The best things in life often happen purely by chance. Take internationally renowned Italian yacht designer Cristiano Gatto’s professional journey. Graduating in fine art from the prestigious Accademia di Venezia in 1992, he began a career in industrial design. (Here all our posts about Cristiano Gatto)
Cristiano Gatto and Dan Lenard, a chance encounter
Then, one afternoon in 1994, he bumped into Dan Lenard in a photocopy shop. Lenard was so taken by the interior decor renderings Gatto was having copied that he offered him a job on the spot. By 2001, Gatto had opened his own studio and has since designed over 250 boats (22 are currently on the digital drawing board), quite a few of which have become design icons.
A career following the becoming of yacht design
Much has changed in the nearly 30 years since Gatto joined the sector: “It’s completely different today,” he explains. “We’ve completely lost the connection between thought and action. Back then we sketched out the interior furnishings in pencil on the bulkheads. Everything was designed by hand and production times were incredibly long. We’d go to the suppliers to check that the final result was what we wanted and there was a sense of oneness between thought, action and subject.
Now with some yards, we don’t even go to see the production process. We send virtual information that’s so precise we don’t have to. But in doing so, you also lose one of the most fascinating aspects of the project: human relations,” he says.
Cristiano Gatto and his owners
The owners have changed over the last three decades too: in the 1990s yacht owning was something of a status symbol but today, because of the pandemic, owners are re-evaluating the quality of the time they spend aboard. “Humanity has rediscovered the value of relationships, of being together,” continues Gatto. “Once upon a time, when I’d meet with owners, I’d go to a hotel but now they invite me to their homes to see how and where they live. This means I know them better and can design a boat that really is made to measure for them”.
Another ingredient in Cristiano Gatto’s recipe for success is his background. “I am convinced that creating beautiful things comes easily to me because I grew up in such a fantastic place,” he tell us. Venice with its famous narrow streets and whiff of Oriental spices, the stunning villas of the Veneto ashore in Treviso, the countryside. Everything in his birthplace screams beauty. However, Gatto firmly believes there is more to true beauty than giving the eye its share. It’s also about the things that make the heart content like honesty, love, passion, coherency, respect and empathy. In fact, empathy is what sets the studio apart. Gatto’s mother was a seamstress and he in turn tailors his yachts. “We chose the ‘fabric’ with the client, we advise them and then we make sure that everything is done just as they wish,” he smiles.
Knowing how to listen and discover the wishes of shipowners
Oftentimes clients come to him not even knowing what they want, of course. Probably because they don’t really know why they want a boat. But Gatto and his team’s job is to listen to them and then translate their dreams into words, those words into images and the images into technical drawings.
“Understanding what a person wants is the first part of my job,” he explains, “and people that come to me want to be listened to, not told what to do. So listening and giving shape to their dreams is the most fascinating part of this job. It is the behind-the-scenes stories that make boats beautiful”. The process is clearly equally seductive for owners also as oftentimes they end up asking Gatto to design their homes and penthouses too. Or are friends of owners who have enthused about their experience.
Cristiano Gatto, empathy as a life philosophy
Unlike some of his colleagues, Cristiano Gatto is no great a fan of fame and prestige. He is far more interested in people and the empathy he can develop with his clients and yards. His entire career and portfolio are a demonstration of that fact. Some of Gatto’s most iconic yachts, the likes of I Nova, Ocean Victory and Elements have extraordinary stories behind them. In one memorable instance, he spent entire nights wandering around Istanbul with a Saudi client who was trying to explain exactly how he wanted his yacht to be.
Another great story is Gatto’s encounter with his hero, Walter Franchini, when the time came to design the third example of the legendary Isa Yachts 47.5m. Or when I Nova’s owner came to him and said: “One of my friends saw a model and told me that you make boats that aren’t very beautiful”. To which he replied: “Let’s talk….” Resulting in what is probably the first Explorer yacht in modern history. Launched in 2003, that extraordinary yacht remains, 20 years later, incredibly balanced, elegant, modern and coherent just like her interiors.
The importance of coherency
Coherency is another of Gatto’s unique talents. Perhaps it’s because he trained as a sculptor or his innate savoir faire or, more probably, the way he approaches life in general. He has an innate resilience that he also works hard to nurture because it means he embraces both his life and his work with passion and curiosity.
A personal manifesto that he takes with him wherever he goes. Encapsulated in the whalebone medallion he always wears around his neck which isn’t, as most people think, a ying and yang symbol, but the exact opposite. It depicts two waves. It means that in life, one wave always follows another. They are neither good nor bad, their value depending instead on the way we live them and interpret them. And all of our lives, Gatto’s included, is made up of one continuous succession of waves. With one difference: every now and then, there is definitely an anomaly in his, figuratively at least.