A self proclaimed ‘young designer’, serial car enthusiast, and all-round cool dude, Igor Lobanov’s story to reaching the upper level of superyacht designers is a brief but highly eventful one. This Russian-born designer’s route to the success that is following his studio today is backed up by years of hard work and navigating a minefield of decision-making games to where Lobanov Design find themselves now. As the name behind the ever illusive 85-metre Oceanco superyacht Y708, and with another 110-metre monster recently launched at the Dutch shipyard, Lobanov tells us that these current events are but the tip of an iceberg of dedication and perseverance, but also that starting at the bottom doesn’t have to mean starting small.
Living in Italy with his wife and design partner, Yulia, it is on a sunny and bright day in Monaco that I meet with Igor. His ‘Mr. Anderson’ sunglasses, rolled-up sleeves and custom forearm tattoo makes him stand out from the stiff yacht show crowd. Igor is here to do business, not to blend in. Armed with a suitcase and poster tube filled with confidential sketches, this is an opportunity to meet with new and old clients to discuss the studio’s potential next project. But how did Lobanov get here? And what is a Russian car designer doing designing yachts?
Can you tell us about your history and how you got into yacht design?
I used to be a car designer, and that was going to be what I would do for the rest of my life. I studied car design in Italy and also at Coventry University until 2001. After that I was awarded an internship at the exterior design department at Volkswagen Wolfsburg. It so happened that while I was looking for a job after my internship, I ended up with a project management position for a new build superyacht project. Not only a project manager, but the owner was in search of a representative who understood the design of the project. The project was the 119-metre M/Y A, and I was blown away when I saw the first sketches of the design. I accepted the offer and that was my first step into the yachting industry. I feel it was a bit of luck, but I also had a strong design portfolio of cars and planes at the time to back it up with.
The next two to three years were spent as owner’s representative on the project, but I was constantly reminded that design is the actual field where I wanted to work in. I looked at the design of the other designers in the business and realised that I could also tell my story.
When did you receive your first break as a designer?
I signed my first project in 2007. It was a 120-metre design that was developed by me as consultant to the client. We worked together with the client in 2007 on finalising the design. When 2008 hit and the financial crisis exploded, the project was put on hold. The whole deal was eventually canceled. Although very unfortunate, we gained valuable experience and some much needed funds from the project. Following this setback, I continued to invest in my designs and managed to create a new model together with ThyssenKrupp, namely the 101-metre Liza, with whom I worked with on M/Y A. I also got a break from Lürssen in 2007 who supported my project, White Night. I remember Michael Breman taking one look at my design and said just ‘put your model here at our stand’. I was lucky to spend the entire Monaco Yacht Show that year with them which was very valuable.
How did your relationship with Oceanco start?
It was around that time that I came across Oceanco, and I was completely inspired by the open mindedness of the shipyard, but also the creativity of Nuvolari Lenard who they were working with already at the time. I told myself, this is a shipyard I would like to work with. It took me a few meetings with the shipyard owner and board of directors, but eventually they asked me to design something similar to the Liza concept. Now, I couldn’t possibly have repeated exactly the same design, but at least that steered me in the right direction. And that is how project Y708 started. It wasn’t easy, we had to go up against a number of other well known designers, Nuvolari Lenard being one of them. But we won the tender and signed what would eventually become our first completed new build contract.
Y708 is highly secretive yacht. How difficult has it been to have received hardly any publicity following the delivery of the project?
Since Y708, we have realised how important it is to receive exposure about our work. Not only to show what we are capable of as a studio, but also to attract future clients who can relate to our style. Y708 is one of those special cases where the owner desires absolute privacy. This makes things a bit more difficult for us, but of course we respect the client’s wishes. Other clients are quite happy for us to release our work. Phoenicia for example, which was designed for one client specifically, allowed us to do so. It is an enormous boat which has been designed to be built. It certainly is possible, but if he decides to build it remains to be seen.
How did a designer from Russia end up in Italy?
It was a natural path that I followed as a result of my passion for yachts. There is an industry here, I like being by the sea and the mountains and that is something I couldn’t find in Moscow.
With your background in automotive design, how does the yacht design industry compare to other fields of design, and where do you see us heading to?
I feel that the yacht design industry has only picked up the pace over the last five years or so, in terms of catching up with other fields of design. Not too long ago things still moved very slowly and could even be described as boring. There have always been unique projects such as M/Y A, Wally Power, Alfa Nero and Silver Yachts’ Silver Series that pushed the boundaries and set the tone for where we should be heading. And as we progress as an industry I foresee that we will start seeing more and more diversity in designs as you find in the automotive world and architecture today.
Do you find it valuable to collaborate with designers from outside the yachting industry in order to provide a fresh approach to any project?
Certainly. It is not always easy though as product designers, architects, and car designers bring a certain perspective to a project that is not always applicable to our industry. Having said that, involving these external parties is a great way to get a view from a fresh pair of eyes who hasn’t been staring at the same drawings for the last three months.
How much does an 85-metre project differ from the work needed to design a 110-metre vessel like the one currently in build at Oceanco?
In the case of Oceanco, our first project with them, Y708, was based on a fully engineered platform. Everything from main deck down was already drawn up and developed. So that makes your work a lot easier. With Y714, Oceanco entrusted us to design a completely new yacht which is considerably more work.
Do you feel there is enough being done to promote and encourage young designers in the yachting industry?
(Laughing) I think they are not promoted at all. The reality is that the hardest thing for a young designer is to sign his/her first project - and the second one. After three projects, things start to happen. Before that you are still a beginner. I can confidently say that we still regard ourselves as beginners and we will act as young designers - aggressively, foolishly - while delivering really powerful designs.
What is next for Lobanov Design?
We decided to head in the direction of smaller yachts; namely in the 40, 50, 60-metre size range. This is simply an attempt to yield results faster and it will allow us to work together with more shipyards, mostly in Italy and Holland.
This article was published in the latest edition of the SuperYacht Times newspaper. Subscribe now to receive your copy straight to your door and never miss another issue.