It looks, at first sight, like the most streamlined, and sleek, and simple of sailboats, the top half of a bright-white star, or just a classic paper boat. It has the swooping, symmetrical grace of a bird's wingspan. But The STAR, the brainchild of Russian-born boat designer Igor Lobanov, has not been built yet. He expects it to be; the only unanswered mystery in his mind is it will be a private vessel, the property of a billionaire, or a floating hotel. Whoever gets it, there is a helicopter pad; 36 guests can sleep on it overnight, 200-plus day guests can sail on it during the day.
The STAR will not come cheap. If it is constructed in Northern Europe, Lobanov says, it will cost around half a billion dollars.
STAR is 132 meters long and over 60 meters high, and, Lobanov tells me on the phone from Turin, stands as proof that a yacht can look this beautiful. For too long, luxury boats have size and bulk on their side, but in design terms they rarely surprise or look as stunning as STAR.
"The problem is there are plenty of old-school yacht design studios, who are well-represented on the market, and take no risks," says Lobanov, not mincing his words. "Young designers can't make it on to the market. You need to be able to build something to show what you're capable of, so what do you do if you're not being given the chance to design something?"
Lobanov, 42, tells me he imagines STAR ultimately being berthed somewhere like Bahrain, Qatar or Hong Kong, where it would be a landmark or symbol, a city where there are very rich people and very new architecture where it would fit in. "I would say they would come from the Middle East or Asia," Lobanon says of STAR's most likely client. When I suggest a Russian oligarch as a possible purchaser, Lobanov says, "No, where could they keep it in Russia?"
The designer originally dreamt up the ideas for STAR with Alex Malybaev, from the FIRMA branding agency. Lobanov is also collaborating with the Southampton-based firm BMT Nigel Gee to consult on naval architecture and technical feasibility.
The fore and aft have beautiful decks carved into them, and windows from various rooms too: it looks like a floating Apple device. "We wanted it to look simple, without distractions," says Lobanov, who began his own design practice seven years ago. There is none of the jutting out of decks and balconies, and feeling of exterior bulk that is so familiar to mega-yachts. There are eight decks, linked by four elevators, and 14 viewing platforms. Nothing interrupts its curving beauty.
The windows will be painted the same color as the hull. It looks beautiful, but so slight and sleek. Lobanov says STAR—whose superstructure is made of aluminum and hull of steel—has a special keel that will sink deep into the water to keep it upright in very rough weather. Because of its brilliant white color, you don't see a dividing line between the hull and superstructure.
Interested clients have already been in touch with Lobanov with questions about how STAR, or its design principles, could be built into ferries and floating hotels.
Lobanov began designing yachts 11 years ago, with an 85-meter yacht, which his firm won two awards for, and then an 110-meter yacht. From design to completion, these luxury yachts can take four years to build. The number of rules and regulations when you're building a boat is more than a building, says Lobanov, "because it is a moving object." But, as the images on his website show, Lobanov has done everything to make STAR as sexy as possible at all times of day and night, when—studded among the windows—LED panels make it look like the most divine sailing piece of origami, or floating lantern.
Lobanov's inspiration comes from architecture (notably Zaha Hadid, Lord Norman Foster, and Jean Nouvel), in which he is self-educated, and car design. As a small boy, growing up in Ufa, capital of the Republic of Bashkortostan, Lobanov recalls the "television telling us that Russia was the best country in the world." Lobanov hadn't seen the sea until he was 28, though he has some maritime roots—his great-grandfather was from the Greek islands. When I ask whether he loves the sea, Lobanov laughts heartily. "Of course, I love to be on the beach in Barcelona, I love to see naked women."
Lobanov's father, Vladimir ("There was a generation of men in Russia all called Vladimir. It is not so popular now"), was an aviation engineer for military airplanes, and so Lobanov grew up being taken to air shows attended by international dignitaries and being shown the planes.
"There wasn't anything beautiful in my childhood. The most beautiful things I saw were military aircraft. The planes were so beautiful you forgot they were weapons." At home, Lobanov's favorite books were those that showed the aircraft of capitalist countries like the US, Britain, and France. At 12, Lobanov became interested in car design. His father died when he was 50. "The biggest loss of my life," says Lobanov. His mother, Lubov, a nurse, is still alive.
Lobanov moved to Moscow to study math when he was 19, and then thought he'd like to study car design, but Russia's universities could not offer the specialized teaching he required, and so he came to England to study at Coventry University, and later Turin, where he now lives.
After working at Volkswagen, he turned to yachting. "Thank God I did. Car design is even more limiting than yachting. Even less is possible to create. Cars have to look a certain way." As his two previous boats—distinctive twists on convention—show, Lobanov found creative freedom in setting up his own firm. He is married to an artist, Yulia, "who helps me a lot," and they have an eleven-month old daughter, Anna.
As for the rich clients, Lobanov tells me they are very rich businessmen and film directors. "Steven Spielberg just bought an 85-meter boat. Roman Abramovich calls them boats, not yachts, so we now call them boats." Some of the very rich clients can be very insistent about the features they want, others let Lobanov craft his own vision; sometimes it is a mixture of both.
Lobanov declines to tell me how much his boats sell for, but says the figure is over 100 million Euros ($128 million). In the future, Lobanov would love to design a church, akin to the very simple, plain Protestant churches of Sweden, rather than the Gothic churches of Italy. "I'm not religious myself, but I like churches as buildings which bring people together to become better," he says. The same, enhancing principle applies to Lobanov's boats: expensive, yes; for the super-rich, absolutely; but different, distinctive, and designed with beauty at their heart. They have grace, ambition, and sure make sailing a whole lot more interesting.