The British yachting industry is all but invisible to those not in the know. Yet the craft skills, artistic invention and technological know-how behind the design and manufacture of some of the world’s most sophisticated private vessels continues to thrive in discreet studios scattered throughout the capital and along the South coast.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of Redman Whiteley Dixon, now known as RWD; one of the country’s leading designers — interior and exterior — of classic grand sail and motor yachts. From the studio’s early days in Chelsea to its current bucolic position in the converted and restored Old Electric Light Station on the banks of the Beaulieu River, the 35-strong team can lay claim to being the biggest dedicated superyacht design consultancy in the UK.
In that time, RWD has shaped the appearance of around 75 yachts that range from 35m to 155m. Even bigger projects are in development, but although the superyacht industry is awfully fond of superlatives, the RWD approach is not about shouting loudest.
As a founding partner, Justin Redman has unparalleled experience of the rarefied world of yacht design. “Owners around the world appreciate what we do very personally and quietly,” he says. “We’re out of town and under the radar.”
One clue to the studio’s success and longevity is its approach to design. “Our work is not outlandish — we look for a cleanness of line and a beauty of form,” says Redman. “The beauty of a line is much more important than stuck-on detail or confrontational design,” he adds, explaining how RWD projects encompass every conceivable detail, from designing the superstructure down to supervising the stitching on the seats of the on-board helicopter.
“When I think back 25 years, the detail was there, but the level of information required to get that detail wasn’t. Today we have intensive 3D information at every stage — the sheer complexity of what’s required to build a yacht has changed.”
Even lighting design has undergone several revolutions in this time, although you won’t find some of the gaudy, Wurlitzer-style set-ups on any of the boats designed by RWD; “integrity, quietness and cleanness” are its watchwords.
As a full-service firm providing both interior and exterior design, RWD has worked with shipyards and fitters all over the world. Redman is particularly proud of the studio’s relationship with Feadship, the Netherlands-based shipyard with more than 150 years of history and a reputation for excellence in craftsmanship and technology, pioneering the use of aluminium and, most recently, hybrid-drive yachts.
Projects built by the yard include the 96.55m Vertigo, launched earlier this year. “She’s characterised by a glass pool that also forms the ceiling of the beach club. You couldn’t have done this 25 years ago. The technology, materials and complexity have changed so much,” Redman says of the five layers of glass and foil that make up this remarkable feature.
The beauty of a line is much more important than stuck-on detail or confrontational design
There are currently five major RWD projects on the go at Feadship’s Dutch yards. “Our owners appreciate that level of quality and detail,” Redman says, “and I’m told that our uniqueness is the way we look after our owners.” This is another component of the studio’s essential appeal; the ability to manage the lengthy, multi-year design and build process and keep it fresh, engaging and exciting.
“We’re taking owners on a journey, whether it’s having a design meeting or going out fly-fishing,” he explains. “We’re not in the middle of town and that’s pivotal to us. No one needs a yacht and they take so long to build that you’d better enjoy the process.” Some certainly do and the designer estimates that 35% of the studio’s work is repeat business. Even so, when the launch has been celebrated and a boat finally enters service, there’s a sense of loss. “A big chunk of me certainly goes off with these boats, so it’s great to stay in touch.”
A journey of a different kind forms the final facet of the RWD experience. Over a long pub lunch a decade ago, the partners came up with an alternative way of making the trek down to Monaco for the annual Yacht Show each autumn — an essential industry event. In 2008, the first Redman Whiteley Dixon Auto Tour took place, as the team’s most enthusiastic drivers took to the road rather than the air.
“It was great fun,” Redman recalls. “We had one owner’s son along and I could see how much he enjoyed it.” Over the years, the RWD Auto Tour has become bigger and bigger. Participants have to be invited, but as Redman notes, “It’s become a sort of unofficial opening of the show, although I sometimes think I’m running an events company with a yacht design business on the side.”
The calibre of machinery undertaking the trip has never been less than spectacular — including a brace of Aston Martins — and the whole trip is designed to avoid talking shop. “By the time you get to Casino Square in Monaco, the group has really bonded,” he says. “Yachting is probably the last thing that gets talked about.” Attention to detail is paramount, from the support crew through to the legendary itineraries. “Everything is planned to perfection — it’s a reflection on how we do things.”
Affection for the classics runs deep in yachting circles. “I have two Aston Martins,” says Redman. “The first is a DB2/4 from 1957, which I’ve had for a couple of years now. We’ve driven it down to the South of France on the rally and it’s been brilliant.” His other Aston is also a rare machine. “My Rapide once belonged to Dr Bez [CEO of Aston Martin until 2013]. It’s finished in Azurite Black coachwork with a Bronze Metallic leather interior and is the only one in the country. Subsequently, a limited number of the DBS [the UB-2010 edition] were built in the same colour scheme,” he says. “It immediately appealed. I have two children, so we use it as our day-to-day family car. When I took it back to the factory, they recognised it immediately. There’s a certain Britishness in what we do and how we present ourselves,” he adds, “and I’ve always wanted to own an Aston.”
The admiration goes both ways. Aston Martin’s Marek Reichman is a fan of the Auto Tour, particularly the way in which the studio goes about preparing and presenting information and equipment to each driver — just as if it was working for a valued client. “The point of contact is very carefully considered,” says Redman. “You can’t manage that customer relationship carefully enough. Time with the client is valuable.”
A yacht might be designed to sail the world unencumbered, but as RWD demonstrates, each boat is a voyage of discovery, with enduring values supporting it every step of the way.