the UK?And France?
Nothing, I don't want my name plastered over something. 
But if you insist, a design museum or design school with free entry to both!

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience? And the UK?And France?
As I cannot take my beloved Specialized S-Works bike with me when travelling, I always try to hire a bicycle as it is a great way to see a city.

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else? And the UK?And France?
Look up and just be mesmerized by the sheer scale of the place.
Catching up with old friends in a good British pub with plenty of side splittingly good British humour.
Building our dream family home. A traditional ‘Provençal Mas’ with modern architectural features set in our own olive grove.

If you could have dinner with any person living or passed, who would it be and why?
Raymond Loewy ‘The Father of Industrial Design’ for the magnitude of his design efforts across a variety of industries simply to listen and learn from him. 

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience? And the UK?And France? 
MoMA never fails to impress. Just inspirational from the moment you arrive.
Oasis at Earls Court in 1995, London
The Manic Street Preachers, Lyon, France
(Design will save the world. Just after Rock N’Roll does)

What do you personally do or what have you done to give back to the world?
Early on in my career I was recruited by The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s - Vehicle Design Summit as a volunteer design industry advisor. I got to travel around Europe to various partner engineering universities in pursuit of the projects goal to design a sustainable car. I would very much like to do more of this work.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated in Manhattan? And the UK?And France?
All three destinations suffer in terms of major tourist attractions and poor/crowded public transport infrastructure.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite WhomYouKnow​.com​ column and what do you like about it?
Cuisine and Drinks. As the son of a professional private chef I grew up watching and eating many wonderful dishes that were often destined for the tables of notable VIP’s. Home cooking does it for me but any restaurant that offers flavour, simplicity but with local and seasonal produce is a winner. You have great recommendations and everything is checked very well.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you?
Very much enjoy meeting new people; just don’t ask me to sketch on a napkin if we meet!

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers?
Readers are very welcome to make contact via my website email:

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